Moroccan Eggplant Confiture

Moroccan Eggplant Confiture
If you didn't have a Moroccan grandmother, you probably won't be awash in a wave of nostalgia biting into the stem of one of these miniature candied eggplants. If you never tasted this Moroccan specialty, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out what it is made of. Both the size of the "fruit", its shape and the texture and flavour make it very difficult to guess it's an eggplant. Perhaps a pear would come to mind. 

mini eggplants
Photo by Think Draw on Flickr

But I assure you that they do make a very impressive addition to any big celebration, and there are many ways to serve and eat them. But the best way is to grab them by the tail (or edible lollipop handle), and consume them from their firm but soft, seedy, sugared and spiced bottoms and nibble till you reach the firm top under the calyx, threaten to snap the candied stem, but manage only to scrape off the candied parts off the woody skeleton of the stem.  

Eating as it is will always warrant a sense of importance and feeling like this is a moment to cherish. First of all, because tiny eggplants are not something one often runs into. And secondly, a person who's patient enough to shape the calyx of each individual eggplant, pierce it with a fork and then go through the lengthy cooking process is not easy to come by either. They usually come with the title "grandmother", who would only make it for special occasions such as wedding, bar mitzvah or brith; or in my case - you just needs to be an obsessed person with reviving nostalgia. 

But you can also reserve the syrup for dripping over pancakes and French toast, slice the mini eggplants on top of fancy dessert arrangements or a fancy sweet and savoury sandwich, or simply over cheese and crackers. I admit that the best is just eat as it is with a cup of tea on the side to wash down all the sugar. 

The Making of Moroccan Eggplant Confiture

So if you stumble upon miniature eggplants, be sure to buy a kilo of the smallest and finest ones, no blemishes or parts that show any sign of rotting in the near future. Wash them and cut around the base of to stem, to remove any excess parts of the calyx (the green leafy looking part). Pierce with a fork. Once all are ready place in a pot of filtered water and cook until water boils. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Allow the eggplants to cool before draining completely in a colander. 

Meanwhile while the eggplants are cooling, squeeze enough lemons to make half a cup of lemon juice. Bring to a boil one kilogram of sugar (I use raw cane sugar - not any sugar containing molasses) together with the lemon juice, and add all the spices: cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Once the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has completely melted - add the eggplants. Cook until the eggplants have absorbed about half o the syrup (takes between 1-2 hours). 

Ingredients list:
1 kg miniature eggplants
1 kg sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 sticks cinnamon, Ceylon
1 tsp clove buds
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2tsp cloves, ground 
2 tsp dried ginger root, ground 


Mint is almost as widespread as mankind itself - with representative species in all continents except Antartica. There are citrus scented mints (Bergamot mint), apple or pineapple scented mint,  and even a chocolate mint (a type of peppermint, really). In her book Fragrant - The Secret Life of Scent, author Mandy Aftel praises mint's homely qualities, and how it can be not only grown everywhere but also used in family recipes books called "Books of Secrets". I have many recipes in my own "Book of Secrets" that incorporate mint in this form or another: my first tea blend, for example, which was inspired by the Charisma perfume and the beautiful herbs that grew on the footsteps of my cottage in the Galil (lemon verbena, spearmint and lemongrass) combined with jasmine green tea are the brew to inspire dreams and happiness. Likewise, a more earthy and rustic brew of cinnamon sticks and wild, medicinal white mint can always be found in my mother's spice shelf, and if you're lucky she'll also have some of her own home-made pickles, which she beautifully serves on a tray with crackers and aged cheese, blanched almonds and whichever other dried fruits or nuts from her pantry. Each home has its own secrets, after all...

What gives mint its refreshing aroma and cooling sensation is a molecule called menthol. In its pure form, menthol has the consistency of white crystals in room temperature. When mixed with all the other elements of peppermint oil the appearance would be liquid. But this winter, temperatures in my studio plummeted, and my peppermint oil (and several others, including ginger lily CO2 and rose otto) have radically crystallized. It certainly is amusing, but makes working with the oils a bit cumbersome in the winter months.

It is interesting to note that menthol from natural origin (that which is found in countless mint varieties), as well as the leaves of pelargonium (AKA geranium) is different than that which is synthetically produced and in used profusely in the flavour industry - in anything from soft beverages, liquors, candy, bubble gum, toothpaste and other medicinal preparations. It is a very subtle difference, but nevertheless noticeable. Natural menthol is the isomer d-menthol, while the synthetic one is l-menthol. There is also a subtle difference that can be detected by discerning noses - it has a more metallic, cold quality than the (natural) d-menthol.

