The way to the heart is through the stomach - and scent plays a role too, thus aromatic spices are perfect for a romantic meal writes Annabel Langbein while Yvonne Lorkin provides the drink matches
Greek legend has it that when the Titan Uranus was castrated by his own son Kronos, his severed genitals were cast into the sea and Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, emerged from the foam. Aphrodite was considered the femme fatale of Mount Olympus, and one of the most powerful gods in ancient Greece and Rome (where she was known as Venus).
Food and sex are basic human drives, and aphrodisiacs – foods that are considered to increase desire – take their name from the legendary goddess of love. In the ancient world, for reasons both moral and religious, procreation was an imperative and aphrodisiacs were sought to insure potency for both males and females.
Some of these foods gained their reputation as aphrodisiacs due to their suggestive shapes. Carrots, asparagus, figs, oysters and artichokes all bear some resemblance to genitalia and are thus considered stimulating. Bulbous foods, such as eggs, beets, garlic, onions and fennel, were also considered to have sexual power. Spices with arousing aromas helped raise body temperature and provided instant energy.
Truffles have long been considered an aphrodisiac and possibly with good reason. Androstenone, one of the pheromones that truffles release, is also a sex hormone produced in the saliva of boars and the sweat of human males. French folklore claims that virgin spinsters have a special talent for finding this prized fungi.
Scent plays a key role in kindling desires. The rose was a favourite flower of Aphrodite, its thorns representing the pain of love and its scent the symbol of true love. Cleopatra, another famous courtesan, is said to have carpeted her floor with rose petals to woo Mark Antony. Cleopatra is also said to have bathed in saffron-infused milk for its aphrodisiac qualities. Recent studies have also shown saffron can increase sperm motility in men, which promotes male fertility. Other studies have shown that saffron can counter the depressed libido that affects some women when taking certain antidepressants.
Most of the aphrodisiac recipes in the Kamasutra are based on milk, sugar, and honey. Even today, in parts of India, brides give bridegrooms a mixture of milk and almonds on the suhaag raat – night of the wedding – to help with performance.
The aphrodisiac qualities of wine, or any other alcohol for that matter, are largely a result of loosening up our inhibitions. Champagne it is said, will get you anywhere but in fact for women red wine, over any other form of alcohol, increases sex drive. But beware – too much wine or other booze has the opposite effect, especially for men.
Thanks to Aphrodite, born of the foam and often pictured emerging from a seashell, seafood has long been linked to love and sex. With Valentine's Day just around the corner here is a selection of delicious seafood dishes to get you in the mood.
Oysters with Cucumber Mignonette
Ready in 10 mins
Makes 18 oysters
Brunch: Patch Cafe an industrial strength start to the day
Annabel Langbein's perfect picnic treats for a Waitangi Day out
Annabel Langbein's best Chinese New Year recipes
This dressing brings out the best in fresh oysters. Make it in advance and dice the cucumber ready to add for a speedy last-minute assembly.
¼ tsp sugar
a pinch of salt
¼ cup champagne or chardonnay vinegar
1 shallot, very finely diced
½ tsp finely ground white pepper
2cm piece telegraph cucumber, seeded but not peeled and very finely diced
18 chilled oysters on the shell, to serve
Place sugar and salt in a small bowl with vinegar and stir to dissolve. Add shallot and white pepper. Mix to combine and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours before serving. Just before serving, mix in cucumber and spoon a little dressing over each chilled oyster.
Yvonne's picks: Oysters and bubbles bring on the loving feels, right? A favourite fizz of mine is the Leveret Estate IQ3 Premium Methode Traditionnelle NV ($25). So golden in the glass, it glistens like a doubloon from Smaug's lair (dang it, was hoping to avoid Lord of the Rings references but, hey ho) Think buttered malt biscuits dusted with lemon zest and almond meal, it's a fresh yet creamy blanc de blanc style made from Hawke's Bay-grown chardonnay, crafted by methode-master Nic Millichip in the cellars of their tiny Katikati winery. "IQ" stands for "improving quietly" and this bold, creamy, cashew-laden bubbly has been doing just that, ageing on its yeast lees for three years to develop delicate smoky, shortbready notes and a long, luscious texture.
