Orange Blossoms, Mint Tea and “White Coffee”

Spring has suddenly begun making itself felt strongly in Melbourne.  Our famous elms are sporting the pale green seed pods that are so pretty on the trees and such a nuisance once they start to fly about, sticking to car duco and clogging up gutters. Wisteria is bursting into bloom and ephemeral cherry, apple and prunus blossoms scent the air, so poignantly beautiful for their all-too-brief season.
Early spring in Morocco has baskets full of Bitter Orange blossoms in the markets and copper stills for hire prompting industrious women, particularly in Fes, to prepare their annual supply of orange blossom water. As the Bitter or Seville Orange (Citrus aurantium subsp. amara) is found in most Moroccan gardens and is a common street tree, planted  for its hardiness, evergreen beauty and heady perfume, there is a ready supply of blossoms to pick during the season.

Moroccan women will often add a few orange blossoms to the pot when making mint tea. Out of season, a few drops of orange blossom water can be substituted.

For those who eschew caffeine late in the afternoon and evening, a scant teaspoon of orange blossom water  in a glass of hot water makes for a delicious and digestive after-dinner drink and is known in Lebanon as “qahwa baida” or “white coffee” –  plain or sweetened to taste with a little sugar, it will ensure a restorative night’s sleep as well!

Figs

The promise of summer’s approach has me dreaming of figs.  This week, I have seen boxes of  perfect Turkey Browns from California on the fruit shop shelves but I resist the temptation. All in good time….  Whoever has sat under a fig tree in full leaf will never forget the exquisite scent it exudes.  The immature green figs that appear early in the season are wonderful prepared as spoon sweets, boiled several times until tender, stuffed with a blanched almond then simmered in heavy syrup perfumed with lemon peel.  Here in Melbourne, we have to wait till the end of summer to enjoy the succulent ripe figs that grow in so many of my friends’ gardens, that is if the birds don’t get them first! Then we’ll gorge on them straight from the tree or stuff them with spiced, minced chicken and cook them in a pomegranate molasses sauce to be enjoyed garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the scent of one of those divine French Dyptique “Figuier” candles or the matching room spray that tease the senses with visions of the delectable fruit to come.
My absolute favourite summer perfume is l’Artisan Parfumeur’s “Premier Figuier “, so delicious to wear in the warm weather and so sensuous.

Harissa

Traditional Harissa sauce is always a huge hit in my North African Couscous class. So much better than the commercial variety that comes in a tube!
You will find it on every table in Tunisia.  The large, mildly hot red chillies that are its main ingredient are grown in huge quantities to satisfy demand for this ubiquitous condiment. November is harvest time in Tunisia and the freshly picked chillies are threaded into long strings and hung out to dry on every available surface – an incredible sight!
I took this picture in a field on my way, driving from Tunis to Kairouan in 2005.

 

 

Harissa

10 dried large red chillies, seeded, sliced and soaked in hot water
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1 tsp ground caraway seed
1/2 tsp black pepper

In a mortar grind all the dry spices to a powder. Pound in the garlic
Drain the chillies and chop them to a puree with a heavy knife, then pound them into the garlic and spice mix until a fine, brick red paste is obtained.
Serve as an appetiser with bread, tinned tuna, olives and lemon wedges. Dilute with hot water or broth and serve as a condiment for Couscous.
Or, mix with extra virgin olive oil and serve as a dip for bread.
Recipe and Image © Meera Freeman 2010

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