I grew up in a small, termite-riddled farmhouse on Maui, a space my mother brightened with daily spritzes of lavender and bouquets of rose geranium. Our humble kitchen boasted jars of tahini and spirulina alongside tins of my mother’s homemade comfrey healing salve. She was an aromatherapist and herbologist extraordinaire, and I learned early on that scent is as integral to flavor and healing as any other ingredient or remedy. Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table, a collection of eighty vegetarian recipes and stories, is a celebration of this inherited aromatic wisdom.
In our home, there was little separation between ingredients used for body and ingredients intended to be consumed — what went on your skin was always pure enough to eat. And thus was born, two decades later,Kale & Caramel: a place where food is used both in the kitchen and for nourishing DIY body and beauty products.
In chef-speak, fragrant ingredients are called aromatics: herbs and flowers that release, impart and imbue scent to food. As I grew older, my aromatic concoctions evolved from smashed banana face masks to cardamom rose coco whip and citrus blossom sugar scrubs. But the guiding principle of aromatic inspiration remained: I’m awed by the way aromatics transform a dish — not just its flavor profile, but in the way we experience the food as a whole, dynamic ecosystem of sensory perception
While my new cookbook Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table is an ode to eight herbs and four flowers that will nourish, heal, and transform you in their own right, here are five ways aromatics can elevate your kitchen game on the regular.
AWAKEN THE SENSES
We tend to eat with our gaze and our taste buds only, but flavor is as much olfactory input as it is taste. Moreover, smell is the most potent awakener of sense memory: A tiny whiff of fresh pesto might transport you to a sticky summer in Italy as quickly as a lingering rush of jasmine on a street corner may send you into a lovesick reverie. Once we understand how scents affect us, we can cook and create in the kitchen with all five senses wide awake and use them to summon the specific experiences and memories we desire.
Aromatics tend to open the palate in a similar way to a dash of lemon juice or a sprinkle of sea salt — every other element of flavor awakens to their touch. Fresh herbs are brilliant in juices, salads, smoothies, sauces and soups as they punch up flavor and act as a unifying bridge between salty and sweet.
Thyme-flecked ricotta for a fig galette. Spicy orange blossom vinaigrette for a carrot, feta and pistachio salad. Basil-infused whipped cream for a strawberry cream pie. Integrating aromatics into your recipes opens up another stratosphere of elegant and unexpected flavor, no complex preparation or techniques required.
STREAMLINE YOUR BEAUTY ROUTINE
Use edible ingredients and aromatics to simplify and streamline your beauty routine. I wash my face with raw honey and moisturize with minimal-ingredient oils like sweet almond, apricot kernel and raw sesame spiked with jasmine or rose essential oil. Kale & Caramel offers a number of food-derived face masks (think: Blackberry Basil, Cucumber Rose and Oregano Oatmeal) that will leave your skin (and your wallet) glowing.
PLANTS AS ALLIES
Aromatherapists have used the scents of aromatic plants and flowers for their healing properties for centuries. Lavender soothes anxiety. Rose mends a broken heart. Peppermint eases nausea. All of these aromatics can be used in both their fresh or their extracted form to beautiful, potent effect. Kale & Caramelprovides charts that detail the healing properties of the eight herbs and four flowers that comprise its chapters, from basil to thyme and lavender to orange blossom.
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