Jun 11, 2015

Mint to clear the Mind

This morning I embarked on an unnecessary but entirely necessary wedding project: strawberry mint shrub. 

I only recently learned about shrubs, which are fruit drinking vinegars. The basic history derives from pre-refrigeration days, when one might have had an overabundance of fruit and, not wanting it to spoil, covered it with sugar, let it macerate, and then doused it all in vinegar. This was your pickled fruit, more or less, and while the fruit probably didn't taste that good, the vinegar-syrup did, having sucked all the gorgeous flavors out of the fruit, resulting in a deliciously sweet-sour elixir, not unlike the popular kombucha of today (minus the fermented tea bit).

Planning this wedding and starting my business at the same time, I've ended up feeling more like the vinegar-soaked fruit, having everything sucked out of me until I'm left sort of pale in the face. It's a bad analogy, but planning a big event is stressful (not to mention while trying to make a career change), and I've had to re-learn a lot of coping techniques. Namely: don't forget to eat food, drink water, and go to sleep. Also exercise, don't be mean to your partner, and go outside.
My friend Susan's advice sums it up best: just settle the f*ck down.

Mint has this amazing settling quality that I urge you to use if you're feeling overwhelmed. It's long been known as a digestive, among other medicinal qualities, and it's easy to come by. Gloriously, mint is one of the herbs that works well either fresh or dried. And it's a family of herbs that is so varied I am sure you are familiar with one of them, be it the true mints (Mentha sp.) such as spearmint or peppermint, or the extended Lamiaceae family members, such as thyme, marjoram, basil, oregano, lavender and rosemary. The family includes over 200 genera, and a huge percentage of them are aromatic; they grow all over the world, even in the arctic.

And if mint can grow in the arctic, you can surely grow some on your porch or windowsill for easy access to clearing your head and cooling your jets. If you have some earth to plant, just remember it will spread, so keep it in a pot or just be prepared for lots of mint! 

It also grows wild and can easily be foraged (see Foraged Flavor for great ideas), and if you're looking for a specific variety check out The New American Herbal's entry on mint, where author Stephen Orr lists some of the best mint species for certain uses ('Kentucky Colonal' for mint juleps, for example.) For the botanist or plant-geek like me, check out Mints: A family of Herbs and Ornamentals. Three great books to learn more about our beloved mints.

Here are some quick suggestions for ways to use fresh versus dried mint, followed by a recipe for strawberry-mint shrub - the ultimate non-alcoholic calming potion!

Dried Mint
Go for dried spearmint when using in savory dishes, and peppermint for sweet dishes. Spearmint has a milder flavor; peppermint goes well with dark chocolate.

Grilled eggplant ~ sprinkle sliced eggplant with dried mint, salt and chili pepper, cover with plenty of olive oil and grill or roast until done. Top with yogurt and pine nuts or stuff with quinoa if you're feeling fancy.

Turkish Style Meatballs ~ the proper name is 'kofte' but keep it simple and just add some dried mint to your meatball recipe. You'll be surprised how tasty it is!

Lamb burgers ~ mint and lamb love each other! Add dried mint to your ground lamb patties and top with a big slice of good feta. Yes please.

Salad of Grilled Veg ~ Throw some veg on the grill, such as broccoli, eggplant and zuchinni. Get it nice and dark! Chop into bite size pieces, toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and dried mint. Add pistachios and goat cheese if you like!
Fresh Mint
Look for mint on the stem, or pick your own. Treat it like cut flowers: give the stems a fresh cut and place in a vase of water on the counter or in the fridge.

Moroccan Mint Tea~ Place a big teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of a tall glass. Add 3-5 stems of fresh mint and fill with hot water. Let steep for 5 minutes and enjoy. Add some green tea if you want some caffeine!

Cucumber & Chickpea salad~ An easy and tasty lunch to bring to work: chop cucumbers into bite size pieces, add canned chickpeas, lime juice, olive oil, salt and ripped mint leaves.

Fresh pea soup~ nothing tastes more like spring (or early summer?): here's an easy recipe from Bon Appétit.

Be more Vietnamese~ and add fresh mint along with fresh cilantro to your noodle soup. You'll feel whole again.

Moroccan Mint Tea

Strawberry-Mint Shrub
by Neyah White, from The Bar Book
by Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Makes 48 oz

1 qt very ripe strawberries, hulled and halved
Leaves from 10 sprigs fresh mint
4 cups sugar
1 TB kosher slat
4 cups cider or white wine vinegar or a combination of both

Put the strawberry halves in the bottom of a large bowl, layer the mint leaves on top, cover with the sugar, and sprinkle with the salt. Let this macerate covered at room temperature for a few hours, stirring occasionally, and then refrigerate for about 8 hours, stirring a few more times to be sure the sugar is making contact with the fruit.

After a syrup has formed, add the vinegar and stir to dissolve any undissolved sugar. (To speed the process, transfer to a pan and simmer for a few minutes.) Use immediately or let sit for few days to allow the flavor to deepen. I find my sweet spot is just 1 day. Once you are satisfied with the flavor, filter the mix through a double layer of cheese-cloth, pour into clean bottles, and cover tightly. The shrub is essentially pickled now and be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

To enjoy your shrub: add about 1 inch to the bottom of a Tom Collins glass, add lots of ice and top with seltzer and a sprig of fresh mint.


  1. Can I use this with Bourbon to make a fruity Mint Julep?

    1. of course! That sounds delightful. In fact shrubs are very popular for cocktails - here's a recipe for a Tom Collins with strawberry shrub!

    2. Awesome thanks!