You could travel the breadth of the temperate world eating mint at every meal. Not that such a quest would be the smartest
way to spend your midlife crisis or retirement fund, but it would be satisfying. In England you'd dine on lamb with mint jelly; in the Alps you'd sip minty liqueurs with inscrutable monks. You'd touch down in Italy for osso buco with gremolata followed by a delicioso
mint gelato. Circling the Mediterranean, you could consume mint tea in Morocco, dolmades in Greece, and mint-flecked tabbouleh in Lebanon. In Vietnam, goi cuon. In Thailand, nam sod…you get the idea. And all along the way, you'd probably begin and end every single day with mint. Toothpaste, that is.
Mint is the world's most popular herb. It grows so easily and spreads so rampantly that early colonists who brought a few specimens with them to the Americas soon noticed it growing wild in fields and forests. Mint disregards the garden wall as blithely as it does culinary boundaries.
Any plant that grows so freely is liable to breed recklessly as well, so it is no surprise to find that there are some 600 varieties growing around the world. Only two types of mint are cultivated for widespread sale in the United States, however: spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint has a subtler flavor than peppermint and combines more easily with most foods. Try it in place of basil, its botanical cousin, in summer dishes. Peppermint is spicy and cool; menthol, a chemical compound in the plant, actually stimulates cold sensors on your tongue, tricking your brain into feeling a chill. Peppermint is wonderful in candies and ice cream, but can be harsh in other preparations.
The dishes on these pages show off mint's versatility. Mint complements the sweet and tangy flavors in a watermelon salad
, offsets the spices in a savory gremolata sauce
, and lends a bright note to a salty salad dressing
. And should your palate eventually grow weary of these culinary explorations, you can reinvigorate it as children around the world have always done: by chewing on a single leaf of fresh, green mint.