Mint has been loved through generations (remember Pliny’s quote: “The smell of mint does stir up the minde and the taste to a greedy desire of meate”) and through cultures (from the Mediterranean to Asia to the Americas) with equal zest. There are more than thirty species of mint and hundreds of varieties, with the most common being spearmint (used in cooking) and peppermint (used in flavoring gum, teas, candies, toothpaste, etc.). There are also lemon mint, chocolate mint, ginger mint, orange mint, pinapple mint, and many more.
While mint’s most popular use seems to be as a garnish for dessert plates or iced tea, there are so many more wonderful ways to use it. Mint pairs well with sweet and savory dishes (everything from sweet fruit compotes to savory meat and vegetable curries) and, of course, its use in mint juleps and mojitos is legendary! But there are even more wonderful ways to use it. We talked to food writers, nutritionists and bloggers around the country to get their take on what else to do with mint:
1. Jackie Keller, founding director and executive chef of Los Angeles’s premier healthy food company, NutriFit, and author of Amazon top-100 bestseller, Body After Baby: The Simple 30-Day Plan to Lose Your Baby Weight (Avery/Penguin), loves to make mint chip smoothies: “We make our smoothies in the blender, by combining our own farm-grown mint leaves with banana, apple juice, and tofu, and when the mixture is smooth, add in a spoonful of mini chocolate chips. Process it just 10 seconds more, then enjoy!”
2. Experiment with the kinds of mint to see which one you like best! A chocolate mint or pineapple mint leaf will completely change the taste profile of a mojito, a fruit punch, or simple lemonade.
3. Dried mint packs a larger punch than its fresh counterpart and so should be used sparingly. The best way I have found to use dried mint in cooked dishes is to heat it along with some butter and then add it at the last minute for a hearty flavor of the mint.
4. Bob Peddler of HerbFest.net shares a fun and easy way to use mint: make mint water. Heat water and pour it over mint leaves in a bowl. Strain and collect this “mint water.” Pour into ice cube trays, place one small mint leaf in each cube, and freeze. Store the cubes in a freezer bag. When guests come over, use the mint cubes in their water, iced tea, or lemonade for a quick mint flavor.
5. “Along with lemon, orange, and lime rinds, mint makes a great kitchen freshener! Simply grind the less beautiful or used leaves in your garbage disposal!” says NutriFit’s Keller.
6. Margaux J. Rathbun, a certified nutritional therapy practitioner and the founder of the blog Authentic Self Wellness, says the most delicious and nutritious way to use mint is in its “raw” form, which is why she often includes it in her homemade juices. Her favorite juice recipe is Orange Tomato Mint Juice: Juice together two medium oranges, two organic tomatoes, and a sprig of fresh mint.
7. Pesto doesn’t have to be limited to basil! Pamela Braun of mymansbelly.com shares this lovely recipe using mint:
Fresh Herb Pesto Sauce
1 large bunch chervil
1 medium bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 medium bunch dill
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch basil
1 small bunch lemon basil
1 small bunch garlic chives
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Clean and pick through all of the herbs to make sure you don’t have any dead or slimy leaves going into the pesto. Cut off any thick/woody stems you might find on the parsley or basil.
Place all of the herbs in your food processor and start it up. As the herbs are being processed, start drizzling in olive oil to thin out the mixture. Continue doing this until you get the consistency you are looking for.
Stop the processor and give the pesto a taste. Does it need a little more of some flavor? More lemon? Add more lemon basil or a shot of lemon juice. More garlic? Add some more of the garlic chives. Maybe it has a bit too much of one of these flavors. If that’s the case, add more of the dill or chervil, or a touch more mint.
Add pepper to taste. Spoon into a jar and top it off with olive oil.