I can’t help but love the month February – sure, it can often be the coldest month of the year (at least in New York, where I’m based), but it’s also the second month of the year, the month of love! In Greek we have a saying, ‘Krio krio Kairos, yia dio’ which means cold weather is meant for two, which fits perfectly with the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
When it comes to this particular holiday, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the different suggestions for romantic tasting menus and aphrodisiac foods, but rest assured, when it comes to the latter, there are some specific ingredients that offer the perfect solution for culinary creativity, health benefits, and of course, amorous effects… in particular, Mussels, Krokos Kozanis (Saffron), Lobster, and Pecans!
Mussels – The Strongest Animal in the Sea
When I was eighteen, I went with my friends and family to a small neighborhood called Kalamaria in Thessaloniki, a scenic place on the coast full of tavernas, many of them famous for their seafood dishes. Until that point in my life, I had never had shellfish. We ordered whatever the server recommended, the freshest seafood they had. They brought out something called Mydopilafo, a Greek dish full of fresh mussels and rice pilaf, almost like paella. I could smell the aroma before the server even placed the bowl on the table—it was intoxicating, briny yet comforting, almost like the ocean. I was so excited to try something new that I started eating right away, devouring every delicious morsel. Still to this day, I crave those mussels.
Mussels, those miraculous bivalves, are not only delicious, but in ancient Greece, they were considered an emblem of Aphrodite and consumed to ignite the flames of desire. The truth is not far from the myth here, as mussels are full of particular amino acids that actively boost the production of sex hormones in both men and women, especially testosterone!
So not only are mussels a legitimate aphrodisiac, these magnificent mollusks are an excellent source of iron, zinc, and magnesium, as well as high in protein, and low in fat – what more could you want?
Culinarily speaking, the sky’s the limit when it comes to ways to showcase this gift from the sea: a quick sauté with white wine, fresh herbs, lemon, and olive oil leaves is an easy, crave worthy dish suitable for any table … and get as creative as you like with your flavor profiles! Try cold poaching mussels in a flavorful court-bouillon paired with a silky mustard sauce for a delicately delicious appetizer on the half shell, or enjoy them raw with a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of olive oil for a fresh, briny treat.
My favorite way to serve mussels is in the same style I had in Thessaloniki all those years ago, but I add a special ingredient that happens to also be a potent aphrodisiac … Krokos Kozanis, the Greek Saffron.
Saffron – Expensive or Essential?
Saffron is often thought to be the most expensive spice in the world, and it’s no wonder: harvesting all those delicate, fiery-colored threads must be done by hand! In fact, it takes approximately 75,000 saffron flowers to make one pound of saffron spice.
Spices have been long sought after both for their novel flavors and their passionate effects on desire in the bedroom. In ancient Greece, the use of saffron was female focused – it was said that consuming saffron would make a woman irresistible to the object of her desire. However, recent research has shown that men who regularly consume saffron and saffron infused foods also benefit from improved blood flow…
The health benefits of saffron beyond enhanced libido are many. Saffron is full of antioxidants, can help lower the risk for heart disease, lower blood sugar, boost moods,
and improve memory!
A Little Goes a Long Way
When I was growing up, the beautiful aromas from herbs and spices filled my family’s house. Greek saffron, or krokos, was a prized possession in our household because it was expensive. My Aunt Maria used it sparingly when cooking beans, fish, and many of her other signature dishes, and we always knew it was going to be a fantastic meal when we saw the vibrant red threads soaking in water or milk.
As with many things in a life, a little saffron goes a long way – the key is to let saffron bloom, or saturate a small amount of liquid being used in a recipe with its exotic flavor and deep golden color. Infuse sauces, marinades, dressings, grains, pastas, even beverages; add a small pinch to seafood and other proteins to add rich, vibrant color and flavor to you plates. Really, for any savory or sweet Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dish you create, saffron is a wonderful addition .
I must emphasize that I love using saffron with seafood – there’s something about the earthy, exotic flavor of the saffron juxtaposed with the briny, oceanic flavor of the seafood that feels like you’re bringing all the elements of the earth to one dish. The only other things needed for a perfect plate are some fresh herbs, a little bit of acid, and a textural component.
Lobster – The King of Crustaceans
Lobster, perhaps one of the most iconic proteins to celebrate Valentine’s Day, can be traced all the way back to Greek mythology as an aphrodisiac. Aphrodite, the goddess of love (and origin of the word ‘aphrodisiac’), was born of the sea. Therefore, it was believed that sea animals of all kinds were creatures of love — aphrodisiacs.
In ancient Greece, lobsters – albeit tropical ‘spiny lobsters’, not the North American variety – were highly prized and fished. These craveable crustaceans were considered nevertheless to be a luxury item from both culinary and therapeutic perspectives. Their parts were used to treat kidney stones, as laxatives, and treatment for the immune system as well as their formidable aphrodisiac qualities.
There’s some real truth to the romantic effects of lobsters. More than just an excellent source of lean protein, lobsters are full of vitamins A and B-12, calcium, zinc, selenium, iron, and magnesium, all of which contribute to the energy and excitement needed for an amore!
Whether or not you’re gearing up for a night of passion, lobster is an excellent choice to make this Valentine’s Day. For a cost-effective dish, make a sultry lobster bisque; for an entrée, pair it with some pasta in a delicious tomato-y red-wine sauce for an amazing Astakomakaronada (lobster pasta), or to let it be the “lob-star,” by just grilling it and dressing with olive oil and lemon.
Nuts about Nuts
If I had to choose one thing to add as a textural component to any of my dishes, it would be nuts. And while you can find walnuts, almonds, and pistachios throughout Greek and Mediterranean cuisine in both savory and sweet dishes, I think I love pecans the most. In particular, the ones my friend, Dr Orlando Gonzalez brings me from his mother Celia’s organic grove in New Mexico (Santiago Property Pecans), even though they aren’t Greek!
Pecans have a warmth and sweet undercurrent to their flavor, and though crunchy, they are such a beautifully oily nut, when you chew them, they have a certain softness I adore.
These gorgeous nuts are native to North America, and are a great source of protein and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, full of vitamins A, E, B, as well as a myriad of minerals – especially calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc! What this really means is these noble nuts are great for lowering the risk for heart disease, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and increasing virility in men!
Just a handful of pecans a day, either as a snack, or as a garnish for salads, soups, or any finished dish, packs a powerful punch of flavor, texture, and healthy advantages, whether as an aphrodisiac or just because!
Passion is in Fashion
No matter how you use these incredible ingredients, one thing is clear: these are wonderful, multi-talented ingredients that elevate any dish simply for being present. Use them to elevate your holiday menu, or your personal experience this Valentine’s Day – Aphrodite is on your side, because passion is in fashion! Kalí órexi! Enjoy your meal!