Most mint oils for the flavour industry are rectified in order to remove some of the grassy components, as well as the bitter-tasting component menthone. They are also more stable this way, resulting in a water-free, and colourless liquid (the water content can spoil the oil). Different mints have different molecular contents.
For example: peppermint has mostly menthol (29-48% or even more in some teroir), mention (20-31%), menthyl acetate, menthofuran, limonene, pulegone and cineol.
Spearmint has a significantly different chemical makeup, containing as much as 50-70% L-carvone, which gives it its characteristically warm mint-like character, as well as dihydrocarvone, phellandrene, limonene, mention, menthol, pulegone, cineol, linalool and pinene - which add a sweeter, more refreshing and complex aroma to spearmint. 
Lastly, Japanese mint (AKA Cornmint) has an even higher menthol content (70-95%), menthone (10-20%), pinene, methyl acetate, isomenthone, thujone, phellandrene, piperitone and menthofuran. The menthol is usually removed, because that would make it solid at room temperature!

Peppermint oil is the most versatile and useful of all three for aromatherapy, medicinal and flavour purposes. The oil can be mixed with a fixed oil and then rubbed on the belly to relieve stomach ache, can be added to smelling salts or to lavender and rosemary oils to relieve headache, and also added to cough drops and syrups to soothe sore throat. Spearmint is less potent medicinally, and is used as a milder, gentler substitute for young children. It also has more versatile use in soaps, colognes, sweets and soft drinks etc.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita), one of the most popular of all mints, is in fact a cross between
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and Watermint (Mentha aquatica), the mint that grows wild on the banks of brooks and creeks in Europe and the Middle East. There are countless hybrids of mint, as the species spontaneously cross-fertilize (something to keep in mind when growing them in your garden - if you are interested in keeping a particular type of mint and maintaining its qualities), creating many new varieties with subtle flavour and aroma differences. 

As far as its limited perfume use goes - I've enjoyed working with peppermint in an eau de cologne formulation to add a distinctively cooling effect; and with spearmint in Charisma - one of my favourite perfumes, where the refreshing coolness of spearmint is contrasted by sensuous jasmine and precious woods. I also used spearmint in a OOAK perfume that was inspired by the quiet afternoon teas with my Moroccan grandmother - alongside rose, anise and almond notes.

When visiting in Israel this month, we spent a blessed day in the wild hiking with my brother, sister in law, her parents and my two nieces. To call it hiking is an overstatement - because we followed the pace of my 3 year old niece, and the trail was a very easy, relaxing one. Which allowed us to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery. Snailing along between the old growth oaks and the flowery meadows was a most relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon and pay attention to the versatility of flowers in bloom in all colours of the rainbow. 

Towards the end of the day, we stopped at Tzippori creek for a little impromptu outdoors tea party. We picked wild mint that grew along the banks - probably Silver mint (Mentha sylvestris), AKA Horse mint (Mentha longifolia). We brewed a simple tisane, and enjoyed it with fruit and nuts, plus chocolate bars that a generous Bedouin woman who picnicked with her family under the eucalyptus down the stream offered us - perhaps as a prize for the girls for being able to so bravely cross the step-stone bridge. If you've been following SmellyBlog for long enough, you'll know by now that this is not the first time I experience an outdoors tea party with my brother. It's never too much of an ordeal for him to carry in his backpack a small propane burner and a kettle, and brew on the spot wild herbs we find on the way - white mint (Micromeria fructose), sage, or whatnot. Worse case scenario, there is always some black coffee in his backpack to cook a strong cup of Turkish coffee.  

White mint (in Hebrew we call it Zuta Levana, in Arabic it is called Isbat Il Shai - meaning tea herb) can be found in the east Mediterranean countries: Israel, Lebnon, Turkey and the Balkans) is a precious wild herb most valued for its fine aroma as well as its medicinal properties. In folk medicine and herbalism it is used to reduce stomach pain, and also is considered helpful in reducing blood pressure, as well as colds, flu and coughing. It is especially fantastic when combined with cinnamon, for a warming and sweet-tasting tea in the cold winter months. It dries very well, maintaining its delicate flavour very well. It is reminiscent of both spearmint and hyssop in flavour - fresh yet a little warm and spicy as well. The fresh leaves are fantastic when paired with citrusy herbs such as lemongrass and lemon verbena, as well as pelargonium.

Are there any wild mint varieties growing in your area? Or any other wild herbs you an brew as tea on your next hiking trip? 

