Uses for spearmint
So Mr. HR decided that he wanted to plant some spearmint. Luckily it's in a pot so it won't overrun the garden. However, I have no idea what to do with it.
Anyone have suggestions for spearmint? Would I use it the same way I would use regular mint?
What do you mean "regular" mint? to me, spearmint is the default mint and other varieties (like peppermint) are alternatives.
First of all, don't be afraid to prune it. Like basil, mint enjoys being cut back and you'll end up with a bushier plant with bigger leaves.
As for uses, everything! It takes a very large amount of leaves to flavor iced tea, so I sometimes take a few big handfuls and throw it into freshly brewed black tea. Remove after five or ten minutes so it doesn't go bitter.
Use in mixed drinks, Nigella Lawson's watermelon salad, shredded in salads, in Vietneamese spring rolls, and garnish desserts with it. Sometimes I cut big bunches and use them in place of a floral bouquet. It makes the house smell nice. Enjoy!
Be glad you know what it is. I have a black thumb, so I once bought a pre-planted herb pot at the nursery. I had a small quantity of uncooked shrimp in the freezer, some roasted garlic, leftover pasta, tube of tomato paste etc. So I improvised a shrimp priomavera dish, and was about to plate it when I realized that I had (what I thought was) basil in the herb planter. I plucked a bunch of leaves but had already stirred them into the sauce before the mint smell hit me. Oh well, the dogs liked it.
Did you taste it? It also sounds good to me. I substitute spearmint for basil freely, since it is so easy to grow.
My local Thai restaurant uses spearmint in place of Thai basil quite often.
I discovered that a few mint leaves with melon and prosciutto is nice and looks a bit fancy on the plate. It went over well at our last block party.
I too prefer spearmint to peppermint. It's what I grew up on, and the most common type of mint available when I lived in Turkey and Greece.
An old "classic" use for mint is to mince it fairly fine (lots of it), then mix it with malt (traditional) or cider vinegar and a little sugar. Lots of mint! When I don't have malt vinegar on hand, I dilute cider vinegar a bit using water. And not too much sugar, but the sugar does underscore the mint flavor when subtle. Then serve with roast or broiled lamb. For the English side of my family, it was THE sauce to serve with a huge leg of lamb. `Don't know if I'm just zigging while the rest of the world is zagging, but I don't see or hear about mint sauce much any more. But then, when you know something really well, how hard do you look for it?
How about mint juleps?
Pour your favorite bourbon in a glass
add sugar to taste (1tsp-2tbl), stir to dissolve
add a few sprigs of fresh mint
muddle (bruise and crush with wooden implement)
top with club soda
garnish with fresh sprig of mint
sit on front porch during heat wave and sip
I have mint growing and have used it a couple of times already to make pesto. Just substitute it for basil. It's really flavorful. I use it like I would regular basil pesto, but I've also seen a number or recipes where mint pesto is recommended with lamb dishes.
It's great, too, because the mint is growing like crazy now, but the basil won't be big enough to pick in quantity for a while.
Moroccan mint tea (green tea + fresh mint leaves + sugar)
Fresh mint chutney
Use instead of vanilla to flavour crème anglaise (custard cream sauce) and créme brûlée
Mint makes a nice addition to cold seafood salads
A couple of Chez Panisse ideas:
- fresh melon topped with a chiffonade of mint as a first course (drizzled with olive oil) or dessert (drizzled with crème fraîche)
- limeade (juice limes; steep peels in hot water for 10 minutes; combine the juice, water, sugar and a few mint leaves; steep for 30+ minutes; strain; dilute with sparkling water; serve on the rocks with mint sprig garnish)
Paula Wolfert's salad of cucumbers, arugula, raw rhubarb and mint (the cucumber and rhubarb are salted and left to disgorge for 10 minutes, then rinsed and tossed with the greens and some lemon juice)
Mint syrup, as carswell suggested. We make this all summer for on fruit.
I take about 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water, and heat so the sugar dissolves. Then take it off the heat and throw in a handful of mint leaves, chopped. Let steep and then strain (or don't) and pour over fruit like strawberries, peaches, nectarines or anything that sounds good.
I make this right before we're going to eat dinner and it's ready when we're ready for dessert. It makes a dish of fruit seem like a little more of a dessert.
I do the same thing with anise hyssop. You can also use things like lemon verbena and other herbs too.
For me it is the default mint as well. I can't stand the candy cane taste of peppermint unless it is on a candy/chocolate/ice cream. Once I accidentally bought some, and didn't know what to do with it and made mint tea for weeks.
