summer tastes: 22 posts

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 Asya’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 Valentina, 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.”

rose-jam1

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. Valentina 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. Asya, 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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Bitter and Sweet Chamomile : Perfume and Tea Note

I am spending a summer afternoon at my grandmother’s in my favorite manner–stretched out on the grass, reading a book. Absentmindedly, my eyes glued to the page, I pick a small flower from a patch in front of me and bring it to my nose. In that instant, I forget about the book, and the only thing capturing my attention is the poignantly familiar aroma of chamomile, of bitter honey and green apple.

chamomile3

The reason chamomile, a simple, ubiquitous flower, puts me under its spell so quickly is that the herb used to be a favorite cure-all remedy in our household during my childhood. It was used in tisanes to help me sleep, lotions to soothe rashes or hair rinses. It’s the smell of summer in the countryside, and when my great-grandmother was alive, at this time of summer we picked baskets of chamomile and dried them in the shade. These days we don’t bother anymore, and my grandmother is happy just to buy the ready-made chamomile teas from the pharmacy. But since I have nothing but time and plenty of chamomile around me, I find an old wicker basket and gather a few handfuls of flowers. Spread out in a thin layer, they look like a polka dot extravaganza, and the scent intensified by the sun is unexpectedly lush.

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Mango Paletas : Frozen Flavors & Scents

Andy explores how freezing changes our perception of flavor and tempts us with mango paletas.

When hot weather strikes, some dream of heading to cooler climes, but my strategy for beating the heat takes a note from the fiery summers of Mexico—where the cuisine opposes the weather with an array of frozen treats. In Mexico, ice pops, called paletas, are made using whole fresh fruit and interesting spices, with flavors including tamarind, jamaica (hibiscus), and fresh strawberry, melon, passionfruit, or other fresh fruits. Many towns are lucky enough to have their own family-owned paleterias that sell a variety each day. Taking a note from these shops, I stock a selection in the freezer, since making your own paletas at home is incredibly easy and allows you to experiment with whatever seasonal fruits and flavors you enjoy.

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Paletas are among the easiest of frozen sweets to make, but they are both incredibly addictive and gratifying. The inclusion of large amounts of fresh fruit certainly help make them tempting, but I’m convinced that part of the appeal lies in the exciting way we experience flavors when our food is frozen. Often when we eat, we receive cues about the flavor we are about to experience through the smell of the food, before we even put the first morsel in our mouths.

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