Mint sauce was a Greek sauce used for dipping bread in the beginning of the meal. This sauce was most probably used by Jews during the Second Temple period and soon after in the dipping ritual of the Passover Seder, when Matza was dipped into various sauces in the beginning of the meal. The Karpas ritual, dipping of the vegetable in salt water, in the medieval and modern Passover Seder is a vestige memory of these Greek sauces used in the Symposium meal.
This recipe for Mint Sauce is based on a description of such a sauce in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists Book 2, Chapter 66, d-e, quoted from Nicander of Colophon in his poem Theriaca (lines 875-876), from the 2nd century BCE. Of course Nicander was not talking about appetizers. He was talking about remedies from snake bites. But Athenaeus adopted his words into an appetizer.
ὅτι εἰς τὸ πρόπομα καὶ ταῦτα ἐνεβάλλοντο, πέπερι, φυλλίς, σμύρνα, κύπειρον, μύρον Αἰγύπτιον.
ἢ καὶ λεπτοθρίοιο πολύχνοα φύλλα κονύζης,
πολλάκι δ᾽ ἢ πέπερι κόψας νέον ἢ ἀπὸ Μήδων
Into the appetizer these ingredients also were put, — pepper, a salad leaf, myrrh, sedge, and Egyptian perfume. … Nicander in the Theriaca: “or even the downy leaves of than flea-bane — often again, chopping up fresh pepper or Median cress.”
Greek text and translation is by Charles Burton Gulick, from Loeb Classical Library, Vol 1, 1927.
Nicander’s poetry in Theriaca (lines 872-878) sounds like this:
ἄλλοτε δ’ ὕσσωπός τε καὶ ἡ πολύγουνος ὄνωνις,
φύλλα τε Τηλεφίοιο νέον τ’ ἐν βότρυσι κλῆμα,
ἀγλῖθες καὶ καρπὸς ὀρειγενέος κορίοιο,
ἢ καὶ λεπτοθρίοιο πολύχνοα φύλλα κονύζης.
πολλάκι δ’ ἢ πέπεριv κόψας νέον ἢ ἀπὸ Μήδων
κάρδαμον έμπίσαιο· σέ δ’ ἂν πολvάvθεα yλήχωv
στρvχvοv τ’ ή6έ σίvηπι κακηπελέοvτα σαώσαι.
at another time HYSSOP and the manybranched REST-HARROW and the leaves of LOVE-IN-ABSENCE and
the fresh tendril on the GRAPE CLUSTER, CLOVES OF GARLIC, and
the seed of. the mountain-born CORIANDER, or even the downy
leaves of the delicate FLEABANE. Often too you may cut off
some fresh PEPPER or Persian GARDEN-CRESS and administer it in a drink; and the flowering PENNYROYAL and DEADLY NIGHT
SHADE and MUSTARD too may save one in evil plight.
Greek text and translation is from Gow, Andrew Sydenham Farrar, and Alwyn Faber Scholfield, Nicander – The Poems and Poetical Fragments, Cambridge University Press, 1953.
- Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti, Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece, J Paul Getty Museum Publications, 2007, p. 42, 62.
- 15 g Mint Leaves Fresh
- 1 tsp Pickled Green Peppercorns
- 2 tsp Safflower
- 6 tbsp Olive Oil Extra Virgin
- 2 tbsp Wine Vinegar
- Rip off leaves from about 6 mint branches and weigh them to be equal to 15 grams.
- Crush mint leaves, pickled green peppercorns and safflower in a mortar. Alternatively this can be done in the food-processor as well.
- Add olive oil and wine vinegar to the crushed spices. Let the mixture sit for 1 hour so that the olive oil and wine vinegar will absorb the flavor of the spices. Serve as a dip for bread.
- The mint sauce can be stored as a condiment in a glass bottle sealed with a cork. It will last in the refrigerator for many weeks.
- Wine vinegar from Spain, either Sherry or Sweet Moscatel, which have a stronger taste, or Sweet Pedro Ximenez vinegar, which has a milder taste. All of the above mentioned vinegars are made based on recipes closer to what the Romans would have used. A very good brand of Spanish wine vinegars is Los Villares, which can be purchased in Whole Foods Supermarkets throughout the US.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Greece, especially Crete. Just like wines, olive oil taste varies based on the variety of olives used and the region where they were grown. The Romans imported the majority of their olive oil from Greece, which was considered to be of the highest quality. A few different brands of Greek olive oil can be purchased in Whole Foods Supermarkets throughout the US.