Food & Fragrance: 137 posts

Articles about the gourmand pleasures, flavorful cooking, scent and taste experiments and tested recipe ideas

Summers Under The Tamarind Tree and Grilled Spicy Chicken

Picking a favorite cuisine is not easy for me. I adore the lusty Ukrainian flavors of my childhood as well as the subtle interplay of nuances of Japanese cooking. Italian dishes, especially the Abruzzo specialties I learned as a teenager living in southern Italy, are the mainstay in my repertoire, food I turn to if I don’t know what else to cook. Persian delicacies like layered rices and stewed meats are what I make when I feel like playing with colors and flavors. And the cooking of the subcontinent, especially Pakistan and India, satisfies my perfumer’s sensibilities. Diverse though the cuisines are in different parts of the countries, they give me a chance to compose a dish as I would a fragrance by building accords and creating top, heart, and base notes.

Pakistani cuisine may be less known in comparison to Indian, but it boasts a splendid variety of dishes, from grilled meats to banana leaf steamed fish, from breads perfumed with saffron to rice garnished with dried fruit and nuts. It’s both a new and an old country. Formed in 1947, Pakistan bears the imprints of civilizations that succeeded each other, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the Greeks and the Mughals. As a place where different faiths met and different people traded, fought, loved and lived, it has a varied and rich food culture. Short of visiting a Pakistani family, one way to discover it is via Sumayya Usmani’s cookbook, Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan (public library).

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Jasmine of Angels, Jasmine of Madonna

Of all the names by which philadelphus is known–summer jasmine, farmer’s jasmine, mock orange, the loveliest ones are the Italian monikers of this sweet smelling blossom, Fiorangelo or Gelsomino della Madonna. Angel flower or Madonna’s jasmine.

In Ukraine we call it simply zhasmin, jasmine, and the jasmine of my Bois de Jasmin is this very plant. No summer image existed in my mind apart from its blossoming clusters leaving white petals in my hair and its heady perfume clinging to my skin.

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Cucumbers and Honey

Have you ever tasted a slice of cucumber dipped in honey? The combination reveals that at its heart, cucumber is  a fruit.

While the pairing of cucumber and honey may sound like an invention of young Danish chefs, it’s a classical Ukrainian duo and the ultimate taste of summer. By the time my great-grandmother was ready to harvest the first batch of cucumbers from the vines, the mild acacia honey would become available at the market, and the two went perfectly together, an earthy green and floral fragrance and the taste of sea and violet leaves in one mouthful. I couldn’t even unravel which nuance was of the cucumber and which of the honey.

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Rose Jam Kyiv Style

If I had to select a few ingredients that define Ukrainian cooking for me, it would be tomatoes, pork and roses. Tomatoes are essential for borsch, stuffed peppers, ragouts and salads. Pork is eaten in all guises, from lightly salted belly fat to roasted ham and garlicky sausages. Roses, on the other hand, are all about sweetness. Almost every yard in our small village near Poltava has a shrub of the so-called jam roses, usually the rosa damascena variety. Rose jam fills the Christmas pampushky, sweet doughnuts, strudels, crescents and crepes. Best of all, it’s eaten alongside a cup of black tea, a taste of Ukrainian summer at its most opulent. (Despite the common stereotypes, Ukraine is not covered with snow for most of the year. Not only is it large enough to contain different climatic zones, the summers are long, hot and bountiful.)

Ever since I’ve revived my great-grandmother’s roses, I’ve been trying different rose jam recipes, such as this delight I shared two years ago. This summer’s experiment is the Kyiv style rose jam, a variety of preserve made without a drop of water. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries and cherries are the most common fruits used in Kyivske varennia, Kyiv style jam. The fruit is cooked in syrup and then drained and rolled in fine sugar. The result is more of a sweetmeat than the usual runny conserve. The rose jam Kyiv style is different, however. The rose petals are crushed with sugar and no cooking is required.

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Persian Olives in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce

For the symphonic complexity of Persian cuisine, with all of its rice pilafs bathed in saffron and rosewater, meats flavored with dozens of herbs and desserts made out of nuts and flowers, it’s the simplest dishes that illustrate most fully the imaginative riches of this venerable culinary tradition. It can be said that Persian cuisine is the closest relative to perfumery. It’s based on accords and notes.

One of the most popular accords is walnut and pomegranate. It’s a perfect harmony of sweet and sour, delicately smoky and fruity. You can build plenty on this base, but one of my favorite recipes is a simple blend of green olives in a walnut-pomegranate sauce. The dish is called zeytun parvardeh, which means preserved olives, but with the word “parvardeh” having the secondary meaning of “nourished,” it also makes me think of olives that have been well taken care of before they ended up on my plate. You will be too after tasting this dish.

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