For local stockists email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (09) 300 5053
Fish Balls with Hot and Spicy Mango Dipping Sauce
Ready in 30 mins
Serves 6 as an appetiser or 2- 3 as a main
These reheat well so if you can chill any leftovers and reheat them for five minutes in a 180°C oven the next day.
300g boneless, skinless white fish fillet, cut into chunks
1 spring onion, coarsely chopped
¼ cup coriander leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tsp chilli (less or more to taste), seeded and coarsely chopped
1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 egg white
neutral oil, for frying
Hot and spicy mango dipping sauce
425g can mangos in juice
½ long red chilli, seeded and coarsely chopped
½ clove garlic
1 Tbsp finely grated ginger
3 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
½ tsp salt
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
To make Hot and spicy mango dipping sauce, place all ingredients in a food processor and whizz to a smooth purée. It will keep in the fridge for about a week.
To make Fish Balls, place all ingredients except oil in a food processor and blend to a fine paste. Cover and chill until ready to cook.
When ready to cook, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-based fry pan. Drop heaped teaspoons of the mixture into the hot pan and cook, without flattening, over medium high heat, until golden and brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Repeat to cook remaining mixture, adding a little more oil to the pan as needed between batches. Serve with Hot and Spicy Mango Dipping Sauce.
Yvonne's picks: So the only thing that's made me more excited than a chilled glass of Elephant Hill Hawke's Bay Pinot Gris 2018 ($28) was a dream I had recently where Prince Harry challenged me to a game of peanuckle. It was rather saucy, clutching hands, wiggling thumbs and whatnot. But this wine also shivered my timbers with its subtle, white tree fruits, elderflower, soft spices and crisp fresh textures to finish. It calms and balances the hot mango sauce by way of being ultra-clean, elegant, cool and soothing, kind of like the wine version of cruising in the back seat of a Rolls Royce convertible along the Pacific Coast Highway with Harry Styles. Now that's hot. elephanthill.co.nz
Prawns with Garlicky Sherry Oil
Ready in 15 mins
Serves 2 as a main
Piment espelette, a type of sweet pepper from the Basque Country in northern Spain, can be bought from speciality stores. If you can't find it use chilli flakes.
12 raw prawn cutlets (shelled but with tip on tails)
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
½ tsp piment espelette, or a small pinch of chilli flakes
½ tsp salt
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp fino sherry
crusty bread, to serve
Mix the prawns with oil, smoked paprika, fennel seeds, piment espelette or chilli flakes and salt. Allow to marinate in the fridge for up to 6 hours.
When ready to cook, heat a large, heavy-based frying pan or grill plate over a high heat until very hot. Tip the prawns with their marinade into the hot pan. Cook until lightly golden on one side (about 1 minute) then turn and cook for another 30 seconds. Add garlic and cook, shaking the pan for a few seconds before adding the sherry. Shake the pan again – the sherry will flame so take care, but you want to burn off the alcohol. Remove from the heat once the flames have died down. Tip into a bowl and serve with crusty bread to mop up the delicious oil. Serve finger bowls with warm water and slices of lemon and a bowl to put the prawn heads and shells into.
Yvonne's picks: These lip-smackingly lovely, spicy-but-nicey prawns just holler out for a wine like the Bladen Marlborough Pinot Gris 2019 ($27) . Bottled last August, this groovy gris is ready to roll. I love the little gardening glove motif on the label because for the tiny team at Bladen, literally every aspect of making wine is hands-on and everyone pitches in and does whatever it takes to get the job done. Crafted in a dry yet generously-proportioned style, with soft apple and pear layers, finely tuned acidity and a perfectly prickly texture, it's a seriously yummy example that works beautifully with seafood of any sort. bladen.co.nz
Annabel's duo of ESSENTIAL savoury and sweet books (Annabel Langbein Media, $65 each) create a beautiful compendium of her best-ever recipes and cooking tips. Alone or together, they make a wonderful gift or treat for yourself, and are on sale now at all good bookstores or online at annabel-langbein.com . Follow Annabel Langbein on Facebook or Instagram to find out more.