Mint (botanical name: Mentha)
Almost immediately, mint is associated with Christmas candy, confections, or as flavouring for tea or drinks. Minty desserts hint at this herb's therapeutic benefits (calming, cooling and excellent for digestion), but mint may be added to a number of savoury dishes (any meal of the day) for its ability to balance strong flavours, cool spice, and calm acidic ingredients.
One of my favourite ways to incorporate mint is to sprinkle it on salad or on top of rice dishes (delicious recipes will be in my upcoming cookbook). It’s a nice way to get the benefits of mint in a simple way while bringing out the other flavours of a the dish. And the great thing about using fresh herbs is they just need a quick wash in cold water, chop or tear, and sprinkle! You can soften the intensity of mint by either cutting it finely, simmering it down in a sauce, or using it in dried form.
What to know: Picking up mint at the grocery store is usually a simple task of selecting a prepackaged kind or a loose bunch, we don’t really question its variety. There are over twenty pure species of mint and innumerable cross and hybrid varieties, but the two most common culinary mints are spearmint and peppermint. Usually, what is available at grocery stores is the milder spearmint (with lighter green spear shaped leaves) and is ideal for cooking, garnishing, and adding to beverages. Peppermint on the other hand, with the darker green coloured more oval leaves, is used in baking and desserts for its distinct flavour.
How you can cook with it: Chiffonade and sprinkle fresh mint on top of rice or salads; finely chop and mix fresh or dried mint into savoury fillings for pies or fish croquettes; rub dried mint onto meats as marinade, add fresh mint in the preparation of relishes or sauces.
Medicinal and/or Health benefits: Cooling to the body, aids digestion, helps remedy coughs and colds, helps to relieve headaches, wakens the mind and brightens mood.
How to keep it fresh for longer: Place fresh mint in a glass of water for one to two weeks, or keep it in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge for a week.
Refreshing mint tea
Pour one cup of boiling water over 3-5 fresh mint leaves, slice of fresh ginger (optional), preferred black or green tea leaves / bag, and let steep for 3-5 minutes (strain tea and reserve a few mint leaves in the tea). Sweeten with bee’s honey to taste.
Photo credit: Natasha Asselstine