For those who celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are generally two schools of style: the cutesy and the eleganza. If heart-shaped everything and a candy-pink palette isn’t your jam, consider a sophisticated—but not necessarily fussy—dinner or dessert (or both) inspired by precious gems.
Taking your culinary cues from the rich colors and glossy luster of jewels is certainly more wallet-friendly than buying expensive baubles, but there’s nothing cheap about the look or taste of these delicacies. And you don’t have to go literal and make hard candy gemstones, either. Once you begin to look at produce and preserves and the rest of the food world with an eye to striking gold (or rubies, or emeralds…), you start to see an endless array of beautiful possibilities.
Your grocery store is a treasure trove: beets, both garnet and golden; ruby-veined radicchio and treviso; deep emerald spinach; bright peridot-green pistachios; glistening carnelian beads of salmon roe; glossy red Amarena cherries; shining citrus, especially red grapefruit and stunning blood oranges; ruby pips of pomegranate seeds; rainbow chard; certain dried fruits like cranberries and golden raisins; deep purple potatoes; sunstone-colored membrillo (quince paste, perfect with salty cheese); softly luminous thinly shaved cured meats like prosciutto and Serrano ham, or smoked salmon (bonus points for beet-cured gravlax); glowing topaz honey or apricot jam—these are all outstanding ingredients in and of themselves that require minimal or no processing to bring out their best gem-like qualities.
Make them the star of a dish by setting them among simple, more neutral accompaniments; think restrained salads, cheese-topped toasts or crostini, and minimalist cocktails. This makes it possible to highlight a single beautiful ingredient or to jumble several together for a jewelry box effect—a salad composed of a single kind of leaf, scattered with supremed citrus segments, pistachios, and roasted beets, or reserved but gorgeous little toasts with brie and golden mounds of kumquat marmalade.
Shining, Shimmering, Splendid
Some of the ingredients mentioned above definitely fall into this category too, but think about what techniques you can apply to more ho-hum tidbits to literally make them shine. Glaze fruit in a simple syrup—it makes for a lovely glistening aspect, and has the bonus of making pallid winter strawberries and other out-of-season fruits taste much better; add additional flavorings to your syrup if you want, like vanilla beans or cardamom. Along the same lines, you can use superfine sugar to frost fresh fruit, from cranberries to blackberries to grapes. Gelatin can capture bright yet translucent colors with high shine. (If you instinctively recoil at the thought of Jell-O, remember that the inherently fancy French have been doing aspic and gelée forever.) Unflavored gelatin can also give you impressive mirror glaze results on mousse cakes, in any gemstone shade you desire, from ruby red to sapphire blue. Candy kumquats and they turn to polished citrine. Make red wine poached pears and they glow.
On the savory side, go for sticky, shiny glazes on your main protein, whether meat, poultry, or seafood (or veggies, tofu, etc. for that matter), made from red wine and/or cherries, blueberries, redcurrant jelly, or blackberry preserves, or go golden with honey and apricots. Luminous mixed-fruit chutney also works beautifully with various proteins. Or make a bright emerald-green oil-and-herb sauce (pesto or chimichurri) to spark shrimp, steak, roasted vegetables, or whatever else you like. Consider serving your main course over rice, quinoa, or couscous pilaf studded with dried fruit and nuts, or vibrant steamed greens with pops of contrasting color from pomegranate seeds or golden beet slivers scattered about.
Twenty-four karat food comes most obviously in the form of edible gold leaf, which you can sprinkle or smooth on literally everything for a touch of gourmet glitz—or try luster dust, for turning fudge into tiny gold bricks for instance. But you can also pay homage to the precious metal in the form of caramel, from a liquid glaze on a tart or flan to an amber brittle like on the top of crème brûlée. Or represent it with perfectly cooked pastry. Even just-so caramelized scallops or chicken have a reasonably golden hue. You can sort of nod to gold by tingeing dishes with saffron too; use it in risotto, poaching liquid for pale foods that will take on the bright yellow tint, even stir it into easy ice cream.
A liberal coating of sanding sugar can make cookies or truffles look like they’re covered in diamond dust, or large flakes of sea salt can sparkle on the surface of a chocolate tart to evoke a scattering of icy diamond chips.
Another nice thing about cooking in the color palette of fine gems is that it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s-specific. If you think Cupid is stupid and love is the worst, you can throw an especially fabulous anti-Valentine’s Day party to express your esteem for your single self. Or break out the treasure chest ingredients for any grand occasion dinner, no matter where it falls on the calendar. But if you follow this MO for a special someone on the officially sanctioned day of high romance, they will remember and appreciate it always (not to be a downer, but probably even if things don’t ultimately work out).
So use these examples as inspiration, or follow some of the jaw-dropping recipes highlighted here and cook—then eat—your heart out.
Blood orange juice adds a punch of color and extra-zesty flavor to a margarita. If you’re more into amethysts (and traditional Valentine’s Day bubbly), try the dead-simple and beautifully violet Elizabeth Taylor Champagne Cocktail. But if you want something bolder, blood orange is the way to go. Get our Blood Orange Margarita recipe.
This plate pops with brilliant color, and cutting the citrus into faceted shapes highlights their resemblance to edible gemstones even more. Crisp fennel and creamy avocado complement the juicy fruit, and a spiced honey vinaigrette brings it all together. Get the recipe.
Amethyst happens to be the traditional February birthstone, so this is an especially perfect choice for an unexpected Valentine’s Day soup—but if you can’t find purple produce, bright orange sweet potatoes will work just as well and still be stunning. Get the recipe.
Golden, flaky pastry plus warm, gooey brie, plus bright, juicy pomegranate seeds and ripe figs? Yes, please! It’s almost too pretty to eat, but really, how could you resist digging in? Oh, and there are candied walnuts too. Get the recipe.
Beets are one of the most beautiful roots, not only for their incredibly vibrant hue but their incomparable earthy-sweet taste. Paired with balsamic vinegar and blood oranges, they make an elegant topping for simple grilled salmon that’s sure to win anyone’s heart. Get the recipe.
Fancy and fun, these mini nuggets of beef tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto, mushroom duxelles, and rich golden pastry may take some time, but are totally worth it. For the vegan and vegetarian sophisticates, there are delightful beet Wellingtons, but for the rest of us, a ruby center can be achieved by properly cooking these meaty little parcels of love. Get the recipe.
Dessert could be as beautifully simple as a scoop of luscious ice cream topped with edible gems of kumquat spoon fruit and their syrup, or chocolate mendiants, but if you’re up for a bit of a project, make macarons in a mix of jewel tones with the addition of shiny gold leaf. They may not last as long as actual jewelry, but they’re way more thoughtful (and tastier too). Get the recipe.
You could probably even get away with just buying fancy chocolates (or make them yourself in this gem-faceted mold to fit the theme!), but if you intend to really wow, these crazy-amazing gemstone cupcakes cannot be beat. Get the recipe.