"The first place I think of with mint is Morocco. From there, it is the Middle East. Mint and lamb is such a natural combination, as is mint and yogurt."
Brad Farmerie, Public (New York City) in "The Flavor Bible"
Spring Forward with Minty Fare
With Spring revealing its blooming warmth, Sarene and I couldn't help but think of mint. As we approach Easter and Passover, mint's perfect pairing with lamb comes to mind. But it would be doing mint a disservice to stop there. Fresh and dried mint should be used as easily in bright, fresh salads as it is in your meat dishes, especially in Middle Eastern influenced cuisines.
Of the more than 30 mint species, spearmint (Mentha spicata) is the most common variety in cooking. Milder and less pungent than peppermint, spearmint refreshes with an astringent taste that comes on strong and backs off quickly. Dried mint has a “deeper, more intense flavor” than fresh, notes Sunset magazine.
An Ancient Herb for your Modern Menu
The Mediterranean native has been used since ancient Roman times, when it was pickled in vinegar. It’s popular in Middle Eastern cookery's tabbouleh and yogurt-dressed sauces. Sunset magazine suggests pairing it with pomegranate molasses in vinaigrettes, or creating a seasoning blend with toasted sesame and sumac. Mixed with hot green chiles and yogurt it's chutney cozying next to tandoori chicken in northern India. In Southeast Asia, it enlivens salads, soups and sauces.
For menu ideas, keep in mind that fresh mint is best used raw or barely cooked. So for minty confections and baked goods, steep and strain the leaves or use mint extract or oil. The sprigs are an attractive edible garnish.
To Sip or Eat, That is the Question
Mourad Lahlou offers two fresh mint-based teas in Mourad: New Moroccan cookbook. One combines gunpowder tea with a fair amount of sugar, peppermint and an optional verbena sprig. The other is a Mint Lemon Verbena tisane, which steeps fresh peppermint or spearmint and lemon verbena in water and adds a few drops of orange blossom water.
Storing and Purchasing
Refrigerate fresh-cut sprigs as soon as possible; they fade quickly when left out. They keep up to five days wrapped in a barely damp paper towel sealed in a plastic bag. For longer storage, put mint stem-down in a glass with about an inch of water. Cover the top with a plastic bag and rubber band the plastic to the glass to keep the air out. Change the water every couple days.
Find dried mint in spice aisles of well-stocked grocers or your favorite local or online spice shop, or use peppermint tea. Dried and fresh mint are interchangeable in many recipes; use ⅓ dried for the fresh amount specified.
Minty Recipes from "Jerusalem"
Na'ama's fattoush. page 29
Fava bean kuku, pg 39
Raw artichoke & herb salad, page 41
Kohlrabi salad, page 46
Root vegetable slaw with labneh, page 49
Chermoula eggplant with bulgur & yogurt, page 59
Fried cauliflower with tahini, page 60
Burnt eggplant with pomegranate seeds, page 79
Chunky zucchini and tomato salad, page 84
Tabbouleh, page 85
Hummus kawarma with lemon sauce, page 118
Hot yogurt & barley soup, page 134 (see Jay and Dee's post about this soup here)
Stuffed onions, page 157
Ruth's stuffed romano peppers, page 165 (see my post about these beauties here)
Stuffed artichokes with peas & dill, page 171
Saffron chicken & herb salad, page 188
Beef meatballs with fava beans & lemon, page 196
Lamb meatballs with barberries, yogurt & herbs, page 199
Turkey & zucchini burgers, page 200
Cod cakes in tomato sauce, page 225
Herb pie, page 251
Yogurt with cucumber, page 299
A quick search through Ottolenghi, Plenty, and Plenty More show that fresh and dried mint are used throughout. In one recipe, he notes that dried mint does not discolor as will fresh mint, so it can sometimes be a better choice for a dish that will need to sit out or last for another day.
Welcome to Tasting Jerusalem
If you're new to the group, here are our “rules” (there really aren’t any except to cook and share your experiences.)
- How often will we cook: We’ll pick a new set of recipes monthly to allow us all to fit in the cooking when we can and to find any ingredients that might not be available at your typical grocery store stop.
- Do I need to cook all the recipes?: We offer up several recipes to fit your taste buds, menus, schedules – cook as many or as few as you desire. But once you start cooking from this book, you probably won’t stop!
- What do I need to participate: Jerusalem: A Cookbook Plus an interest in cooking, willingness to try new flavors, and an electronic device that communicates via the Internet. We will always post the month’s information in a blog post via omgyummy.com so you can subscribe to Beth’s blog to be guaranteed to receive it or just check in frequently via the Facebook page or Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm
- How to share what you cook: Tasting Jerusalem is open to anyone. You do not have to be a blogger or food professional of any sort. But if you have a camera, we encourage you to share photos of your dishes on Twitter or the Facebook page or Instagram, using the hashtag #TastingJrslm – we all love to see the results of your kitchen adventures. New to these types of social media? Just drop me an email beth (at) omgyummy (dot) com – I’ll be glad to help you get started.
- What recipes can be published and how to publish: We expect to cook through most, if not all, of the recipes in the cookbook over time. As such, for those of us blogging or writing about our experiences in any way, it’s important that we don’t include the recipe in our blog posts, unless Ten Speed Press has approved its use. The goal of the group is to learn together and enrich our experience using this cookbook, not create an online version of it. We are in touch with Ten Speed Press to find out which recipes we can post. For an example of another group that writes about their cooking but doesn’t post each recipe, please visit French Fridays with Dorie. If you legitimately change a recipe, rewrite the headnote and instructions, and choose to share it, please say you’ve adapted it, giving credit to the source including a link to purchase the cookbook.
- What if I have questions? Sarene and I will be monitoring the Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm almost continuously so just leave us a note there. If you see a question and know the answer, jump on in before us. Part of the fun of the group will be each of us sharing our own knowledge, perspectives and ideas.
- What to include if you write a blog post: If you do post about what you cook, please let us know – we will link to it. And feel free to post it on the Facebook page and Twitter with the #TastingJrslm hashtag. We’d also appreciate it if you would include this verbiage in the context of your post:
“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups' dishes on Pinterest."