summer tastes: 19 posts

Apricot Poppyseed Cake

The smell of a ripe apricot is mesmerizing enough to make me want to give up perfumery and tend an orchard instead.   It smells of cream, sweet orange, bitter almond, and a hint of rose. Unfortunately, unless you have access to an apricot grove, finding such a perfect specimen is difficult. Apricots are invariably picked green, and even if they soften, they never develop the perfume of tree-ripened fruit.

apricot-poppyseed2

There is, however, one technique to unlock some of the apricot’s fragrant potential. It’s to cook it. Even the hard supermarket variety becomes luscious and perfumed, especially if you add a touch of vanilla. I often sprinkle apricots with vanilla sugar and rosewater and roast them just until they start to turn jammy and tender. You can add cream, but that’s already gilding the lily. Or I make a poppyseed cake topped with apricots, an ideal late summer-early fall dessert.

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Cauliflower with Saffron and Coriander

Saffron has the reputation of a luxurious spice. Use it in tiny quantities for the most delicate of preparations like custards and seafood bisques, advises many a cookbook. Certainly, unless you live in saffron producing areas like Iran, Turkey or Kashmir, you’ll pay more for saffron than other spices in your collection, but its flavor is so dramatic that it’s worth a splurge. What I don’t agree with is using saffron only in special occasion dishes. Life is too short for that.

cauliflower-saffron1

Saffron has a medicinal-leathery scent, with a hint of apricot and floral notes. Its fragrance will entice on its own, but it’s bold enough to stand up next to strong flavors. Today’s recipe is a good example. It’s a cold cauliflower dish, and it’s a good vehicle for saffron. The combination of coriander, saffron and white wine is the right blend of spice and acidity, and it gives cauliflower elegance that one doesn’t usually expect from cruciferous vegetables.

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Honey Marinated Peppers

My grandmother Valentina’s approach to food is simple–if it doesn’t taste good, it can’t be good for you. She doesn’t have patience for the self-induced sufferings of health food devotees, and she remains suspicious of green juices, raw beet salads and salt-free cabbage soups. I once loved to experiment with all of the above. To my credit I even convinced a friend to try a raw food diet for a week. Such an idea in the Soviet Union during winter wasn’t for the fainthearted. Our food supply was ideal for Park Slope locavores–seasonal. It meant that once we got fed up with last year’s apples and carrots, we moved onto raw potatoes. There is a reason–and I suspect, evolutionary sense–why humanity has chosen to give potatoes some form of thermal treatment.

pepper salad

After that infelicitous experience,  I’ve remained immune to most food fads, preferring instead to follow Valentina’s logic. Above all, it must taste good. Although Valentina doesn’t care for raw lettuce, she has a repertoire of vegetable salads, many of which she makes during the summer and preserves for the winter. Her pantry shelves are lined with jars of pink cabbage, eggplant slices in a spicy sauce, pickled zucchini or honey marinated peppers. Since Belgian markets have peppers all year round, the latter is an effortless dish to put together, summer or winter. I skip the canning part.

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Rose Jam

“Do you remember Asia’s recipe for rose jam?” I ask my grandmother as I return to the house with a basket full of rose petals. A craggy shrub by the fence has suddenly sprouted into a mass of frilly pink blossoms, and I feel inspired. “No,” says Valia, with an expression that accepts no arguments. “She wasn’t much of a cook. She never made jam.” I’m confused, because I do recall gathering roses for jam with my great-grandmother. Did I make it up, just like I concocted the story of my father being a Bollywood actor? Then my grandmother reconsiders. “You’re right, she did. Every summer. But it was terrible. Dark and overcooked.”

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The saccharine stories that preface many cookbooks, of learning cooking at grandmother’s side as she tenderly explains the right way to cut carrots or hull strawberries, aren’t part of my childhood recollections. Valia has so little tolerance for imperfection, or deviations from her way of doing things, that cooking with her is as relaxing as being a Top Chef contestant. Asia, her mother, had no patience for mincing and sauteing; her passion was the garden. Perhaps, this is why I don’t remember eating her jam, only the intense honeyed fragrance of roses as we picked them.

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Le Palais des Thes Jardin Tea Series

Le Palais des Thés has launched a collection of non-caffeinated teas based on fruit. Each blend includes pieces of dried fruit, herbs, and flowers.

jardin-fruitejardin-suspendu

Jardin Suspendu is fresh and acidic. It’s a blend of apple, orange & orange peel,  hibiscus flowers, rosehip peel, lemongrass, cornflower petals, sunflower petals, rose petals, mallow petals, and notes of mango and bergamot.

Jardin Tropical is sweet and tropical. It blends mango, pineapple, papaya and peach with rosehip peel, lemongrass, and cornflower petals.

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