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Meatless Monday: Carrots And Sex

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Back in high school, I invited some friends over for a homemade Indian feast, which I liberally spiked with cardamon. I'd read it was an aphrodisiac. Must not have added enough. Everyone laughed and talked and ate with abandon down to the last chickpea, but they stayed fully clothed. It was disappointing from the cook's perspective, but not enough to put me off. I've never lost that thrill of cooking for people. It's about making something to delight, to sustain, to seduce.

Seduction begins before food passes your lips. It entices by how it's arrayed on the plate, by its tantalizing aroma, the rich layers of flavor, the way it melts on your tongue and surrenders when you bite it. Food, like sex, is all about life force. It is sensual, it is oral pleasure -- and the right food may lead to more of the same, oral and otherwise. But it has to be the right food.

Maybe it's not cardamon (although like cinnamon, chili and ginger, cardamon, it boosts blood flow), but it isn't meat, either. Meat can slow you down in the bedroom (or wherever the naughtiness takes you). It can be artery-clogging and so hard to digest, all your blood flow goes to your stomach rather than the partying, procreative parts further south. What you want is a meal to delight your mouth and rev your sex machine. You don't need Viagra, you may just need veggies. Vegetables and other plant-based foods aren't just good for you, they can make you feel good, too. Real good. And they're available without a prescription.

In the Ukraine, women feed their lackluster lovers carrot and celery juice. Does it work better than cardamon? Possibly. Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which ramps up progesterone. Celery is high in vitamin C, friend of all the sex hormones. Fennel, too, is C-rich and also has that licorice thing going. Studies show the mere scent of it can jumpstart blood flow down below. Being firm and erect like carrots, it also provides an inspiring visual.

Zinc is the "it" nutrient for guy sex. Zinc keeps your sperm and heart pumping. It's found in oysters, which is why they've long been considered an aphrodisiac. Casanova swore by them. It can't be because putting something snotlike in your mouth gets you in the mood. Yogurt and cheese are rich in zinc, so are legumes, oatmeal and nuts. Almonds in particular have been touted for their amatory properties, being, as they are, fragrant and shaped like a woman's hips. They're also rich in vitamin E, which benefits the bod, and in B vitamins, which top off your testosterone, the horny-making hormone.

And of course there's chocolate, your go-to Valentine's Day gift. Just saying "chocolate" makes some women hot. The flavor is luscious, the texture is silky, but there's some science to it, too. Cacao is rich in flavanols as well as magnesium and theobromine, both of which release happy-making drugs in the brain. Personally, I've always been more interested in sex than chocolate, and score my magnesium in leafy greens, beans, nuts, artichokes, figs and barley.

Will these foods make you tear off your partner's clothes? Scorch the sheets? I hope so (and I hope you report back -- let's dish).

Va-Va Voom Vegetables With Chocolate and Almonds

How many of nature's aphrodisiacs can you fit into one dish? A lot. This carrot, fennel and celery stew is finished by stirring in a sort of pesto made with cocoa and ground almonds. It's not sweet, it's earthy and erotic. Very nice with magnesium-rich barley, or any whole grain.

Making this dish a day or two ahead lets the flavors get deeper and more delightful. It also means you'll have nothing to do on Valentine's Day but slip into -- and out of -- erotic undies and have fun. Happy Valentine's Day.

For vegetable stew:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lare onion, halved and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 carrots (roughly 1 pound), sliced 1-inch thick
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup vegetable broth
1-1/2 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
sea salt and ground pepper to taste

for almond pesto:

1/4 cup blanched almonds
3 garlic cloves
1 thick slice rustic bread, crusts removed and cut into cubes
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons broth
2 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, plus additional for garnish

Heat oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute about 5 minutes, or until vegetables soften. Add carrots, fennel and celery and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, wine and broth. Bring to a boil. Add bay leaf.

Reduce heat to low and cover pot. letting vegetables simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Recipe may be prepared a day or two in advance up to this point. Let vegetables cool, remove bay leaf.

Cover tightly and refrigerate. Bring vegetables back to room temperature before proceeding.

Reheat carrots in a covered pot over medium heat until heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Toast almonds and bread cubes in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.

Pour nuts, garlic and bread into a food processor (or be prepared to bash the hell out of it with a mortar and pestle). Process to a coarse paste. Add the cocoa, broth, wine and chopped parsley. Continue processing for at least one more minute, until mixture is thick but smooth.

Stir almond-cocoa mixture into carrots. Heat through over medium heat, for about 5 minutes.

Garnish with chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

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