Mint is related to basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage. It shows up in dishes all over the Mediterranean, where it originated. Carried beyond the Mediterranean region as conquerors advanced and peasants emigrated, mint is now used in kitchens around the world. Because it's such a popular herb in cooking and in making a soothing, refreshing tea, many cooks grow their own. Growing a patch is easy, although once established, it has a tendency to take over the garden.

In England, mint is used for making a sharp sauce and a sweet jelly. Both compliment the flavor of lamb and sooth digestion after eating a rich lamb roast or grilled chops. The French use mint mainly with green peas, and Italian cooks add it to their breadcrumb stuffing for artichokes, zucchini and other vegetables.

Mint is also popular in Greek and Turkish dishes and adds a bright, unexpected note to tabbouleh. Middle Eastern recipes call for it, both fresh and dried. In Morocco, mint tea, a sugary blend of the fresh herb and green tea, is ubiquitous.

Asian countries make other uses of this herb. Incendiary mint chutney and cooling raita, the combination of yogurt and cucumber with garlic and mint, are served with curries. In Vietnam, mint is part of the table salad at every day's lunch and dinner. Mint leaves, along with aromatic, Asian varieties of basil, are a customary addition to pho, the rich beef broth with rice noodles that is Vietnam's national dish. In Thailand, mint is used in some curries.

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In the New World, Americans think of it mostly for flavoring mint juleps and garnishing berries and desserts. In Mexico, yerba buena, a wild spearmint with a taste reminiscent of oregano, is commonly added when cooking beans and other dishes.

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Spearmint, one of the more than 25 varieties of mint, has broad, pointy, bright green leaves. Its mild taste is almost sweet. Darker, bitter and pungent peppermint is more suited to making tea. When buying mint, fresh or dried, taste it to make sure you are getting a full-flavored product.

Mint Tabbouleh

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup bulghur, cooked according to package directions
  • 2/3 cup chopped mint, lightly packed
  • 12 small cherry tomatoes, halved, or 6 large, quartered
  • 1 small zucchini, finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Drain cooked bulghur well and place in medium bowl. Add mint, tomatoes and zucchini. Toss with fork to combine.
  2. Add lemon juice and oil while tossing with fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. This salad keeps in refrigerator, tightly covered, 1 day.

    Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
98 calories, 3 g. fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
17 g. carbohydrate, 3 g. protein, 4 g. dietary fiber, 9 mg. sodium

Dana Jacobi
AICR