Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Make This An Extra Special Valentine’s Day

Aphrodisiacs are foods or other substances that heighten sexual awareness and performance. They get their name from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

But though many people scoff at the idea, Napoleon’s chef, Curmonsky, was on the right track when he said: ’Properly speaking, there are no aphrodisiacs capable of endowing those blind to life with sight. But for those with poor eyesight in this matter, there are substances which act as magnifying lenses’.

Though our folk-lore is full of these magic foods, is there really any truth behind these old-wives’, or perhaps they should be called old-husbands’, tales?

Many traditionally sexy foods actually help and there’s no doubt that a candle-lit dinner, ’a deux’, is far more likely to end in consuming passion than fish and chips out of a newspaper on the kitchen table. Common sense should tell you that no man will be up to much after a meal of steak and kidney pud, spotted dick and bread and cheese, all washed down with several pints of his favourite brew.

Surprisingly, many of the traditional aphrodisiac foods are rich in nutrients vital to sexual performance and fertility.

Nuts and seeds for their zinc and selenium, asparagus for vitamins A and E, wheat germ, bananas and avocados for vitamins B and E; the heady aroma of volatile oils in hibiscus and rosemary, and the stimulating effects of hot spices; amazing substances in chocolate that generate feelings of euphoria - just like being in love. These all work equally for men and women.

Here’s my Super Sexy menu for a Valentine’s meal guaranteed to end in consuming passion. The rose petals and rosewater with dessert aren’t just for visual effect. Though it looks beautifully romantic, people in the Middle East have used rose petals for over 3,000 years for their medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.

Go easy on the booze. A little wine, or better still, champagne, will work wonders. But don’t forget the infamous Brewer’s droop, or as Shakespeare warns men more subtly in Macbeth, ’Drink provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.’

Oysters With Shallot Sauce
Serves 2

Casanova must have known a thing or two. That famous lover is reputed to have eaten 70 oysters a day, to which he attributed his super-stud status. There’s good biological evidence for this: the high content of zinc in oysters is essential for good sperm production and male potency.

2 shallots
3 tbspns red wine vinegar
12 oysters

Finely dice the shallots. Mix with the vinegar. Put into a small dish or ramekin. Open the oysters or get your fishmonger to do them for you (don’t leave open for more than a few hours). Serve the oysters with the sauce.

Michael’s Tip
A dozen oysters give enough zinc for a whole week’s supply of this essential mineral.

Cupid’s Spears

Serves 2
Apart from the wonderful flavour, the best thing about asparagus is the sensual feeling of eating it: the sauce dripping down your chin, the feel of those lovely sprigs in your hands. This is love in a bowl.

2 free-range, organic eggs
8 asparagus stalks
3 tbspns walnut oil
1 tbspn cider vinegar
1 tbspn finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Put the eggs onto boil for 8 minutes. Drain immediately and cool in running cold water.

Peel, cool again if not totally cold and set a side.
Trim the asparagus and put into boiling water for about 6 minutes until the tips are just cooked.
Drain; cool in running cold water and drain again.
Set aside.

To make the dressing, mix the oil, vinegar and parsley well. Finely chop the eggs.

To serve, arrange the asparagus on a dish. Scatter over the eggs. Pour over the dressing.

Michael’s Tip
Don’t throw away the water in which you’ve cooked the asparagus. It makes a wonderful addition to home-made stock or as a liquid to use for cooking potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes or spaghetti.

Love In A Fish
Serves 2

Pretty, pink and well affordable, salmon is one of the best value sources of protein available in our shops today. It’s highly nutritious and so quick to make that you’ll easily have time for a bit of canoodling later. It’s the essential omega 3 fats that make this fish a super love food.

2 salmon fillets
About 3 tbspns olive oil
2 tbspns breadcrumbs home made from stale bread (’golden’ breadcrumbs from the supermarket won’t do)
1 heaped tbspn freshly ground parsley
1 heaped tbspn freshly ground coriander leaves

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Cut pieces of aluminium foil large enough to make an envelope around each salmon fillet.
Brush with some of the olive oil. Place the fillets on the foil.
Grind together the breadcrumbs, the rest of the olive oil, parsley and coriander.
Paste on top of the salmon fillets and fold up the foil envelopes.
Put into the oven for 20 minutes. Open the envelopes and sear under a very hot grill for 1 minute. Transfer from the aluminium and serve with any sort of green beans or vegetables.

Michael’s Tip
This dish can be made until the envelopes are ready and kept in the fridge for up to 8 hours. If you don’t have a good fishmonger or a qualified fish person at your local supermarket, pull out any bones with a pair of tweezers. It should take only 5 minutes.

Pink Passion Sorbet With Halva Hearts

This delicious dessert is the perfect end to a romantic meal. It looks romantic, tastes wonderful and has all the aphrodisiac components to make for a sexy evening. Honey and sesame seeds have been Middle Eastern favourites in the love food list for 5000 years.

For the sorbet:
150ml/5fl oz rosewater
150g/5 oz golden caster sugar
200ml/7 fl oz pink grapefruit juice
Juice of 1 lemon
1 egg white

Boil the rosewater with the sugar until dissolved. When cool, add the grapefruit, and lemon juice. Whisk the egg white and fold into the mixture. If you have an ice-cream or sorbet maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, put the mixture into a freezer, leave until nearly frozen, break up the ice crystals and put back into the freezer until ready to serve.

For the halva:
300g jar of tahini
Melted butter to make up 225ml /6 fl oz oil and butter mix
175g/6 oz semolina
250ml/9 oz runny honey
75g/3 oz sesame seeds

Drain the oil from the tahini and heat with the butter.
Stir in the semolina and cook, stirring constantly until golden - about 20 minutes.
Add the tahini and stir until completely dissolved. Heat the honey until bubbling - about 10 minutes (if you have a jam thermometer, it should reach small ball rolling point, but that isn’t really necessary). Mix in the honey and sesame mixture. Pour into heart-shaped moulds and leave until set - about 2 hours.

To serve:
A handful of rose petals.

Scoop the sorbet onto two plates. Place the halva hearts beside. Scatter with the rose petals.


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