Technique: How to dry mint
Dried mint, or na’na, is an important flavor component in Lebanese cooking. It’s often combined with fresh mint to intensify the mint flavor—in a good way, not in a menthol way. Drying mint is a great opportunity to preserve an abundance from the garden, and it will remind you when you use it in the dead of winter that you were once actually outside with pleasure.
The method is simple (my friend Jeanne is laughing right now because she says I always say that, when it certainly is not simple to her. This really is though, Jeanne). Pluck lots of mint leaves from their stems. Be sure they are clean and totally dry. Lay them out in a single layer on a plate. Microwave (yes) in 10 second intervals, checking to see if they are curling and crisping up. The leaves should stay green. If they brown, they’re still usable, but stopping every few seconds helps prevent you from taking them that far. The time this takes also depends on the size of your leaves—anywhere from 15 seconds for small leaves to 45 seconds for larger ones.
Now, I must share an alternate plan in case you are drying a lot of mint and don’t want to babysit the microwave, or in case you don’t have a microwave, which I did not for the last eight months when I lived in San Francisco (the house was charming in so many ways that the lack of microwave bothered me not one bit. Besides, I brought dried mint with me from home…). Turn on the oven very low, 140 degrees, just to warm it up for 5 minutes. Turn the oven off. Turn the oven off. I wrote that twice intentionally so you won’t forget like I did earlier today. Place the leaves in a single layer on a sheet pan, put that in the oven and check every 5 minutes to see how they’re coming along. Depending on the size of the leaves, they’ll be dry in 5-20 minutes. The downside is that they seem to brown in the warm oven method. You can do this in an unheated oven and let the mint dry there for a week or so. It might cramp your style if you need your oven frequently, but the leaves come out green and crisp.
When you use the dried mint, you’re going to crush it up between the palms of your hand (same gesture as when you’re about to eat a treat). This is fun to do. But don’t crush it until you use it, or fragrance and flavor will be diminished. Store the crispy green mint leaves in an airtight container in your cupboard. I notice that the na’na we have on the shelf up north here from last summer has turned brown, but it will keep for several months.
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