Trish Deseine conjures aromas of abroad and shares two recipes to try …
Scented candles get a bad rap these days, and in many cases, deservedly so. They’ve been assaulting our noses in every homeware or beauty store since the 1980s with their occasionally sickly notes of vanilla-apple-pumpkin spice/pie or blackcurrant-Christmas cake-mulled wine, and their foray into menu themes has at times been just as offensive. “Schitzel with Noodles” (Yankee Candles) anyone?
I still love scented candles. Well, I love a good one. Mademoiselle de la Vallière or Solis Rex by Cire Trudon, Flocon by Dyptique, Bibliothèque by Byredo or Orange Blossom by Jo Malone are all more than welcome chez moi and in some cases, have been for over 20 years. They are my mini time machines, instantly transporting me to special moments and places as their scent fills the room.
Mademoiselle de la Vallière takes me to a sixth floor loft I once owned in Paris. Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom reminds me of cool water on hot hands and feet at a feast in Marrakech, and Solis Rex, inspired by the smell of Versailles parquet and candle wax, of The Connaught Hotel London’s beautiful staircase and corridors – not to mention Hélène Darroze’s cooking.
Vadouvan, the spice mix created in Pondicherry, a former French colony on the east coast of India. In Pondicherry, the beguiling facade of this hotel, left, is the colour of vadouvan.
Perhaps more than any of our senses, smell is linked to memory. Scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the olfactory bulb – our brains’ smell HQ. It is directly connected to the limbic system, which plays a major role in controlling mood, memory and emotion. It’s no wonder even a fleeting scent can trigger an intense memory or feeling. And the opposite is also true, the thought of a place can instantly remind you of things you smelled or tasted there, particularly on a happy or exciting trip. The thought of our holiday cottage in Ballygally when I was six or seven, will forever remind me of Sugar Puffs and milk (“too sugary” for the rest of the year’s breakfasts!) and raspberry jam bubbling on the gas stove. My first New York stay predictably tastes of Katz’s chocolate cheesecake and pastrami with giant half-sour cucumber pickles, a trip to Reunion Island the real, bittersweet scent of vanilla pods drying. And never shall I forget the milky coffee and soft, cool baguette, spread thickly with unsalted butter and strawberry jam, served in Mantes-La-Jolie maternity ward the morning after my first son was born.
Recreating pleasant, comforting scents and tastes from the past can be perilous, sometimes even fatal to the original, precious sensation stocked deep in your mind. I find it’s usually best to leave the memory be, allowing a random nudge to happily jog it from time to time, and instead concentrate on seeking out brand new taste sensations. After a few years starved of new travel experiences, it seems we’ve never been so curious about discovering and learning about other countries through their food cultures.
In preparation and anticipation of a special journey, or simply to keep your culinary wanderlust at bay, here are a few interesting mixes you might like to source or make for your kitchen’s spice drawer, and which should make a change from our usual za’atar, baharat or ras el hanout.
Khmeli Suneli: A Georgian mix of nutty, grassy and bitter spices like coriander, fenugreek and black peppercorns.
Advieh: A Persian mix of dried rose petals, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. Perfect for rice and stews.
Qalat Daqqa: Or Tunisian Five Spice. Includes the rare spice “grains of paradise” as well as nutmeg, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon.
Tabil: Also Tunisian, a blend of caraway, garlic, coriander and chilli.
Ayam: An indispensable mix with a sweet, earthy flavour. For cooking the Indonesian chicken dish, Ayam Goreng. Contains over a dozen ingredients including garlic, cumin, fennel ginger and bay leaf.
Vadouvan: Also know as French Curry, this blend originated from Pondichéry in India, once colonised by the French. I make a concentrated paste with caramelised onions and shallots with the spice mix of cumin, mustard, cardamom, cloves and turmeric.
Togarishi: A hot Japanese condiment made from seven spices including chilli, citrus peel, sesame and seaweed.
Besar: From Emerati cuisine, a toasted mix of heat and sweet notes of cinnamon, chilli, fennel, turmeric and pepper.
Dried black lime or lemons: My obsession of the moment. Sour, salty, earthy and slightly funky. A key ingredient in Persian cookery and also wildly used in other middle eastern and Arabian cooking. I like to add one, crushed, to steamed rice and veggie curries.
TWO RECIPES TO TRY
Rich and sweet, this blend of spices of Franco-Indian origin is mixed with a jam of onions. In Pondicherry, spices are dried in the sun.
1 medium jar
2 hours of cooking
450g white onions, peeled, chopped
200g shallots, peeled, chopped
75g vegetable oil
1 tsp crushed fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp finely chopped curry leaves
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 /2 tsp nutmeg
1 /2 tsp chilli
1 /2 tsp ground cloves
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and shallots over low heat until tender and golden – this takes around 25 minutes, be patient!
3. Add the rest of the spices and mix them with the onions and golden shallots.
4. Lay a silicone mat or baking paper in a baking tray and spread the vadouvan in a thin layer.
5. Cook for 1 hour/ 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The vadouvan should be browned and still a bit soft.
6. Take out of the oven and let cool before blending it and putting it in a jar. It will keep for 1 month in the refrigerator.
CAULIFLOWER VELOUTÉ WITH VADOUVAN-ROASTED
CAULIFLOWER AND CHOCOLATE
5 minutes preparation
45 minutes cooking
1 medium cauliflower
vegetable stock (optional)
1 tbsp vadouvan curry paste
50g chocolate, grated
1. Cut the cauliflower into florets, keeping about a quarter of the florets for garnish. Cook the rest in boiling water or vegetable stock, or steam them. Cut the cauliflower reserved for garnish into tiny florets and drizzle with oil. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with aluminium foil or a silicon liner and roast for 15-20 minutes.
2. Blend the cooked cauliflower in a food processor and thin with the milk to the required consistency. Pour into a saucepan, season with salt and pepper, and add the butter, stirring until it has melted.
3. Remove the roasted cauliflower from the oven and toss with the curry paste. Season with salt.
4. Pour the soup into a serving bowl, scatter over the vadouvan-roasted cauliflower florets, and garnish with grated chocolate.
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