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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stopping to Eat the Flowers...Again

Goat Cheese Spread with Honey and Almonds...and Orange Blossom Water

Stopping to Eat the Flowers...Again
A Few Musings on Orange Blossom Water
by Victoria Challancin

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while, will probably remember when I stopped to eat the flowers in Istanbul, drooled over the roses in Morocco, and practically wept over the same in Paris.  I mean, we all love flowers, right?  What's not to love--these are simply the most perfect gift from nature that we have.  But do we all love to eat them?  Perhaps not.

Let's travel back in time a bit.  I realize that I have a curious relationship with orange blossoms, for example.  As a small child growing up in South Florida, I can still to this day almost smell the rather horrid and cheap orange blossom "perfume" that small airplanes sprayed over the dazzled crowd who gathered at the Orange Bowl in Miami every year, an event my family never missed.

And many years later, when I moved to the Middle East and experienced first the washing of my hands in rose water (and occasionally orange blossom water) before and after a meal, and later, the inclusion of the same in my food, I was instantly interested, but cautious. Perhaps it was that early over-exposure from the airplanes that made me cautious, but eventually, we made friends though.  And how.

To continue the theme, I later studied aromatherapy just for my own appreciation.  My love of orange blossoms grew even more upon my exposure to neroli essential oil,  the richly exotic, exciting, honey-scented, expensive oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subsp. amara or Bigaradia).  And there are so many interesting uses for this...but I digress yet again.

And then in Morocco, where I have lead small groups each year for the past six years, I came full circle with my relationship with flowers as food, specifically orange blossom water, because in Morocco, it is a common ingredient in desserts and pastries. And it particularly shines with oranges themselves, which are frequently served for dessert dressed with a slight sprinkle of orange blossom water and cinnamon.  I can close my eyes, let the memory of the taste wash over me, and instantly transport myself to Morocco almost at whim.  That was when I truly realized that I liked eating flowers, far beyond the nasturtiums in my salad, that I loved actually ingesting their flowery essence.  It's like eating poetry...and that is a good thing.  Right?

Orange Blossom Water

Moving on in time to the present, I realized I needed to spread the love.  On Monday of this week I taught a group of Americans a Moroccan Cooking Class.  Many of the recipes we used were very traditional, but I chose an easy appetizer that while you would probably never see it in Morocco itself, does feature some of the true flavors of Morocco, with just enough orange flower water to give the dish that je ne sais quoi that makes a recipe shine.  And with that, I give you Goat Cheese Spread with Honey and Almonds.

Goat Cheese Spread with Honey, Almonds, and
Orange Blossom Water
Cook's Notes:  I would probably toast the almonds first, before crushing, just to enrich the flavor and bring out the color.  Being either frugal or a hedonist, and I suspect the latter, I chose to scrape up the leftover honey and almonds to serve in a separate bowl alongside the cheese--they were just too good to throw away.

1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon orange flower water, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly crushed
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
Crackers or bread

In a saucepan, warm the honey with the orange flower water, cinnamon, ground cloves, and cardamom over low heat to allow the flavors to develop, about 2 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more orange flower water or spices according to your own taste.  Carefully our the warmed honey onto a large plate.

Place the sliced almonds in a plastic bag and crush lightly using your hands.  Spread the almonds evenly into a thin layer on a large shallow plate.

Shape the goat cheese into a disk.  Roll the cheese in the honey, covering all sides.  Roll the disk in the crushed almonds until well coated.  

Wrap the goat cheese tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate, 20 to 30 minutes, or longer.  Serve with crackers or bread.  


I am submitting this post to Weekend Herb Blogging, which was begun by Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen and is hosted this week by Graziana from Erbe in Cucina in both Italian and English.

A Moroccan embellishment...because, as with poetry, life can never have enough

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please share the recipes, but ask permission before using the text or photos.  Thanks!


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I love how aromas can instantly take us back in time. The smells of childhood are so distinct and so evocative!

Eha said...

I must admit to being totally out of my 'foodie depth' with this combination, which, however sounds hugely interesting! To some degree I am still coming to terms that flowers/their essence may make such a difference to taste sensations! Have even be afraid to pick some lest they be in some way poisonous!! Well, I love all of the parts, so let us put such together :D !

Mark said...

Hi Victoria, you have me curious what orange blossom water tastes like. I've never tried it. Is it just a very strong orange aroma?

That's funny, I didn't realize they spray the orange blossom water over the Orange Bowl. Are they still doing it?

Victoria Challancin said...

It's hard to describe the taste of orange blossom water or rose water, but truly both taste exactly like the flowers. Strong flavor, very perfumey (as I guess you would expect). Need to be treated with caution at first until you establish the levels you are comfortable with. For example, this dish contains only 1/4 teaspoon, yet it is enough to impart a great hint of exotica to the recipe. The dessert I prepared had 2 tablespoons! Experiment first and use only a little.

As for the Orange Bowl...I serious doubt and seriously hope that they no longer spray the "perfume" from a plane. I am remembering from the late 50s--we can only hope that is something of the past!

GG said...

I've often wondered how to use orange flower water. This sounds delicious, sweet, sour and rich. I'll definitely be making this. GG

Ben said...

I love edible flowers :) I tried chrysanthemums and amaranth paddies once and they were amazing! I love orange blossom water for baking, but I've never tried it this way. I bet it was delicious!

Hotly Spiced said...

You certainly have done a lot of traveling. I would love to do an aromatherapy course. I have cooked with orange blossom water and I really like the smell of it - but I don't have the horror memories of it that you do! xx

Marta @ I love breakfast said...

I've never tasted the orange blossom water. I'm curious how it may taste. And it's so nice to read your posts, you have an interesting travel experience :)

Chompchomp said...

I love the thought of the texture of the almonds through the cheese -I have some delicious goat's cheese we bought on our trip recently to Margaret River - will try it with this recipie thanks!

Nancy said...

I've tried Rose water sweets, but can't really make up my mind if I enjoy the ingesting the flower scents. Orange blossom I haven't tried. Your spread really has me curious because all those flavors together sound incredible. Thanks for sharing Victoria!

Nancy said...

I've tried Rose water sweets, but can't really make up my mind if I enjoy the ingesting the flower scents. Orange blossom I haven't tried. Your spread really has me curious because all those flavors together sound incredible. Thanks for sharing Victoria!

Victoria Challancin said...

I know what you mean about not being sure of the flavors--they are very "perfumey" and may not be for everyone. Or they may only work after time and exposure. Now that I have embraced them, I can't seem to get enough!

Graziana said...

Your blog is really full of useful informations! Thank you for joining WHB. said...

Oh how I can smell and taste this...lovely...