Seasons by the Sea: Be Mine Tonight

David E. Rattray

   Valentine’s Day is coming and perhaps you have been planning a special meal for that certain someone. We tend to think of Valentine’s meals as an indulgence, perhaps an elaborate recipe, some expensive and rich ingredients, all topped off with a gooey, chocolaty dessert. Ca­vi­ar, champagne, steak with béarnaise sauce, oof!
Some traditional Valentine’s Day fare, such as oysters, has been believed to have aphrodisiacal properties for thousands of years. So why not forgo the wallet-busting, diet-destroying, and libido-dampening meals of the past and try some of the foods that do have the potential to put you in the mood for love.
   Since the first century A.D., arugula has been considered an aphrodisiac. Figs, ginger, carrots, honey, vanilla, and avocados get high marks, whereas dill, watercress, and lentils put a damper on amore.
    There is a top 10 list of foods reputed to be aphrodisiacs, some merely due to their resemblance to human anatomy (bananas for boys, figs for girls), and some with a bit of science to back them up.
    In 19th-century France, asparagus was served in three courses to young bridegrooms on the eve of their nuptials. Asparagus is a great source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, thiamin, and folic acid. Folic acid is said to boost histamine production, which in turn enhances everyone’s sexual satisfaction.
    Almonds have been regarded as a symbol of fertility for thousands of years, and the odor was believed to arouse passion in the ladies. The French writer Alexander Dumas dined on almond soup every evening before meeting his mistress.
    The Aztecs’ name for the avocado tree was “ahuacuatl,” or “testicle tree.” The Spanish found the fruit so obscenely sexy that Catholic priests attempted to ban its consumption. While avocados are a bit fatty, it’s all good for you, full of folic acid, vitamin B6, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids, and oleic acid, which helps fight “bad” cholesterol.
    The banana is full of potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins. It also contains chelating minerals and the bromelian enzyme said to enhance male libido. This may be why Central Americans drink the sap of the red banana tree as an aphrodisiac and the Hindus regard it as a symbol of fertility.
    Basil is an interesting addition to the top 10 list. How did it get here? As a member of the mint family, it is believed to have headache-curing abilities — all kinds of headaches. In some parts of Italy, basil is presented as a love token.
    Chocolate! Why does it make us so happy? The “food of the gods” contains theobromine, a stimulating alkaloid similar to caffeine. Chocolate also helps the brain produce feel-good serotonin. But stick with dark chocolate (like 73-percent cocoa); milk chocolate is just a bunch of fat and sugar.
    The egg is one of the most ancient of fertility symbols. High in B6 and B5, it could be part of a perfect, inexpensive, light Valentine’s Day meal. Gently scrambled eggs with a few drops of truffle oil and a dollop of caviar? Heaven!
    Figs are said to have been Cleopatra’s favorite food. These sweet purple fruits are sexy in both appearance and texture and have figured in a great deal of erotic literature. To the ancient Greeks, they were “more precious than gold.”
    Foie gras is considered an aphrodisiac simply because of its decadent richness, buttery texture, and association with fine living. I’ll take a pass on this one.
    Last but not least, the beautiful oyster! Casanova ate 50 a day. These mollusks are high in zinc, which raises sperm and testosterone production, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. You could choose Pacific oysters like Kumamoto for their creamy, mineral taste, or Atlantic oysters for their distinctive brininess. Whichever you choose, try them with David Rattray’s mignonette recipe below!
    When researching foodstuffs for this column, I always turn to my trusted tome, the dense “Oxford Companion to Food.” I was deeply distressed that Alan Davidson does not believe that any foods possess aphrodisiacal powers and to believe so “is on a par with believing you’ll find a crock of gold at the end of a rainbow.” Bah-humbug!
    I believe that if you are preparing a special meal for your loved one, and it is healthy and doesn’t break the bank and begins with oysters and ends with dark chocolate, chances are you could get lucky this Valentine’s Day.

Silver Vodka Mignonette for Oysters
    David says, “If this combination doesn’t fire up the love engine, I don’t know what will.” Woo hoo! He also suggests you could boil the alcohol out of the vodka before proceeding with the recipe. Just let it cool down first.
    1/2 cup good quality vodka
    2 Tbsp. sherry or champagne vinegar
    1 medium or 2 small shallots, finely chopped
    1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper

    Quickly mix all ingredients in a small bowl or jelly jar. Allow to chill for an hour in the refrigerator.
    Use a small silver spoon to place dabs of the sauce on freshly opened oysters on the half shell. You do not have to use a silver spoon for this step, but it helps. Trust me.