Prevailing modern wisdom suggests the best way to cook is by taking the highest-quality seasonal ingredients and doing as little as possible to them. Which is fine, admirable, whatever, but I would go one further and propose that the best thing to do with these seasonal ingredients is to fry them. How better to show your respect to anything than by dousing it in hot fat? Especially if, like the Spanish inquisition, the frying is unexpected! We’ve all heated up a tomato. Have you ever tasted fried mint?
We’re blessed with several containers of glowing-ripe tomatoes from the garden, which magically refill as soon as they’re emptied, and I kept thinking about these tomatoes with fried mint, about how the leaves would go crisp and crunchy and the oil they’d sizzled in would become infused with their heady scent. It’s very possible, highly likely in fact, that I read about fried mint somewhere and internalised the idea – but it appeared in my head out of nowhere, compellingly, and I had a feeling it would be spectacular. That feeling was confirmed. I hesitated before including this recipe on here – I say recipe, it’s more of a vaguely-realised suggestion, a bullet point in the notes app of your phone at best, but it tasted incredible and it’s been forever since I’ve posted savoury, and as the late, sorely missed Anthony Bourdain said in Kitchen Confidential, “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” (For some reason I always misremember that book as being called Secrets and Knives, in fact, I was convinced one of his publications had that title; if there’s a doctor in the house I’d love to know if “constantly getting kneecapped by the Mandela effect” is something I can get a pill for.)
With a recipe so simple as to be almost nonexistent you need good tomatoes, sweet and pendulous, the kind to make your eyes fly open as you bite into them, perhaps followed by an exclamation of “hell’s bells!” I wouldn’t really recommend making this in the shrivelled dead of winter, but right now is that hemispheric sweet spot where we in New Zealand have the last glorious crops of tomatoes coming through while countries up north are starting to post “hot girl summer” captions thus implying tomatoes are moving back into season.
But what about the fried mint? You’d think, freshly chopped and stirred into tomatoes, it couldn’t be improved upon, but this is exquisite – the leaves grow translucent and as shatteringly crisp as filo pastry, their cool heat deepened and made more savoury, more lush. The leaves and their seasoned oil coat the tomatoes with a glossy slick of darkly fresh flavour – it’s sensational, it’s captivating.
Also – and I’m truly not going to do this every time – I made a little tiktok video to go with this.
This recipe, as I said, is really, really simple, and I just ate it alongside a short length of baguette – but as with anything tomato-based, it’s amenable to variety. Stir it through hot pasta for an instant sauce, pile it onto couscous and scatter with toasted seeds, add leaves and turn it into a salad, the usual ideas. You could also apply the fried mint and its oil elsewhere – for some reason I’m thinking ice cream, but obviously couscous and so on would benefit – but as it is, the red-and-green symphony (my final hyperbolic adjective I promise) of this recipe is perfect unadorned, eaten standing up in the kitchen because it’s so delicious you’ve forgotten to sit down.
Tomatoes and Fried Mint
There’s hardly anything to this little salad – but it’s incredibly delicious – so here it is. Recipe by myself.
- 1-2 handfuls ripe cherry tomatoes, depending on how much you want
- 1 handful fresh mint leaves (roughly 15 leaves?)
- 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or something similarly neutral like grapeseed or sunflower
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar, optional
1: Halve your tomatoes and place them in a bowl. If they need it, wash the mint leaves and pat them dry with a clean tea towel.
2: Heat the rice bran oil in a large saucepan and once it’s hot, throw in the mint leaves and cook them for a bare minute or so, stirring a little to coat them in the sizzling oil. Try to keep the leaves more or less in a single layer. I lifted a mint leaf from the pan and crumbled it in my fingers, its brittle, crisp texture was how I knew they were done. I don’t expect you to have the same cavalier attitude towards naked heat, but basically, these should be ready somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute in. Turn off the heat.
3: Spoon the mint leaves and their oil over the tomatoes. Add the extra olive oil and salt to taste. Stir. I also like to add a little ground white pepper, I can’t help it, I love the stuff. If you want to add the vinegar, here’s a good time – I like it both with and without, which I appreciate is not helpful for your decision-making.
Serves 1, possibly more, depending on how you’re using it. Don’t forget to drink the minty tomato juice which pools at the base of the bowl.
- If you don’t have access to a mint plant – and why should you – get one of those mini potted ones from the fresh herb section of the supermarket – the sort which are always overpriced and die almost instantly – and rip off every single leaf.
- In case you’re wondering why there’s two oils, rice bran oil is better for frying, the dash of extra virgin olive oil at the end is for flavour, and not suited to high heat. I free-pour both and encourage you to do the same.
Bad Religion, Frank Ocean. This song is nearly ten years old (?!!) and yet it’s still too powerful! Like, imagine listening to this while walking down the street to buy toothpaste. There’s those opening church organs and those devastating, late-in-the-piece drums and that sudden falsetto howl, and suddenly you’re sobbing into a courier van, dental hygiene forgotten. Absolute folly.
A Boy Like That/I Have A Love by Chita Rivera and Carol Lawrence from the Original Broadway Cast recording of West Side Story. I’m always listening to Sondheim but since it was his birthday the other day I decided to listen to everything he’s done in chronological order, and twelve hours later I’d made it to…1957. Anyway – the film version of West Side Story is unsurprisingly what everyone thinks of first, but the original is also glorious – I love Chita’s throaty, knowing voice against Carol’s clear soprano, and those harmonies at the end are just stunning.
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