If you really could find your way to your lover’s heart through their stomach, what would you feed them on the most romantic of all days?
Reader Samantha asked me for an Indian vegan menu that she and a friend could put together for their boyfriends on Valentine’s Day. So I put my thinking toque on and came up some dishes perfect for marrying romance with love: sensual and luxurious foods made with ingredients known to be powerful aphrodisiacs that are also very heart-healthy. What better way to show your lover how much you love the heart that loves you back?
Starting today, as we approach Valentine’s Day, I will share with you these recipes one at a time. There are entrees, side dishes, desserts, and just about everything you’ll need to keep your love coming back for more (and I’m not just talking about food).
Valentine’s Day is an extra-special day for me because it’s the day I married my one true love — the guy you all know as Desi. Although I definitely didn’t find my way to his heart through his stomach, because I didn’t know how to cook when we met and even after we got married, nothing delights me more than when he takes a bite of something I cooked and loves it. And I can tell you that the Asparagus and Saffron Biryani that I am sharing today to open this series definitely put the twinkle in his eye.
Asparagus and saffron are both ingredients that pack a powerful love punch. Both have been prized for centuries as aphrodisiacs because they contain powerful, libido-stirring nutrients. Asparagus, besides being exquisitely delicious, also packs tons of healthy fiber, potassium and folate, making it a heart star. And saffron, often called the most expensive of spices but really not that expensive (you do want to splurge a little on your favorite person this day, don’t you?), adds a beautiful golden color and just that right touch of sophistication and provocative flavor to the biryani.
My Asparagus and Saffron Biryani is light and fresh and not weighed down by heavy masalas: perfect for Valentine’s Day when you definitely don’t want your sweetie to doze off after a divine dinner. Plus all of the recipes I will share in this series, including this one, are designed to be cooked in minutes (although no one will guess that), because you don’t want to be spend the whole day in the kitchen and get so tired that you have to feign a headache at crunch time.
The recipe’s next. Enjoy, all!
Asparagus and Saffron Biryani
(Makes eight servings; Prep time about 30-45 minutes)
For the rice:
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, soaked in cold water for half an hour, then drained
2 1/2 cups water
2 dry bay leaves
4 pods of green cardamom
2 1-inch sticks of cinnamon
2 generous pinches of saffron
Salt to taste
Place the water in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add all the spices, including saffron, and salt to taste. Bring the water to a boil, then add the drained rice.
When the water begins to boil, slap on the lid, turn the heat to low, and let the rice steam for 15 minutes. Turn off heat.
For the sauce:
1 pound asparagus, cut lengthwise into 1-inch pieces (cut on a bias, or diagonally, for a pretty look). Trim the asparagus first by removing the hard ends. The easiest way to do this is to hold either end of the asparagus with your fingertips and bending it firmly. The stalk with automatically snap at the point where the hard end meets the tender one. You can save the tough parts to make vegetable stock.
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vegetable oil (olive or canola will do)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black cumin seeds (double the regular cumin if you cannot find these)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic (yes, I know it’s garlic and we are talking Valentine’s Day, but this much garlic will not foul your breath, especially when it’s cooked, and do you know garlic is also an aphrodisiac?)
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vegetable stock (use water if you have to, but the stock tastes much better)
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the sauce and the rice.
Add the cumin and black cumin. When they sputter, add the onions and some salt. Saute until the onions start to soften, then add the garlic and ginger and red pepper flakes. Saute for another minute.
Add the asparagus stalks and stir well. Add the lemon juice so the stalks remain bright green.
Add the stock and when it starts to simmer, place a lid on the saucepan and let the asparagus cook for about 5-7 minutes on medium-low heat until it’s cooked but still firm with a good bite to it. You don’t want soggy asparagus in this dish.
Add the cooked rice to the asparagus and stir everything together, very gently so as to not break the grains of rice. It is best to do this with a fork– use a “fluffing” motion with the rice instead of a stirring motion.
Serve hot. And stay tuned for my next Valentine’s Day Countdown recipe, yet another luscious yet heart-healthy dish made also with a powerful aphrodisiac — and vegan– ingredient.