Aphrodisiac Moroccan Afternoon Tea

Moroccan Pastries & Desserts
Le premier verre est aussi amer que la vie,
le deuxième est aussi fort que l'amour,
le troisième est aussi doux que la mort.*

*Moroccan proverb, which translates loosely to:
The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as gentle as death.

Tea Party of Love
Photograph by Miriam Kleingeltink

Tea Party of Love
Photograph by Miriam Kleingeltink

At long last - photographs and stories from our latest event titled "Light, Love… Action!"
This is my 3rd annual Valentine’s Day Aphrodisiac Tea Party - which not surprisingly is always very popular and very special.

First thing - I would like to thank the wonderful friends that helped me put together this event: Miriam, Tamya and Shukoofeh for helping me prepare all the Moroccan sweets and the savoury mezze inspired tea sandwiches. Thank you to Nikki for helping me co-host the event and for her wonderful presentation about aphrodisiac candles (see more below). An extra special thank you goes to Miriam who went above and beyond - seamlessly helping me to host as well as photograph the event so those who couldn't make it can get some inspiration and food for thought!

Tea Party of Love
Photograph by Miriam Kleingeltink

Tea Party of Love
Photograph by Miriam Kleingeltink

Nikki will bought her aphrodisiac candles, including “Three Little Words” - a very special trio of romantic candles she created especially to put you in the mood!
"Afternoon Nap" with Black Pepper and Lavender
"Slow Dance" with Sandalwood, Clove, Patchouli
"Sweetheart" with Ylang Ylang, Geranium and Nutmeg

She shared the pure aphrodisiac essences that are used in her candles to demonstrate how they can be used to set the mood for romance. Lighting a candle is an act of inviting passion and romance into your life. It has such a beautiful soft ligth, and with a scented candle, you also get the health benefits of aromatherapy grade essences - purifying the air and also affecting the body, mind and soul in a positive way.
Nikki shared some surprising tips on burning soy wax candles, for example - light a candle before you enter the bedroom to make it smell nice, rather than keep it burning all night long. And also tips on how long a wick should be, how to trim them, and for how long it's recommended to burn each candle.

Aphrodisiac Spice Box

My presentation was about how the aphrodisiacs were incorporated in the menue (see below) and they actually "work". I demonstrated two scents for men (ArbitRary and Orcas) that contain aphrodisiacs, and two feminine perfumes (Immortelle l'Amour and Roses et Chocolat).
And here I am pouring a very special aphrodisiac that I designed especially for the party: a Darjeeling tea scented with mimosa & myrrh!

Pouring Tea
Photograph by Miriam Kleingeltink

The menu was Moroccan inspired – colourful, spicy and flavourful from one of the world’s most sophisticated cuisines!

We all enjoyed Moroccan mint tea drizzled with orange flower water and garnished with fresh sprigs of spearmint. The orange flower water is an old Moroccan tradition, but was a refreshing and new for everyone attending and I was thrilled how much they loved it!
We created an abundance of colourful finger foods and fragrant desserts that are a feast for all of the senses – and all spiked with nature’s best aphrodisiacs, such as cardamom,

Moroccan Mezze (Hors d’Oveurs):
- Pita wedges with roasted bell pepper hummus topped with spicy Moroccan carrot salad
- Roasted eggplants sandwiches with black cardamom & pomegranate (served on Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps)
- Cumin-scented beets with chevre & black olives (on slices of PureBread’s rosemary-lavender bread)

Moroccan inspired scones flavoured with aniseed and malepi (black cherry pit - this is actually a Greek specialty spice but worked so well with the anise that I just had to include it in the menu).
We served them piping hot with clotted cream and real rose petal jam.

Petitfours & Desserts:
Masapan (Moroccan almond paste tartlets)
Stuffed Dates with Rosewater & Coconut
Gheriba (Rose Petal & Semolina shortbread cookies)
Ras El Hanout spiced brownies

There were also two types of handmade truffles for sale:
White Musk Truffles (white chocolate infused with precious ambrette seeds – a botanical musk)
Black Beauty truffles (infused with Lapsang Suchong & black cardamom and smoked salt)

The whole spread!
Photograph by Miriam Kleingeltink

We also gave door prizes including some of our secret aphrodisiac recipes and raffle tickets for a romantic gift box of perfumes, candles and potions that Nikki & I prepared in heart-shaped cookie boxes.

And last but not least - some music from the party (we played mostly authentic Moroccan music, and also some other North African music, such as the wonderful Libyan musician Tinariwen).

This might be the first and the last tea party for 2012, but we'll look forward to hosting a tea party for next Valentine's Day!

Summer Tea Party

Moroccan petitfours of dried fruit, marzipan and halva - scented with floral water of course!

