It’s time to move mint beyond juleps and mojitos.
Because in the U.S. mint has struggled to land on the dinner table. We tend to associate it with sweets (after all, it does pair nicely with chocolate) and breath mints.
But elsewhere in the world, especially North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, mint is used to lend a crisp, almost peppery contrast to savory dishes, especially fatty ones (think lamb with mint sauce).
First, the basics.
You’ll find fresh mint sold with the other herbs in the produce section, often in large bunches that you’ll never manage to entirely use. No worries; it’s cheap.
Most of the mint sold at American grocers is spearmint or peppermint, just two of the many varieties (that grow like weeds) available. It should have a mix of large and small leaves that are bright green and firm.
When you get the mint home, give it a good wash in cold water, then snip off the bottoms of the stems. You can prolong its life — sometimes by weeks — if you stand the stems upright in a glass of water and refrigerate.
And be prepared for a minty fresh refrigerator. Mint is as aromatic as it is flavorful (handy since we tend to taste with our snouts as much as our tongues). But that also means you’ll want to go easy with it to avoid overpowering other flavors in your dish.
Mint loves vegetables, cooked and raw (it’s key to the flavor of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, for example). It also goes well with roasted poultry and pork, and helps cut through assertive cheeses, such as feta.
Ready to move beyond breath mints? Try this recipe for feta-mint penne with tomatoes and capers. And for more ideas for using fresh mint, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/wgKKrc
Feta-Mint Penne with Tomatoes and Capers
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 pound penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute for four minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the capers and cook for another minute.
Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the feta and mint. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the sauce over the pasta.