I was in Italy in the beautiful and picturesque Toscolano Maderno on the hills above Lago di Garda and some foreign friends were curious about Bulgaria and some distinctive features of my home country. I took few moments to reflect on this question as very often the common things to us turn uncommon and fascinating to others not native to our local places. And I started telling a story about the unique Bulgarian landscapes 2/3 of which are breath taking mountains and highest on the Balkan peninsula, the plain fertile land north and south capturing lots of sun, the very special tender yoghurt due to the very specific bacteria it nurtures, the lovely fields of lavender and Bulgaria being the leading producer of lavender oil, the famous Bulgarian roses in the Rose valley spreading in between two mountain ranges Stara Planina and Sredna Gora and suppling producers of refined perfumes, the wine that has made a great progress in the past 10 years and many more things to tell. And also the creative energy and artisan spirit that one feels and notices once walking the streets of Sofia, Plovdiv and other towns vs. other European cities.
On my Loved ingredients list ~ both for delightful and flavourful food preparation and for nurturing health and beauty ~ I have a special place for lavender, roses and olive oil. The three of them are very much linked to the Mediterranean culture and two of them ranking Bulgaria high on the production list. I love lavender and rose oils to delight, heal, nurture and beautify my skin and often in combination with olive oil. Lavender olive oil soap, olive oil & herb balm with lavender, rose oil to radiate the complexion and many more artisan products that are Nature’s pure gifts.
I tried lavender herbal infusion some months ago and got totally inspired to spread its flavour also in food. And its healthy traits as well bringing us closer to what Nature has at hand. Lavender has anti-inflammatory and protective properties, it is calming both the spirit and the skin, helps digestion and metabolism, brings relief to muscle and joint pain, helps the respiratory function and is great for calming tiredness. A true natural healer that everyone could have at home without much effort. And it is so much native to Bulgaria and our DNA.
Now…talking about taste combinations ~ it makes a very special pairing with potatoes ~ baked potatoes with rosemary, lavender blossoms and extra virgin olive oil are a fantastic match and go perfectly on their own or with grilled sea fish. In this case a Coratina from Puglia is an amazing fit to the more intense flavours of the herbs. It also has the sweeter spiciness of the South that blends perfectly here. Mashed potatoes with some lavender blossoms and drizzles of delicate extra virgin olive oil for final touch is also lovely. The flavours of essential oil and olive oil match very harmoniously and remain delicate and tender without being intrusive. This combination is delightful with steamed fish or vegetables such as green beans and peas. I also have created a sweet recipe that I’ll share as a dessert at the end.
Bulgarian rose ~ the queen Damascena, the rare Alba ~ fragrant and delicate beauties that need lots of care and attention. I remember during high school times it was an obligation of doing two weeks of agricultural work. I was lucky to have my mission in the town of Kazanluk ~ the capital of the Rose valley where a rose oil factory was located. Back then I thought I was lucky not to wake up 4:30am to go and collect the roses in the fields before dawn. I was “privileged” to work in the factory and handle the rose petals with utmost care. Rose oil is doing miracles to skin and complexion, it is both tender and powerful. Rose petals tea as well ~ it delights, refreshes and improves metabolism. Rose water, jam or simply petals connect magically in food, mostly used for sweets and desserts.
It is a tradition to prepare rose jam that makes a wonderful pairing with pancakes and also with yoghurt desserts and vanilla/yoghurt ice-cream. Rose flavours harmonise in a very subtle way with fresh cheese and cottage cheese bringing a sense of elegance and grace. Inspiration unwinds ~ my favourite Indian Sandesh sweets where to smoothen and bond the fresh cheese (panir) mix I add 2-3 spoons of delicate extra virgin olive oil and after roll the sweets in rose petals ~ a divine combination of flavours and textures. Or the thicker mini pancakes (called Syrniki in Russia) with cottage cheese and rose petals in the egg mix cooked on a pan with extra virgin olive oil and served with white cherry jam. Another delicious breakfast are the mini Rose pancakes with tangerine zest and rose petals and served with honey with rose petals. Extra virgin olive oil plays a key role for preparing the mini pancakes. I always tell my friends and students how beneficial the use of evoo for food preparation is and for any heat and cooking technique ~ taste, health and beauty in one. On one hand, oleic acid is resistant to heat due to the stable nature of this monounsaturated fatty acid, being in average 75% in evoo. On the other hand, evoo has a high t° smoke point 190-210°C making cooking safe and beneficial and as natural as it could be.
Finally let me share a favourite recipe for a small dessert going well with coffee or after a generous dinner, or for little sharing with friends and colleagues in the office.
Here is the recipe ~ Sweets with dates and lavender ~ for about 20 pieces
~ 10 large dates
~ 6 soup spoon-fuls of raw almonds flour or finely grinded raw almonds
~ ½ tea spoon of dry lavender blossom
~ 2 soup spoon-fuls of extra virgin olive oil (I prefer the Tuscany or Garda lake green herbateous style, goes also well with EVOOs with sweeter spiciness)
~ Natural coconut flakes to roll the sweets
Once the date ~ almond ~ evoo ~ lavender mix is ready I make bite size balls and roll them into the coconut flakes. I store them for 1-2 hours in the fridge before serving. This little dessert is delightful and healthy ~ combining Omega 9, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Vitamins from the B group, fibres and a pleasant natural sweetness ~ bringing energy and a smile. Simply amazing!
I wish you an ultimate delight for the senses!
~ we are what we live ~ we are what we eat ~ food for change ~