If you’re planning a Valentine’s Day menu, here’s something to consider: Foods that are rare or generate some body heat or otherwise stimulate the senses are said to put people in the mood for romance and/or increase sexual drive, virility and fertility. Some of those foods, like chocolate (“food of the gods”) and strawberries (a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love), are “well-known” aphrodisiacs but others on the list may surprise you. (Jenn Harris has the skinny on nine lesser-known aphrodisiac foods). While there isn’t much scientific evidence that such foods affect pleasure and arousal centers, discussing them and the amorous feelings they are alleged to evoke may be all the stimulation one needs to get in the mood. These recipes may help start that conversation — or keep it going.
Let’s begin with the artichoke. According to Greek mythology, Zeus created the artichoke as a result of unrequited love (he turned the offender into a thistle). In 16th-century Western Europe, it was believed that artichokes enhanced sexual prowess, and women were forbidden from eating them. In this riff on the popular eggplant dip, Artichokes À La Baba Ghanouj, lemon juice, yogurt and tahini lend zest, tang and depth to the artichokes’ delicate earthiness. One bite and you may never want to go back to the original.
Eggs may be the ultimate fertility symbol, acknowledged as such by many ancient cultures. At the very least, they are full of nutrients that foster sexual health and fertility such as riboflavin, vitamins A, E, B6 and B12, and folate. Deviled eggs are always popular and they are easy to dress up with uni or caviar.
Oysters contain zinc, which is important to testosterone and sperm production and may boost libido. (Casanova, the legendary 18th-century Venetian known for his myriad trysts, regularly ate dozens of oysters in one sitting.) Eat them raw on the half-shell with a splash of lemon and cayenne sauce or try Roasted Oysters With Chipotle Butter. If you have never had a roasted oyster, you are in for a treat. Less than 10 minutes in the oven mellows the mollusk’s often harsh, briny flavor and transforms the slippery texture to that of a soft yet firm custard.
Spicy foods like garlic, ginger and chiles can increase blood flow and improve circulation. Allicin, a compound in garlic, increases blood flow. Chiles release endorphins, the feel-good hormone that makes the heart flutter and also raises body temperature.
Roasted Salmon With Chermoula has both garlic and red chile flakes in the sauce (and the omega-3 fatty acids in the salmon are key elements in the body’s production of estrogen, testosterone and progesterone). Soy-sauce-marinated, sesame-oil-scented Kalbi Rib-Eye Steaks are packed with garlic and onions, which stimulate the senses. Serve those steaks with Steamed Asparagus With Tangerine Ponzu, Daikon and Nori, which gets crunch from the radish and the nori, and heat from togarashi (a Japanese spice blend in which spicy chile powder is a primary ingredient). The citrus gives it a bright note to balance the flavors.
Vegetarian Penne With Caramelized Cauliflower, Garlic and Chile has some heat (use as much or as little chile as you like) and is also highly aromatic from the garlic and onions. Serve it with a Classic Caesar Salad — more garlic and citrus along with salty anchovies make a piquant dressing for the crunchy, Romaine lettuce. The combination will make your senses sing.
While chocolate does contain chemicals thought to be mood boosters and mild sexual stimulants, any sexual arousal one may feel is more likely a result of the pleasure that comes from the act of eating it. Nonetheless, chocolate is pretty much a Valentine’s Day requirement. Use heart-shaped cookie cutters to shape Flourless Fudgy Brownies. Serve them on their own or, perhaps alongside this Chocolate Ganache Strawberry Tart. The elegant presentation belies how simple it is to make.
If you want all-out chocolate decadence, try this Salted Caramel-Chocolate Tart and perhaps Chocolate Mascarpone Strawberries to add some color to the plate. For a non-chocolate option, gluten-free Sour Cherry-Almond Cookies are chewy little aroma bombs (the aroma of almonds is said to put women in the mood, according to some nutritionists).
We don’t know if these aphrodisiac foods live up to their hype, but these recipes will provide a delightful dinner for you and your valentine.
Grilled and marinated artichokes make quick work of this simple dip, enriched with tahini, cumin and lemon juice.
YieldsMakes 2 cups
Ponzu-soaked grated daikon radish tops the asparagus as a condiment, as does a flurry of togarashi spice and chopped nori.
YieldsServes 4 to 6.
Cooking oysters changes their flavor and their texture. What was once aggressively briny, tasting like cold, clean seawater, is calmed, the mollusks’ natural sweetness shines.
YieldsServes 6 to 8
Halved, fresh strawberries are garnished with a mixture of sweetened cocoa powder, mascarpone and cream cheese.
YieldsServes 24 strawberries
With its thin layer of ganache and even rows of sliced strawberries, this tart can be a dramatic dessert for two or an exciting presentation for a small party.
Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 12
Whole Romaine leaves are coated in a light yet rich dressing of lemon, Parmesan and garlicky oil. Eggs and anchovies optional.
YieldsServes 1 to 2
This simple fudgy brownie recipe requires only six ingredients and is a foolproof formula to a tender, chocolatey treat.
YieldsMakes one 8-inch-square pan.
Rib-eye steak and Korean flavors are an irresistible combination. In this recipe, the even marbling of the rib-eye quickly absorbs the intense flavor of the Asian marinade.
Chef Jason Fullilove spikes his deviled eggs with yuzu-kosho, then tops them with uni.
YieldsMakes 24 deviled eggs
Sustainably raised California white sturgeon caviar is extremely high quality. Serve it in a way that will show off the quality, such as using it as a topping for deviled eggs.
YieldsMakes 12 deviled eggs
Spicy, herbal chermoula sauce adds zing to simple roast salmon and a lemony kale salad.
Caramelized cauliflower adds depth to a simple pasta, teeming with garlic and chile flakes.
Small tweaks to the classic recipe make it easier for beginner home bakers with no equipment but lots of ambition.
Time3 hours 30 minutes, largely unattended
YieldsServes 8 to 12
Whole sour cherries are stuffed inside sweet almond dough in these chewy, gluten-free cookies.
Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsMakes about 2½ dozen cookies