A couple of years ago, I stood in the kitchen of my friend Stephanos, watching him as he prepared dinner for us to share. He seasoned meatballs with large spoonfuls of dried mint, shaping them into rounds with his palms before transferring them to a frying pan where they sizzled and sputtered, filling the room with their sweet aroma. Stephanos laughed as he told me that on his home island of Cyprus, people were committed to adding dried mint to almost every dish.
After tasting the meal I understood why. The dried mint bought a lightness to the rich, tender, meatballs, cutting through the richness of the meat with a touch of brightness. Not long after I booked a flight to Cyprus to begin the research for my latest cookbook, Ripe Figs: Recipes and Stories from Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. My travels through the region confirmed that there are few ingredients as versatile and brilliant as dried mint.
Anyone who cooks Middle Eastern cuisine at home knows that fresh herbs such as chopped mint and parsley can brighten any dish. What recipe doesn’t benefit from a smattering of fresh, fragrant leaves that enliven and uplift in equal measure? But in the rush to add the requisite splash of color to an Instagramable plate, chefs and home cooks often miss out on the power of dried herbs. Because while fresh herbs are fabulous for a final flourish, many dishes benefit from dried herbs that are incorporated into the cooking process. I'll go one step further: I believe dried mint to be a superior cooking ingredient to fresh mint, any time.
I believe dried mint to be a superior cooking ingredient to fresh mint, any time.
Dried mint has a cooling menthol-like aroma and tastes sweet and woody with hints of eucalyptus. It adds a depth and earthiness to dishes that you simply don’t get with fresh mint and, as such, should be seen as a completely different ingredient. They’re not interchangeable. Dried mint is wonderful sprinkled into salads or spooned into dressings—I always add a teaspoon to the staple Middle Eastern chopped salad of finely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, sharpened with a squeeze of lemon juice and lots of extra virgin olive oil.
Dried mint is also excellent with heavier meat-focused dishes, like roasted lamb shanks or a layered moussaka. Dried mint has a special affinity with dairy: Use it in a tzatziki or in a Turkish hot yogurt soup, made with chicken stock and seasoned with plenty of dried mint stirred through the rich, creamy, broth. The added mint fills the whole room with the scent of a fresh meadow.
In Cyprus dried mint is commonly used to season the island’s most famous culinary export, the salty, brined, squeaky cheese known as Halloumi. On my travels through the island, I savored Halloumi and dried mint-stuffed ravioli and savory whole wheat muffins filled with crumbed Halloumi and dried mint. Perhaps my favorite way to use dried mint, however, is in simple vegetable dishes such as the Turkish soup Ezo gelin corbasi, where red lentils are simmered in a tomato-infused broth with lots of sweet paprika and warming red pepper flakes and generous tablespoons of grassy dried mint. It never fails to soothe and delight.Yasmin Khan
While there are dozens of different types of fresh mint grown in the wild, you'll typically find two varieties of dried mint sold in the U.S.: peppermint and spearmint. Peppermint has a stronger, more refreshing and cooling aroma, whereas spearmint is milder, not as cooling, and a touch sweeter.
You can source dried mint in larger supermarkets, at online spice shops such as Burlap & Barrel, or at your local Mediterrean or Middle Eastern grocery store (I love Kalustyan's in New York, Sahadi’s in Brooklyn, and Samiramis in San Francisco). Wherever you buy it, feel free to experiment—it can make a welcome addition to all kinds of stews, soups, salads, roasted meats, and pastas. I hope I have given you all the all encourage-mint you need.
$8.00, Burlap & Barrel
$4.00, Snuk Foods
Originally Appeared on Epicurious