Friday’s Focus Ingredients #3: MINT

Mint is widely used in commercially manufactured products, cooking and medicine for its aromatic and flavorsome qualities. Peppermint is one of the most popular species and can be found in toothpaste, chewing gum, mouthwash, soaps, sweets, balms or creams and cough medicine.

Apart from peppermint, spearmint is probably the most widely used species of mint. It is not as strong as peppermint in flavor and is therefore used in cooking and added to sauces, dressings, cakes and can be added as a garnish to dishes.

MINT HISTORY

Mint is known to have originated in Asia and the Mediterranean region. In many cultures, mint symbolized hospitality and was offered as a sign of welcome and friendship to guests as they arrived. In the Middle East mint tea is still served to guests on their arrival, while in ancient Greece, the leaves of mint were rubbed onto the dining table, which was a sign of warm greeting.

Mint was also often used as an air freshener and was placed in the rooms of houses, synagogues and temples to clear and freshen the air and rid the smell of unpleasant odors from the room. The Greeks and the Romans used mint as a perfume and bath scent, as well as using it in medicine and in cooking.

Mint was so revered by the ancient Greeks that they named the plant after the mythical character Minthe. According to Greek myth, Minthe (or Menthe as she is also known) was a river nymph. Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell in love with Minthe and wanted to make her his lover. However, Persephone, Hades’s wife found out and in a fit of rage turned Minthe into a plant, so that everyone would walk all over her and trample her. Unable to undo the spell, Hades gave Minthe a wonderful aroma so that he could smell her and be near her when people trod on her.

MINT & HEALTH

Mint contains a number of vitamins and minerals, which are vital to maintain a healthy body. Mint is rich in Vitamins A and C and also contains smaller amounts of Vitamin B2. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and may help to decrease the risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancer. Although mint may be consumed in small quantities, the vital nutrients obtained are still beneficial to one’s health.

Mint also contains a wide range of essential minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, potassium and calcium.

Mint has always been used medicinally to aid digestion and relieve indigestion. If you suffer from frequent indigestion, drinking a cup of peppermint tea after your meal may help.

The chemical compound menthol, which is obtained from peppermint oil, is well known for its healing properties on the chest and respiratory system.

Mint is also said and in many cases proven to:

  • Relieve symptoms of indigestion, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing the muscles in and around the intestine.
  • Act as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body against the formation of cancerous cells.
  • Inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria and fungus.
  • Ease and unblock the breathing and respiratory passages and airways.
  • Relieves the symptoms of colds and flu.
  • Mint can help with nasal allergies.
  • It can relieve congestion, head colds and headaches.
  • Act as a mild sedative and has calming properties.
  • Relieve minor aches and pains such as muscle cramps and sprains.
  • Combat bad breath.
  • Provides a cooling sensation to the skin and can help to treat minor burns, itching and skin irritations.
  • Mint is a very good cleanser for the blood.
  • Mint tea can help clear up skin disorders such as acne

MINT STORAGE

The two most popular types of mint that you may use for cooking are peppermint and spearmint, with spearmint being the milder of the two. Mint is extremely popular in Middle Eastern cooking, especially Iranian and Lebanese cuisine, where it is used in an extensive range of sweet and savory dishes.

Fresh mint can be bought from your local supermarket and should be stored in the refrigerator for the best freshness. If you buy a bunch of mint, it should be placed in a container of water, stems down, with a plastic bag loosely covering the top. Ideally change the water every two days and the mint should stay fresh for up to a week.

Dried mint can also be bought but the flavor is so much more diluted.

MINT COOKING TIPS & HINTS

Here are some minty flavored recipes to try, whether you’re in the mood for a hot or cold drink, or something sweet or savory. Enjoy.

MINT JULEPS

2 cups water

2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves

32 fluid ounces Kentucky bourbon

8 sprigs fresh mint leaves for garnish

1. Combine water, sugar and chopped mint leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow syrup to cool, approximately 1 hour. Pour syrup through a strainer to remove mint leaves

2. Fill eight cups or frozen goblets with crushed ice and pour 4 ounces of bourbon and 1/4 cup mint syrup in each. (Proportions can be adjusted depending on each person’s sweet tooth). Top each cup with a mint sprig and a straw. Trim straws to just barely protrude from the top of the cups. Serve juleps on a silver platter.

