When it comes to romance, there can be no better floral answer than the rose. The bold red petals entice the eyes from across the room, while that intoxicating fragrance draws you closer... closer... just a little closer until you find yourself burying your nose in the lush petals, ignorant to the thorns piercing your skin because your eyes are closed and your heart is going pitter-patter.
But, ah, to taste a rose. This is the flavour of love. And it's waiting patiently for you in the international aisle of your supermarket in a small bottle of rosewater.
One whiff of the stuff and you'll be transported to another time and place. You'll go to ancient Persia where the royals perfumed their skin, courts and pilafs with it. You'll dream of the Middle East where rosewater anoints flaky pastries and chewy nougats. You'll be transported to India where creamy ice creams and puddings burst with a floral bounty. And you'll swoon over Muslim, Hindu and Eastern Orthodox religious sites around the world, where the refreshing scent cleanses and blesses sacred grounds. Rosewater was even used at the finest bakeries in Paris once upon a time, before vanilla beans became the essence of choice in baking.
Made from distilling real rose petals, rosewater is an easy way to add a touch of the exotic to your cooking. A few drops in whipped cream or rice pudding transform the mundane to the sublime. Any strawberry, raspberry or rhubarb dessert bursts with the essence of springtime when sprinkled with a little rosewater.
Another classic combination is rosewater, cardamom and pistachio, which flavours many Persian ice creams. Try adding the trio to readymade vanilla ice cream at home! And if that sounds too exotic, try it paired with another more familiar soul mate, lemon, as I do in these easy shortbread cookies. They're sure to add a touch of romance to your kitchen (and hopefully, your life!).
ROSEWATER SHORTBREAD COOKIES
If you opt to decorate these cookies with rose petals, be sure to only use those labeled as edible (available online and at most Middle Eastern markets).
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours
Makes 18 cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1 ounce) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons rosewater
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
Generous pinch of salt
7 ounces white chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vegetable shortening
1/4 cup minced raw, unsalted pistachios
2 tablespoons finely chopped dried edible rose petals (optional)
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, powdered sugar, lemon zest and rosewater until smooth and creamy. Add the flour and salt, then beat gently until just combined. Tumble the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a disc. Cover with another large piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.
Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap from the dough. Using a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as possible from the dough. Re-roll the dough scraps to cut additional cookies. Transfer the hearts to the parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 1 inch between them. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottoms and lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
To decorate the cookies, bring a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water to a simmer. Set a medium bowl over it. Add the white chocolate chips and vegetable shortening to the bowl and melt, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from the heat. In a small bowl, mix together the pistachios and rose petals.
One at a time, dip one side of each cookie into the melted chocolate, allowing any excess to drip off. Before the chocolate on the cookie has time to cool and set, sprinkle it with the pistachio-rose petal mixture. Pause for a few seconds to let it cool off, then place on a wire rack to cool. Store cookies in a single layer in a paper towel-lined airtight container at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories; 90 calories from fat (60 per cent of total calories); 10 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 2 g protein; 25 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Network star Aarti Sequeira is the author of "Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul." She blogs at http://www.AartiPaarti.com .