The aphrodisiac concept is quite ancient in its allure—a wondrous potion designed to seduce and enchant, though I confess to taking the idea with a grain of skepticism. Still, I firmly believe in the magic of food, from the visual, olfactory and gustatory standpoints. The seduction of food is in the unexpected juxtaposition of flavors and textures, in the temptation exerted upon the palate and the eye. The aphrodisiac dinner that I invite you to share captures the essence of this belief. …
Medievals texts list various aphrodisiacs: the bright verdancy of basil, the resinous smokiness of pine nuts, the plummy sweetness of rose, and the intriguing medicinal aroma of saffron, among others. Their effects vary from instilling a sense of well-being to increasing the libido. My menu was devised with attention to these flavors and their interplay with the rest of the ingredients to produce a sumptuous effect. Thus, for the first course, I offer a salad of meltingly soft avocado paired with fresh raspberries and a generous dose of basil. The spicy green richness of basil set against the bright tartness of raspberries makes for a beautiful and refreshing salad. To add a dose of savoriness, I tossed the baby lettuce with a tangy shallot vinaigrette. In order to further explore the interplay of textures, I propose to serve the salad with warm chèvre (fresh goat cheese) toasts.
The main course is a classical Italian seafood pasta, ornamented with a Middle Eastern garnish of pomegranate and pine nuts. From the standpoint of visual seduction, pomegranate stands unrivaled; however, the tartness of crunchy seeds against the velvety spaghetti makes for a wonderful sensation. Each bite of this pasta tastes slightly differently, depending on what you get on your fork—a roasted pine nut, a basil leaf, a piece of shrimp or a tangy tomato slice.
Finally, shrikhand is an Indian dessert that seduces me anytime of day or night. It is a luscious, slightly tangy mousse made from whipping drained yogurt with sugar, saffron and rosewater. Like a beautiful perfume base, yogurt mousse attains a new character, depending upon the embellishments one chooses to add. In the case of fruit shrikhand, the mango is added to both lighten the mousse and to create an interesting depth of flavor. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.
Every recipe serves two people, although mango shrikhand makes 4 portions (enough for a very decadent breakfast the day after). Ease of preparation was an important guiding principle for me as I created the dinner. As for a perfume to accompany the dinner, I would suggest a composition that has a low sillage, so that your dining companion would be inclined to lean in and inhale your fragrance. Applied lightly, Guerlain Mitsouko parfum, Hermès Vétiver Tonka, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist or Caron Or et Noir would be my personal choices.
Avocado and Raspberry Salad with Chèvre Toasts
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup fresh raspberries (feel free to use other berries)
¼ cup torn basil leaves
2 cups baby lettuce leaves
1 shallot, minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ tablespoon red wine vinegar (white wine, champagne, sherry or any other mild vinegar would work perfectly)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of sugar
salt, pepper to taste
Mix together and set aside for 15 minutes.
Spread fresh goat cheese on a crusty baguette or other bread of your choice. Sprinkle with walnuts. Bake for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 350F (180C), or until the toasts begin to turn golden.
Dice avocado and immediately toss with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Toss lettuce leaves with the shallot vinaigrette and basil leaves. Arrange on the plates and garnish with avocado and raspberries. Serve with fresh goal cheese toasts.
Pasta with Shrimp, Pomegranate and Pine Nuts
1lb (450g) pasta (spaghetti, linguine)
2 garlic cloves, halved
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped tomatoes
½ lb (225g) peeled, deveined shrimp
¼ cup torn basil leaves
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
salt, pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add garlic cloves and toss until they turn golden. Add tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes, or until they lose their raw flavor but still possess their bright verdancy. If you are using canned tomatoes, cook till they start to fall apart. Add salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, bring the large pot of water to boil. Add a liberal amount of salt and then your pasta of choice. Cook till it is al dente.
While your pasta is cooking, toss peeled shrimp into the tomato sauce and cook for about 5 minutes. As soon as shrimp turn pink, add the torn basil leaves and remove the pan from the heat, keeping in mind that the seafood will cook in the residual heat.
Drain pasta and toss with the sauce. I prefer a small amount of sauce, enough only to coat the pasta strands. However, feel free to adjust the quantity to your own preferences. For me, the most enjoyable part of cooking is experimentation; therefore, I tend to eschew doctrinaire instructions. Before serving, sprinkle pomegranate and pine nuts over the pasta.
4 cups plain yogurt (full-fat, if possible)
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon saffron
¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon foodgrade rose water + enough to cover raisins
1 ripe mango
3-4 tablespoon golden raisins
3-4 tablespoons shredded pistachios (unsalted)
Follow the instructions outlined in my previous article on shrikhand. Before serving, add the mango (pureed or diced) to the mousse. Alternatively, you can layer them, as I have done in the photo.
Photography © Bois de Jasmin.