CeCe Sullivan Seattle Times home economist
Rose water, the heady distillation of rose petals and steam, is something of an acquired taste for Western palates. Its scent may hint of secret gardens and distant nations, or perhaps it's the overwhelming fragrance of a department-store perfume counter that comes to mind.
While never a fan of rose water's taste, I admit to a fascination for a flavoring with such a rich history. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans extracted flavor from rose petals by steeping them in water or oil, and in the ninth century, Persia began the distillation of rose water.
But it's a 10th-century physician named Avicenna who is most often credited with its discovery. "It was in his time that the use of rose water as a flavoring for food came into vogue in the lavish and sumptuous cuisine of the Arabs," writes Alan Davidson in "The Penguin Companion to Food" (Penguin Books, 2002). "It was used to flavor a variety of dishes and even sprayed over the surface of the cooking pot."
What drew me in to the wonders of rose water was a recent article in Gourmet magazine featuring a couple of Brits, Samuel and Samantha Clark, whose London restaurant, Moro, focuses on dishes from Morocco and Spain.
"Oranges and rose water are a traditional combination in Morocco," write the Clarks in their book "Casa Moro" (Ebury Press, 2004) "and sometimes for breakfast we have freshly squeezed orange juice with a few splashes of rose water mixed in."
The pairing sounded exotic and delicious, a concept worth exploring. I began experimenting with a few drops of the water in my own morning glass of orange juice. The flavor was an eye-opener. Fragrant and fresh with just a suggestion of rose, it transformed the simple glass of juice.
Further investigation uncovered a global pantry of ideas. Rose water is used in a variety of Indian curries, Greek pastries and Middle East dishes, including the candy Turkish Delight and a baklava that mixes pistachios with a rosewater-honey syrup. Marzipan, the sweet paste of ground almonds and sugar, was originally flavored with rose water.
The secret to using rose water as a flavoring is to add it in small amounts, then tasting and adjusting the flavor to taste. Pair it with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, with citrus fruits, peaches, nuts and chocolate. Once opened, rose water should be stored in the refrigerator for freshness.
Rose water can be found at specialty-food stores and well-stocked supermarkets with other flavorings and extracts.
- 5 1/3 cups water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/3 cups fresh lemon juice (about 6 to 7 lemons)
- 2 ½ to 3 ½ teaspoons rose water
| Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring just until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in lemon juice and rose water to taste. Chill well before serving. |
Peaches in Rosewater Syrup
4 to 6 servings
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ¼ teaspoon green cardamom pods
- Optional: 1 tablespoon dried rose buds (see note)
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 4 ripe but firm peaches - Crisp cookies
| 1. In a 3 ½-quart pan combine water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and cardamom. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer gently 10 minutes. Stir in dried rose buds and rose water. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. |
2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil. Remove from heat and add peaches. Time about 30 seconds or just until skins begin to loosen. Remove peaches and rinse gently with cool water. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins. Cut peaches into quarters, discarding the pits, and put into a bowl.
3. Pour hot syrup over the peaches. Cool about 15 minutes, then place a piece of wax paper on top and weight with a small plate. Refrigerate several hours until peaches are chilled and have absorbed the flavors of the syrup. (These peaches should be served the same day they are made.)
4. Remove rose buds, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods from syrup. Spoon peaches with some of the syrup in glass bowls and serve with cookies.
Almond-Rose Pound Cak
Makes 12 to 16 slices
- Cooking spray
- 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- ¼ cup rose preserves or jam (see note)
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- Powdered sugar for dusting
| 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-inch tube pan with cooking spray and set aside. |
2. Put the pieces of butter into the large bowl of an electric mixer and set aside about 15 minutes to soften. Grind almonds finely in a food processor or blender and set aside.
3. When butter has softened, cream with sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir together flour and salt. Slowly add to the creamed mixture, beating until batter is smooth.
4. Remove about a third of the batter and add rose water and jam, stirring until smooth. Stir the ground almonds and almond extract into the remaining batter. Spoon half of the almond batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Spoon all of rose batter into the pan, spreading evenly. Then top with remaining almond batter and spread until smooth.
5. Bake cake on center oven rack 50 to 60 minutes or until it tests done. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, then run a knife around the outside edge and also around the center tube. Invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Recipies adapted from "New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies" by Najmieh Batmanglij and from