With the right partner beside you, an evening spent preparing and enjoying a romantic dinner is the ultimate turn-on.
Truth or myth? Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, sprang from the ocean in a scallop shell and sprinkled aphrodisiac magic over the fruits of the earth. The happy result being, there are foods that stimulate feelings of love.
Now, most experts will tell you that the greatest aphrodisiac is your mind. They will tell you that, for example, eating oysters and chocolate, two foods that are purported to have the most elevated aphrodisiacal powers, have as much physical effect on the libido as a plateful of broccoli. For the rest of us, however, the question that quickly follows, “Do aphrodisiacs really work?” is, “Where do I sign up?”
Since the naysayers of aphrodisiac foods label them a placebo, why not work with it? After all, telling someone a sexy story excites the imagination. In addition, the professed foods of love usually have intense flavors and elegance; they are also a bit higher on the price index, so preparing a meal with them gives the evening a sense of occasion. Shopping as a couple, cooking together, and experiencing food can be its own kind of gastronomic foreplay, if done the right way. You can always attribute a wild outcome to the aphrodisiacs foods you consumed.
So, what are these aphrodisiac foods? Here are some of my favorites: Oysters, scallops, figs, asparagus, truffles and, of course, wine. Not only do these foods have a rumored effect on the libido, but they also share a matchless sensuality in mouthfeel, flavor and texture.
And all of them boast a racy story to support their authenticity. Oysters have the reputation for being Casanova’s favorite libido booster; he was rumored to eat more than 50 a day. Scallops are the products of Aphrodite’s sea-foam voyage, and are high in phosphorus and iodine, which may have a beneficial effect on sexual potency. Figs may have become known as aphrodisiacs because of their suggestive shape, but have a heady sweetness and creamy consistency perfect for amorous dining. The fragrant, musty smell of truffles contains chemicals that are similar to the sex hormones in the male pig, but also seem to be beneficial to human courting. Wine greatly enhances a romantic interlude by both relaxing our inhibitions and stimulating our senses.
It’s amazing to think how perfectly Aphrodite appointed her erotic foods. Most of them appeal to a lighter style of eating, allowing the body to concentrate on lovemaking instead of digestion. Many of them are high in nutrients that create strength and vigor, with a high concentration on impacting the libido in a positive way. The oyster, for example, possibly gained its reputation as a sex aid at a time when its contribution of zinc, essential to testosterone production, gave a boost to nutritionally deficient diets of the day.
All this being said, a meal accompanied by scallops, truffles and Champagne is a pretty sweet way to start the evening. As for dessert? Well, you can enjoy one another for dessert, but if that answer doesn’t satisfy, there is always the classic post-dinner aphrodisiac: chocolate.
Aphrodisiac foods make planning a romantic meal effortless. The key is to keep the preparation simple.
Being in a relationship means developing a greater understanding of your partner’s likes, dislikes and ambitions, and food is a fascinating vehicle for that journey. Food’s shapes, colors, fragrances, flavors and textures conjure memories and affect moods. Shopping together for a meal becomes an exchange of experiences, a playful spree as you smell, touch and sample the market’s offerings. Discussing the menu possibilities, learning each other’s shared and varied tastes, and exploring complementary food-and-wine pairings—this is foreplay of the highest order. Other useful information—like your partner’s food allergies or religious dietary restrictions—can reveal itself at the grocery, too. A case of hives would definitely kill the romance of an evening, so shopping as a couple is truly helpful to intimacy.
Passion rules good cooks as it does lovers. “Cooking is like love,” wrote columnist Harriet Van Horne. “It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” When an evening starts with the two of you in the kitchen, back-to-back, booty-to-booty, simultaneously creating fragrant, yummy things while sipping wine, you’re off to a great start.
There are fewer things more hedonistic than the consumption of a well-prepared meal. After you’ve heated things up by working so closely together in the kitchen and thrilled your senses with the visual beauty of the food you’ve prepared (it is said that we eat with our eyes), you might get carried away. My advice is to go slowly and truly savor your handiwork. Recline like Greek gods against cushiony pillows, feed your paramour as if you were plucking grapes from a vine, and keep handy a finger bowl filled with lemon-scented water to freshen up.
One of Aphrodite’s greatest gifts to lovers is the myth of carnal cuisine—sensually charged foods that have amazing tastes, are jam-packed with nutrients, and come with their own titillating stories. In the search for a truly romantic experience this Valentine’s Day, couples who cook together will discover that Aphrodite is a legend who is still very mighty.
Scallop Carpaccio with Champagne Vinaigrette and Black Truffle Oil
The scallops for the carpaccio are gently cooked, making them easier to work with and more appealing to the squeamish.
4 large, fresh scallops
2 tablespoons Champagne or
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon shallot, minced
1 teaspoon fresh chives, chopped
1 teaspoon red peppers, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon black truffle oil
2 pinches fleur de sel, for garnish
Fill a pan fitted with steamer basket with water, to just below the bottom of the basket. Bring water to a boil over a medium-high heat. Steam scallops for 3 minutes, until medium rare. (The scallops will become more firm and opaque.) Cut into thin, round slices, 4-6 slices per scallop, and chill. Scallops can be made up to 8 hours before serving.
Whisk together Champagne, lemon juice, shallot, chives, red peppers and grapeseed oil. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Arrange two sliced scallops on each plate, slightly shingling each slice. Drizzle vinaigrette, then truffle oil, over scallops. Finish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and serve. Serves 2.
Wine recommendation: This recipe calls for two tablespoons of Champagne. Why not have a glass while you cook, and finish the bottle with your appetizer. Try this course with a special blanc de blancs—for this romantic occasion, Deutz’s 1995 Amour de Deutz.
Seared Muscovy Duck Breasts with Black Mission Figs and Zinfandel
Served with wild rice and steamed asparagus, this dish is delightful.
2 boneless Muscovy duck breasts,
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 scallion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1Â¼2 cup Zinfandel
1Â¼2 cup chicken broth
1 small shallot minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small strip of lemon zest
7 dried Black Mission figs, quartered
1 teaspoon butter
Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper. Arrange the duck breasts in a baking dish, skin side up. In a bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon of olive oil with vinegar, honey, scallion, 1 garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon thyme. Pour the marinade over the duck breasts and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning after 2 hours.
Bring duck breasts out of the refrigerator and prepare sauce. In a medium saucepan, combine wine, broth, shallot, the remaining garlic and thyme, sugar and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and add the figs. Reduce the heat to low, covering and simmering figs until they are just soft, about 25 minutes. Discard the zest.
Puree half of the fig mixture in a blender, and then return to the saucepan. Swirl in butter and keep warm.
Remove the duck from the marinade; pat dry. In a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the duck to the skillet, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn; reduce the heat to medium and cook until medium rare, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to a cutting board and let stand for 5 minutes. Thinly slice duck on the diagonal and serve with the fig sauce. Serves 2.
Wine recommendation: Again, the recipe calls for a half-cup of Zinfandel, which makes it the natural wine to enjoy with the dish. I recommend the Murphy-Goode 2002 Snake Eyes Zin from Alexander Valley.
Diane Brown is the author of The Seduction Cookbook (Innova Publishing, 2005).