Mint is an under-utilized herb by most of us and it just screams springtime, with its refreshing taste and gorgeous green color. We flavor all sorts of things with it, but mint as an herb, is used much less frequently. If you come from Mediterranean or Middle Eastern roots or grew up in the Southern US, then you’ve experienced mint. It’s great with peas, asparagus, lamb, fiddleheads and a whole heap of other things, too. Afterall where would a mojito or julep be without it?As a kid, I used to chew on mint from the garden. My mother let one difficult corner of our yard be taken over by mint, though I don’t recall that she actually cooked with it (other than a garnish). Mint is invasive; it will absolutely take over your yard. It spreads by stolons, or runners, just under the surface of the soil. It roots easily, too easily really, but it grows very well in large pots; it over-winters in pots, in our sometimes nasty New England winters.
Mint has a warm, deep, very aromatic, sweet flavor, with a cooling after-taste. It’s used to flavor everything from mouthwash to chewing gum, in tea, jelly, drinks, toothpaste and candy. It’s used in both sweet and savory preparations. And of course, cream de menthe, which is used to make the famous 1950’s drink, a grasshopper. In other words, it’s in everything, but we don’t seem to cook with it much. The British serve their lamb with mint jelly and the Middle Eastern cuisines use it extensively, both in foods and as a garnish, as well. It is wonderful with starches, used fresh in salads, but just remember, a little goes a long way, but that shouldn’t discourage you from using it in when you cook.
Peppermint, spearmint and apple mint are the most common varieties. But there is a plethora of mint flavors available: banana mint, ginger mint, bergamot (orange & lemon) mint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, mojito mint, grapefruit mint, lavender mint, and many more. Then, there are variegated and curly varieties and pennyroyal, a low-growing mint.
My personal favorite, as shocking as it may be, is orange mint.
I don’t know that I ever cooked with mint before that last few years. I have never served mint jelly with lamb; I think it’s rather nasty stuff unless you make it yourself. I use pepper jelly with lamb, but recently, I’ve been adding it to various preparations. We really enjoy mint added to peas and yesterday I tossed some into some sautéed zucchini. I just simply cook frozen peas, sometimes sautéed with snap pease and onions, then toss in a bit of mint at the end. It’s a nice flavor change, but I don’t use much, as I mentioned earlier, a little goes a long way.
Mint is particularly nice with citrus (remember the mojito?) and these roasted potatoes are a nice change of pace. I think they are particularly delicious with lamb or chicken.
Lebanese Roasted Potatoes with Tomato and Mint
- 3 potatoes, peeled and diced (or thinly sliced)
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I prefer coarsely ground)
- 1 small onion, diced (or thinly sliced)
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (with their juice) or 3 fresh garden tomatoes
- 3 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 teaspoons roasted garlic paste)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dried mint flakes
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Oil an oven-proof dish; set aside.
Place a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Toss the potatoes into the pan; lower the heat to medium. About every 2-3 minutes, stir (or toss) the potatoes; you want them to pick up some color and be partially cooked. When they are about 1/3 done, season with the salt and pepper; add the onion and continue tossing and browning. This process will take about 12-15 minutes. Pour the partially cooked potato mixture into the casserole.
While the potatoes are sautéing, combine the canned tomatoes, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon and cloves and mint, if using dried mint (not fresh!). After pouring the partially cooked potatoes into the casserole dish, spread the tomato mixture evenly over the potatoes. Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Sprinkle the chopped fresh mint over the dish and serve immediately, drizzled with the remaining olive oil. As an option, this dish is excellent served with coarsely chopped black olives and feta cheese sprinkled over the tomatoes with the fresh mint. This dish is good served hot or at room temperature.
NOTE: In summer I prepare this dish differently. Slice the potatoes quite thin, toss them with oil, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper (some hot chile flakes are rather nice, too) and layer them in a casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with the spices. Lay the slices of fresh tomatoes, slightly over-lapping on top of the seasoned potato slices. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the potatoes are tender, another 20-30 minutes. You may need to add 3-4 tablespoons of broth. I try to slice the tomatoes over the dish, so I don’t lose any juice. When done, drizzle with some good olive oil and scatter with torn bits of fresh mint. This is good served hot or at room temperature.
Lebanese Roasted Potatoes with Tomato and Mint Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
I make this dish differently depending on the season. When the fresh tomatoes aren’t from the garden, I use fire-roasted canned tomatoes. Hunt’s and Muir Glen both produce a good version. Partially cooking the potatoes and onions is a nice alternative. I like the bit of caramelization that happens, but it isn’t necessary.
At this point I plop the potato mixture into a casserole (this will be completely covered with tomatoes), pour the seasoned tomato mixture over the top, slide the dish into the oven and roast until done.
Sprinkle with torn up bits of fresh mint…this is also a good way to get rid of any pent-up aggressions!
This dish is wonderful with coarsely chopped or even whole, black pitted olives and some crumbled feta added…a vegetarian entrée.
So get yourself some mint plants. Woodland Gardens has an interesting selection of mint plants, as well as other great herbs, annuals and perennials. And if you just can’t wait that long and need some fresh mint today, right now, at this very moment, then haul yourself off to an Indian and Middle Eastern market. They have better, fresher cut mint than your local supermarket does.
It’s very easy to add something a little extra by tearing up fresh mint and adding it to your leafy salad. This is particularly delicious when you add feta, olives, and oranges. But, whatever you decide, please start using mint in your cooking.