Sunday, 13 February 2011

Not for nothing it is said that this spice is more valuable than gold. It is obtained from dried poles between flowering purple crocus petals. The common method of harvesting its flower is made manually. To gather 1 kilogram of spice there is a need of approximately 150-200 thousand flowers. Obviously, we're talking about saffron. Its name derives from the Arabic-Persian word-zafaran az, meaning the color "yellow" and "thread". Saffron has long been mined from Central Asia from the crocus, whose Latin name is Crocus Sativus. Threads of crocuses are collected in the morning, when the flower opens. Hence, saffron has always been a synonym for luxury. 

According to legend, the reason why Alexander of Macedon ended his victorious march in India, was a field of crocuses blooming in the morning. Saffron was widely used in the culinary arts, as well as in cosmetics and as a dye. In ancient Egypt, pharaohs and priests enjoyed and submits it as a sacrifice to the gods. Emperors took saffron-bathing, because it supposedly raises the male force. Saffron in many cultures of the world was and is still considered a strong aphrodisiac. It would enhance the sex drive in young men. According to the ancient Greeks saffron stimulate female sexual organs, elicited a strong orgasm. In ancient times, saffron was a remedy for the malaise. For other uses, the plant was used to color the robes of Buddhist monks. This color is a symbol of wisdom. Today's saffron is grown on a large scale mainly in the Mediterranean region and Middle East countries. In Spain, the most famous saffron-growing region is La Mancha. Saffron from La Mancha, famed for its color, taste and aroma, is the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is the only spice that gives the dish the color, aroma and taste. Just a few strands of saffron added to the dishes makes them intensely yellow color and unique, delicate, slightly bitter in taste. 

In India, saffron is an essential ingredient of many dishes with rice and sweets. It is used also in ayurvedic medicine and during religious rites. 
The Saudi Arabian real coffee should include saffron. 
In northern Italy and southern Switzerland, Saffron is indispensable in the preparation of the famous risotto. 
In Sweden, the tradition is to bake bread with saffron on St. Lucia Day. 
And finally, the Spanish saffron is added to the famous paella, Galician fabado and pote. 

In our kitchen today, saffron was accompanied by mussels...

Mussels in saffron sauce 
recipe randomly found on Internet, author unknown 

1.25 kg live mussels 
450 ml dry white wine 
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped 
2 sprigs fresh mint, chopped 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
4-6 saffron threads, soaked in a little water 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Properly clean the mussels under cold water and remove all the little "beards" protruding from between their shells. Discard those that remain open. Place mussels in a large saucepan with 300 ml of wine. Cover and simmer over high heat, shaking pan occasionally for about 8 minutes, until mussels are open. Discard those that remained closed. Stir in chopped herbs. 
In the meantime, heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion gently for about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook until the onion becomes very soft. Stir in saffron and remove from heat. Add onion mixture into a pot of mussels and simmer for another minute until the aroma of onions pass mussels and saffron. 

Serve with fresh, crusty bread, accompanied by your favourite wine... 

Have a nice evening!

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