Orange-blossom water

Orange-blossom water

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

One of the best holidays we had together was one enchanted late-summer, when we spent a glorious few weeks pottering around Andalusia in southern Spain. We were there to explore the rich cultural heritage of the Moors – in the region’s architecture, its gardens and, naturally enough, its cuisine. During those two weeks a benign sun shone down on us from a brilliant blue sky and, wherever we went, from the sun-dappled elegant city squares of Jerez to the shady, winding alleyways of Seville’s Jewish quarter, the scent of orange blossom enveloped us, perfuming the air with its heady magic.

When Moorish invaders conquered Spain in the eighth century, they planted their new lands extensively with citrus trees from Persia, at the eastern end of their empire. In Andalusia’s southern cities they constructed grand mosques, each of which had a patio de los naranjos alongside, the fragrant orange trees planted in austerely elegant lines. These were the bitter Seville oranges we favour today for jams and marmalades. The Arabs loved them not just for their bitter–sweet fruit, but also for their fragrant blossoms, leaves and twigs.

For many thousands of years, Persian and Arabic cooking has made liberal use of flower waters, such as rose petal and orange-blossom. A splash or two in an elaborate meat and fruit khoresht will lift it to another dimension. Orange-blossom water is frequently added to thirst-quenching fruit syrups and cooling sharbats, or sprinkled over simple summer fruit salads.

In Morocco too, they love the complex perfume of orange-blossom water, and sprinkle it over the traditional salad of grated carrot, which is served in just about every Moroccan restaurant to cleanse the palate after a rich tagine. All across the Maghreb and Levant, and even in parts of Provence, a few drops of orange-blossom water flavour cookies and cakes, almond pastries and sweetmeats, milky puddings and refreshing fruit salads. It seems only natural that orange-blossom water should have a particular affinity with orangey things – and indeed just about any sweet orange dish, from a simple dish of sliced oranges to orange jellies, mousses, cakes and biscuits, is enhanced by a drop of its flower water.

In Lebanon orange-blossom water is even added to sweetened boiling water to make ‘cafe blanc’. This has nothing at all to do with coffee beans, but is a soothing, fragrant digestive drink, often enjoyed at bedtime to ensure a sound night’s sleep.

Selecting, storing and using orange-blossom water

Orange-blossom water is made from the distilled flowers of orange trees. In the Middle East and North Africa you can often find concentrated floral essences, which are far stronger than the diluted flower waters available to us here. You will probably have to go to a specialist Middle Eastern or Asian grocer to find orange-blossom water. We use the Lebanese Cortas brand from choice.

Orange-blossom water has a fairly intense perfume and taste – too heavy a hand will result in food tasting of soap! Start with just a few drops – some people don’t like their food overly perfumed, although they are happy with the gentlest suggestion of fragrance.

Recipes in this Chapter

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