Every year I anticipate the strawberry season with much impatience. I love the scent of strawberries, which is a combination of milky sweetness, caramel richness and apple blossom freshness. While for the first couple of weeks I am glad to enjoy the juicy berries with nothing much besides a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, as days go by and the berries get more plentiful, I devise new ways to enjoy this seasonal favorite. Admittedly, my perfumery experiments significantly influence my culinary adventures, such as when I worked to juxtapose strawberry notes with an orange blossom accord, which resulted in a fragrant wild strawberry (fraises des bois) effect. Or when I discovered that strawberry pairs beautifully with anise notes, producing an interesting warm and cool effect. Perfumery and gastronomy are tightly linked, after all. Below are some of my favorite ways to enjoy strawberries, inspired by both classical pairings as well as my own flavor-fragrance explorations.
1. Strawberries and Sour Cream/Crème Fraîche
Although strawberries and cream is a classical pairing, in Russia and much of Eastern Europe, it is the tangy richness of sour cream (or crème fraîche, a richer variant) that provides a lush foil for the juicy red berries. I admit that I remain partial to this combination. The pleasantly tart milky flavor of sour cream makes the berries seem even more fragrant and decadent. Strawberries may be mixed with sour cream and sugar or the components may be served separately with the guests selecting their own combination. A nice variation is to use honey instead of sugar. Also, try serving strawberry shortcakes with whipped crème fraîche instead of the usual heavy cream. It is heavenly!
2. Strawberries Macerated with Orange Blossom Water and Honey
In Italy, strawberries are often macerated in a mixture of lemon juice and sugar, while in England, the ruby richness of port accents the milky caramel flavor of berries. I love all of these variations, and I recently discovered yet another one to enjoy. The Concord grape note of wild strawberries is easy to approximate with the use of orange blossom water. Simply drizzle berries with some honey or sugar, add orange blossom water and let them macerate for at least 30 min.
3. Salad with Strawberries, Basil and Black Pepper and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
The flavor of strawberries marries really well the anisic notes: basil, fennel, tarragon, anise, etc. For a refreshing and delicious summer salad, combine strawberries and lettuce (or baby spinach, arugula, watercress) with basil leaves torn in large pieces and a simple balsamic vinegar dressing. The balsamic vinegar is a nod to an Italian tradition of serving berries with the tangy, rich balsamico. Combine balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a proportion of 1 : 5 (or to your taste,) add salt, pepper and mix well. For a lunch course, you can add slices of prosciutto (see below) and roasted hazelnuts.
4. Strawberries and Prosciutto
Strawberries and pork make a perfect pairing, because both contain lactones, aromatic components that give them a rich milky note. While waiting for the melon season to start, try this variation on a classical prosciutto and melon theme—drape paper thin slices of prosciutto over strawberries. Absolutely delicious!
5. Strawberries, Dark Chocolate and Goat Cheese
Dipping strawberries in hot melted chocolate is one of my favorite things, especially when dining tête-à-tête. For a somewhat less messy variation, strawberries match nicely with fresh goat cheese and and a chocolate bar broken up into small pieces. Take a bite of a strawberry dipped in goat cheese, a bite of chocolate… No words are needed at this point…
6. Grilled Salmon with Strawberry and Red Onion Chutney
Accent strawberries with lemon or lime juice, and the result is a fruity, tart relish that beautifully offsets the richness of fish. My strawberry chutney is a fresh, uncooked fruit sauce that can be made with any type of juicy fruit—mango, orange, papaya, pineapple, melon, kiwi or even berries like raspberries and blackberries. Mince red onion (or shallot,) macerate it in lemon juice, add minced cilantro, chili pepper and fruit cut into small pieces. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Grilled pork also goes well with this chutney.
7. Strawberry and Sambuca Sorbet
As I mentioned above, strawberry and anisic notes make for a particularly stellar marriage, which is very easy to enjoy in sorbet form. The strawberry sorbet recipe I use is quite simple, with the only caveat that the sorbet base must be aged overnight to result in optimal texture. Blend 2lb of strawberries into puree, sieve to remove seeds, add sugar syrup, juice of ½ orange and 2 Tbsp of Sambuca (anise flavored liqueur). Sugar syrup is made out of 1/2lb sugar and 5oz water. Mix sugar and water together, bring to boil and simmer till the sugar is dissolved completely. Add juice of ½ lemon and take off the heat. Cool completely before adding to strawberry puree. Refrigerate sorbet base overnight and freeze in the ice cream maker. Of course, if serving to children, skip the alcohol. To tell you the truth, perfectly fragrant strawberries do not really need any other flavor embellishment.
8. Strawberry Pistachio Tartlets
The milky sweetness of pistachios and their jewel like hue is a perfect backdrop for red berries. Strawberries, in particular, take well to this pairing. If you have tartlet shells already baked, assembling this dessert takes minutes. Whip heavy cream with sugar to taste, add a few drops of vanilla extract and a handful of powdered pistachios. Fill the shells and top with strawberries. You can also use sponge cake rounds instead. A perfect end to the summer meal consisting of chilled soup and grilled fish.
9. Strawberries, Yogurt and Rosewater Lassi
Lassi is an Indian chilled yougurt drink. One of my favorite experiences with lassi has been in Gujarat, a state on the western side of India. I was served a tall glass filled with rich buffalo milk yogurt, clotted cream, sweetened with palm sugar and rose petals cooked in syrup. I am certain that this is what ambrosia tastes like. While at home I cannot get most of these ingredients, it does not prevent me from trying my hand at various lassi variations. Strawberry and rosewater is a wonderful duo, with the lemon and honey richness of rosewater balancing out the milk sweetness of the berries. For 2 cups of strawberries, you will need 1 cup of Greek yogurt, sugar to taste and 1 tspn of rosewater (or more, depending on the brand of rosewater you use and your taste.) Blend into thick puree and dilute with water or milk to desired consistency. The reason I specify Greek yogurt is because it tends to result in a fuller, less sour flavor.
On buying rosewater: After sampling pretty much every single brand of rosewater I could find on the market in the US, I have settled on Mymoune brand. It comes from Lebanon and smells of honeyed, sweet rose petals. Many other brands seem to spike their product with food safe rose synthetics, and while they are perfectly fine for most cooking and cosmetic preparations, I find the flavor to be overly sharp. Mymoune is made by a women’s cooperative in Lebanon, and besides rosewater, I love their rose syrup, orange blossom water, and apricot and fig jams.
10. Strawberry Fool
This classical English dessert has seen some revival lately, which is a good thing. Fool, a dessert of sweetened whipped cream folded into fresh or cooked fruit puree, is a wonderful way to enjoy summer’s bounty. When strawberries are in season, I turn to my favorite recipe from Elizabeth David’s book Summer Cooking:
“ 1lb. of strawberries, 3 oz. sugar, 5oz. double cream. Sieve the hulled strawberries. Stir in the sugar. Add this purée gradually to the whipped cream, so that it is quite smooth. Turn into a shallow crystal or silver dish, and put in the refrigerator for several hours, if possible underneath the ice-trays, so that the fools gets as cold as possible without actually freezing. It is important to cover the bowl, or everything else in the refrigerator will smell of strawberries.” Utterly simple and perfect!
Photography © Bois de Jasmin.