There are many types of mint, with variations in taste and strength, all of which we can safely ignore: when you buy it in the supermarket, it just says “mint” on the packet. That’s all you need to know.
If, however, you wish to explore the subtle differences between ginger mint and pineapple mint, you should probably begin by growing your own. Of all the common culinary herbs, mint is the hardest to kill: it’s easy to raise from seed, but if you stick a sprig in a jar with some water, it will sprout roots in a matter of days. It doesn’t mind shade, rough ground or being ignored. Your biggest problem will be stopping it from taking over. Here are 17 ways to get the most out of it.
In the UK, mint is perhaps most commonly used to make mint sauce. The recipe, if you can call it that, is simple: mint leaves, boiling water, vinegar, sugar and salt, adjusting the proportions to taste.
Mint sauce is a traditional accompaniment for roast lamb, although there was some recent controversy when the Killing Eve star Jodie Comer was photographed putting mint sauce on chicken, prompting an online row between outraged purists and people who put mint sauce on everything, which briefly spilled over into the mainstream media. It was February in lockdown – there wasn’t much else going on.
Rosie Sykes’ minted roast chicken with peas and lettuce demonstrates that this pairing is more than acceptable – it can be something special.
If mint sauce strikes you as a bit pedestrian – or if, like many people, you consider it an abomination – try something a bit more exotic: adjika is a traditional Georgian paste made from mint, garlic, chillies and salt. Apparently, Georgians tend to have some in the fridge – it keeps for about a month – and put it on potatoes, but the food writer Olia Hercules suggests using it for a bruschetta with apricots and goat’s cheese or labneh.
A handful of roughly chopped mint will enliven even the most dull-witted serving of potatoes – I’m thinking slightly-too-large new potatoes, comfortably overboiled – but Peter Gordon shows they can be part of something more elegant and no more time-consuming: minted baby potatoes with shallots, peas and creme fraiche. For another option, Robin Gill salt bakes the potatoes – they’re baked on a layer of rock salt – and combines them with peas, mint, mustard butter and cream.
Here are two simple, but engaging, salads from Nigel Slater: the first is a tabbouleh of mint, mango, chilli, spring onions and cracked wheat; the second a mix of fennel and radishes in a mint dressing made from sour cream and yoghurt. By way of preparation, Slater suggests putting the fennel and radish, thinly sliced, in a bowl of ice water for 25 minutes to crisp them up.
Mint features regularly in dishes mixing courgettes with some kind of cheese: for Rachel Kelly’s courgette salad it’s feta; Rachel Roddy uses ricotta for her mint and courgette frittata, and pecorino for this quick and easy spaghetti supper.
Pasta and mint may seem a slightly odd pairing, but it crops up again and again, especially in spring and summer. Salt Fat Acid Heat author, Samin Nosrat, has a recipe for broad bean, cream and mint fettuccine that’s a lot more seasonal than the weather we’ve been having. You can do something similar with peas, mint, spaghetti and a sauce that’s more like a salad dressing: mustard, olive oil and lemon. Jamie Oliver uses a minishell pasta, and adds bacon.
Puddings are an obvious home for mint. Slater offers up a refreshing mint and lemon sorbet served, for effect, inside the frozen, hollowed out shells of juiced lemons. If you fancy something much heavier, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s mint and mascarpone ice-cream occupies a space somewhere between frozen dessert and cheese course – the sweet spot many of us have spent our lives in search of.
Finally, a pair of minty summer drinks. When I think of mojitos, I think of queueing: it usually takes catering staff a really long time to make just one – largely because muddling is involved, using a sort of primitive cocktail pestle. And once people know they’re on offer, everybody wants one. For that reason alone, it’s probably a drink best made at home, where you can test your own patience: lime juice, sugar, mint, muddled or otherwise slowly harmed, then poured over rum and topped up with fizzy water. Start making your second one while you’re drinking the first.
For an alternative, try the bourbon-based mint julep. Here’s a version – a monsoon mint julep from DUM Biryani House in London – you can make 48 hours in advance and serve to 10 people at a go. Caterers, take note.