Here are some photos from the Summer Afternoon Tea Party yesterday at my studio.
Of course the whole purpose is to make you come to the next one, which I'm hoping to host in mid-July (exact date will be announced soon).

You've already read about the menu - now you can see the treats (my apologies for the poor quality of photos - I was trying to sneak in a camera-click between getting the door and the guest consuming this display):

You can't see it, but this is a 5-tier tea tray, the top two tiers covered in chocolate truffles, the rest with petitfours and pastries.

The teas served were many (I made no less than 8 pots of tea!) - my entire current tea collection of Charisma, Immortelle l'Amour and Roses et Chocolat. After the event there is not much tea left (the guests wiped me nearly clean of my Charisma tea - only one tin left) and just a handful of Roses et Chocolat and Immortelle l'Amour!

I also served Moroccan mint tea, both hot and chilled. It's especially good for dipping those fennel biscuits (see below).

View from the top:
Top tier: Blood truffles (dark chocolate, Turkish rose, saffron and chili) and Rose de Mai truffles (white chocolate with rose de mai, magnolia, bergamote & strawberry extract)

Second tier: Guilt truffles (orange blossom and wild orange) and Charisma truffles (white chocolate with matcha tea powder, sambac jasmine, spearmint and citrus)

Third tier: Dried apricots stuffed with neroli-water flavoured marzipan, dried figs stuffed with kewda water flavoured marzipan; and some more Charisma truffles.

Fourth tier: Crystallized rose wafers, Pistachio-Lime buttons, Apple cupcakes, Almond cupcakes

Fifth tier (nearly hidden): Moroccan Fennel biscuits, and my personal favourite - Basboosa made with Goat's milk yoghurt.

Some guests mingling to create an awesome tea party...

The guests received tea candle and samples before they left and also there was a draw for one person to go on a little olfactory journey with me and participate in the creation of their very own custom scent!
There was also a presentation about tea and perfumes - more about that in the next post...!

Moroccan Tea Time

moroccan still life, originally uploaded by christian wind.

moroccan still life , originally uploaded by christian wind

I've already told you before about my paternal grandmother, who made Aliya from Morocco.

Her afternoon tea ritual was something I always enjoyed and will never forget. The culture of tea arrived to Morocco most likely travelled to Morocco through Europe and became popular in the 18th Century, when trade between Morocco and Europe flourisehd and tea spread throughout North Africa and became an integral part of hospitality in the region. The French imperialism made the rituals even more elaborate with the addition of many French-influenced pastries, some of them exceptionally fancy. But Moroccan tea time remained mostly about hospitality and tea, and even the simplest pastries made the occasion special. The addition of fresh local herbs made the tea distinctively of the region - spearmint and lemon verbena in the summertime to make the tea refreshing and cooling (even when it is hot!), and bitter mugwort or sage in the wintertime for their medicinal properties.

Morocco is currently the first consumer of green tea world-wide, and is one of the only two Muslim countries to drink green tea (the other being Afghanistan). Green tea was probably not available at all in Israel in the 1950’s, when the Moroccan immigration was at its peak, and the Jewish Moroccan had to make do with black tea. But this did not make the tradition stop or diminish. In fact, the custom spread throughout the country and even Jews from non-Moroccan decent enjoyed black tea with a sprig of mint. Black tea with spearmint is served in all the Narguilla (Shisha) houses, with a great amount of sugar to help reduce the dryness in the mouth caused by the tobacco smoke and steam.

At my grandmother’s balcony, every afternoon tea was served with sweets and pastries suitable for the occasion. The staples were simple galettes - these were not crepes, but a long wavy biscuit type of hardly sweet cookies, which I am still hunting for a recipe for; or fennel flavoured biscuits and savoury sesame bagel-shaped cookies. Other staples that my grandmother almost always had on hand were round almond cookies with a single clove-bud stuck in the middle looking like a belly-button; and my than favourites - coconut cookies, with a silvery pearl-shaped decoration candy - both baked in the tiniest paper cups which made them look even more adorable.

When it was a holiday there may be some specialty pastries, as well as when her sisters came to visit from Paris. But either way, the conversations during tea time were exclusively in French so I was able to absorb the sound but focus on the flavours.

Sometime last year, I’ve tried to capture the aromas of this quiet tea time with a scent. Now it is offered in a very limited edition of 3 bottles for those smitten with mint and tea or who share my nostalgic Moroccan tea time memories.

Top notes: Spearmint, Black Pepper, Bitter Almond, Fennel

Heart notes: Rose Maroc, Honey, Licorice Mint

Base notes: Green Tea, Massoia Bark, Atlas Cedarwood
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