FRESH MINT AND CILANTRO MELON SALAD

4 cups 1-inch chunks honeydew

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves and stems

1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

white sugar to taste

Combine the honeydew, lime juice, cilantro, mint, and sugar in a bowl; toss to combine; refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

MASHED NEW POTATOES WITH FRESH MINT

2 pounds red new potatoes, scrubbed

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in chunks

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and put them in a mixing bowl while they are still nice and hot. Add the chopped mint and mash so the potatoes are chunky and green in spots. Fold in the butter and stir everything together so the butter melts. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with a healthy amount of salt and pepper.

FRESH CHOCOLATE MINT DOUBLE CHIP COOKIES

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh chocolate mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease a baking sheet.

Cream the butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla slowly.

Sift together flour, salt and baking soda and then add to the wet mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped mint and mix together until just combined.

Form the dough into 2 inch balls. Place on prepared baking sheet and bake until golden, about 9 minutes for chewy and 12 for crunchy. Cool on rack. Store in airtight container.

Additional usages for mint:

  • Add chopped mint to sauces for red meat, particularly lamb.
  • Add several sprigs of mint to peas, green beans or new potatoes while boiling.
  • Add mint to ahomemade or store-bought chocolate sauce for a chocolate and mint sauce.
  • Use as a garnish for cool drinks and fruit desserts.
  • Use dried peppermint leaves, added to boiling water to make a refreshing and digestive tea.
  • Make a yogurt dressing with chopped mint leaves, natural yogurt, garlic and salt and pepper for salads especially cucumber salad.
  • Add to cold soups or hot tomato soups.
  • Use to make curries.
  • Use mint to flavor cakes, meringues and biscuits.
  • Use to make a marinade for lamb.
  • The Middle Eastern salad dish, Tabbouleh contains mint, bulgur, parsley, red onions, tomato and lemon juice.
  • Add chopped mint to rice, chickpea, couscous or bean dishes.
Advertisements

Glazed Brownies with Mint Cookies

This past summer, a couple of people at work challenged me to make brownies topped with Girl Scout’s Thin Mint Cookies. Genius idea, right? So I told them, I would accept their challenge and I went on a brownie recipe hunt. I’ve always made brownies from a box mix, so I wanted to prove that I could make them from scratch. So low and behold, I found a simple enough recipe from The Food Network website – it’s not a fancy brownie from any of the big name stars featured on there, it’s a solid recipe that got good reviews. So I said, why not?

I am pleased to say that the brownies turned out excellent. And since I couldn’t find any Thin Mint cookies, I used Oreo’s Mint Fudge Cremes. Not only did the brownies look good, but they were very satisfying. It’s not too strong in the mint flavor, so those that aren’t big fans of mint will enjoy it.

During the holiday season, mint is one of my favorite flavors to work with – so I wanted to share this recipe. You’ll impress your family, friends, and co-workers if you bring a tray of these to a holiday party. Enjoy and bon appetit!

INGREDIENTS for BROWNIES

1 ½ cups flour

1 ½  teaspoon baking powder

¼  teaspoon fine salt

10 oz. finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate (I used Baker’s Chocolate Squares)

2 oz. finely chopped unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker’s Chocolate Squares)

½  cup unsalted butter

2 cups white sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

INGREDIENTS for GLAZE

6 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate

½  cup heavy whipping cream

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENT

Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies or Oreo Mint Fudge Cremes – 1/2 box of cookies, chopped

DIRECTIONS

1. Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with parchment paper, with edges hanging over the sides (for easy lift out of pan), lightly butter

2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. Combine chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl (like Pyrex glass bowls). Fill a sauce pan with water and simmer over medium-high heat. Once water is simmering, turn off heat. Set bowl on top of sauce pan and whisk until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir chocolate mixture in and blend evenly. Add dry ingredients and stir just until blended. DO NOT OVER MIX.

5. Pour batter (the batter will be thick) into pan and bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into brownie comes out coated with a fudgey crumb. Cool the brownies in the pan on a wire rack.

6. While brownies are cooling, make glaze. Put chocolate in medium bowl. Boil heavy cream and pour over chocolate. Let stand for 5 minutes. Then stir.

7. Pour glaze and spread evenly over the brownies. Add the chopped cookies on top. Let brownies set at room temperature.

8. Once cooled, lift the brownies out of the pan and cut into 24 squares.