However, in traditional Turkish cooking spearmint is used very liberally, so liberally that it is found in the most modest kitchens; but generally in dried form. I am guessing drying came out as necessity due to changing seasons and occasional harsh climates; but unless it is for desserts, Turkish cooks prefer the dried ones. The flavor of dried spearmint is very restrained compared to the fresh ones, so it is actually advisable to use less if you want to go with fresh mint.
It goes really well with savory yogurt dishes, but this might sound weird if you are used to the "sweetened yogurt" school of thought. A lazy Turkish person's cheap dinner is some pasta, yogurt and dried mint sprinkled liberally and topped with chili spiked browned butter. It is simple, but comforting. Some people add mint to the butter during the browning, to add depth and infuse the oil. The non-lazy person would actually make dice sized dumplings (manti) instead of the pasta and treat it the same way. I only make the dish if I have more than 5 minions for help in the kitchen.
Another yogurt pairing is yogurt/rice soup (yayla corba) which has the consistency of a congee.
A easy to make cold side dish is a version of tzaziki (cacik): small cubed cucumbers (or grated carrots, or thinly sliced lettuce), smashed garlic, mint (fresh or dried) and olive oil.
Even easiest, make some ayran (diluted yogurt, similar to a salty lassi) and sprinkle some mint on.
It also goes really well with lentils (especially the red ones, a simple red lentil soup is another classical Turkish dish), and even better when combined with some cumin.
Another option, usually reserved for breakfast, is a hunk of feta sprinkled with mint (dried or fresh) and olive oil served with some bread and tomatoes.
Let me know if you are interested in any of the above, I can provide some recipes.
A "base" recipe is something like the one below, but every household makes a different version:
Wash 1 cup red lentils (sold at most Middle Eastern stores). Finely chop 1 medium onion and sweat the onions in butter. In Turkey it is called, "killing the onions". Add 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) powdered cumin, and just mix it until it heats up (but don't brown it). Add 4 cups of water and simmer it until the lentils start getting mushy. Then put it through a sieve if you want to be traditional and hard working, or use a hand blender if you are lazy like me and puree it smooth. If the consistency is too thick (ideally it should have the feel of a pureed butternut squash soup) add some water.
Then melt some butter in a very small pan and just when it is about to start browning, add crushed red peppers (Aleppo would be nice) and mint. The amounts are always unspecific, adjust to taste. Mix it fast, and take it from the heat just when it starts bubbling. The spices burn fast, so you need to be careful. Drizzle.
There are lots of regional variations. Some people add sumac to the butter in addition to pepper and mint; some purist hate mint in their soup and only add pepper. Some people put a drizzle of lemon juice in it, just before eating. Many people add shredded carrot mid-way thru the onion sweating process. Some tomato paste is not too uncommon, and if you also add thin bulgur to the tomato paste, the recipe takes the name of Ezo Gelin (Ezo the Bride) Soup. Ezo Gelin Soup is always served with mint, and usually with sumac. I like to crumble feta in some days. Croutons are nice, a hot nan style pita will be better. In the coastal regions, people might substitute butter with olive oil. "Modern" recipes also involve some kind of broth.
But the basic is onions, lentils, oil and some sort of spice (either pepper, sumac, cumin mint or lemon juice or all).
Hope you'll like it.
"So Mr. HR decided that he wanted to plant some spearmint. Luckily it's in a pot so it won't overrun the garden"
If you/he are planning to bury the pot, forget that it won't take over. The only ways to keep mint from taking over are (a) don't plant it (seriously) or (b) use extra-deep lawn edging around an isolated plot. A large pot not buried will work OK, though it may not survive a cold winter. (It'd be fine in the ground, but pots freeze much harder than ground soil.) Unless you want a LOT of mint, an 8" pot will do very nicely...
I can't think of any uses to add, but if no one's mentiond it, it dries very well, too, though I don't know what else to use dried mint for except non-Moroccan style tea... (which I was given so typically for whatever-ailed-me as a kid that I can't stomach the thought of drinking it as an adult.)
I recently discovered spearmint, too. Currently growing some cuttings to plant in a pot.
I never really understood why everyone likes to grow fresh mint; trying spearmint, I now see why. We've used it for killer mojitos, lemonade, and in Vietnamese food. I like to do caramel-black pepper braised chicken chunks, and serve it with jasmine rice, julienned spring onions and cucumber, assorted fresh herbs (spearmint and basil last time). Then we make little parcels with big lettuce leaves (butter lettuce is nice), with everything inside. Sort of like Asian pancakes meet lettuce cups. The spearmint was indispensible in it.
Oh - and I recently made a yoghurt-cucumber accompaniment to a Persian lamb stew (sort of raita crossed with tsatsiki, or that's what inspired it in my mind) for a dinner party, with yoghurt, garlic, diced cucumber and chopped spearmint. Everyone wanted to know what made it taste so good. Went through the ingredient list and worked it out - it was the spearmint.