It’s summertime and flowers seem to be everywhere. It’s a time to enjoy fresh, beautiful flowers on our tables but also a time for using flowers in our culinary creations. Flowers not only add a bit of color to our food but interesting flavors as well. Besides, there is something romantic and exotic about edible flowers, whether we toss them into a salad or use them as garnishes.
People have been eating flowers for thousands of years. The Romans ate violets and mallow. Daylily buds have a long history in Asian cuisine. Cooking with squash blossoms is common in Italian and Hispanic cultures. In India, cooks use rose petals as a garnish and flavoring.
Of course, it’s important to know which flowers are safe to eat. If you aren’t sure whether a particular flower can be consumed safely, consult a good food reference on edible flowers. Eating flowers that are not safe can make you quite sick. Some flowers to avoid are: azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, lily of the valley, and wisteria. It is, also, important to avoid flowers that have been sprayed with any kind of chemical. Begin eating flowers sparingly by introducing one species at a time. Eating too many can cause digestive problems or aggravate allergies.
Don’t go shopping for edible flowers at nurseries, garden centers, or floral shops. In many cases, these flowers have been treated with chemicals. If you want to eat flowers from your garden, make sure they have not been in contact with any pesticides. Your safest bet for purchasing edible flowers is at area farmers’ markets.
Varieties of edible flowers available at Colorado farmers’ markets might include nasturtiums, calendulas, squash blossoms, violas, leek flowers, and borage. When you select flowers to add to your recipes, consider how their distinct flavor will pair with other ingredients. And, of course, give some thought on how their color will affect presentation.
Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are the most commonly eaten flower. The hues of this flower range from red, yellow, and orange to maroon, and the blossoms of this flower have a sweet, spicy flavor similar in taste to watercress. Every part of this plant is edible but the root.
Nasturtiums add a peppery tang to salads and can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for watercress. These blossoms add a unique flavor when combined with butter, cream cheese, or vinegar. The entire flower can be used to garnish platters, salads, cheese tortas, and appetizers. The pickled buds of nasturtiums are a good substitute for capers. Calendula (also known as marigolds): The flavors of this edible flower range from spicy to bitter, and from tangy to peppery. Its sharp taste resembles saffron. In fact, calendula has been called the poor man’s saffron. With golden-orange hues, the petals of calendula flowers add a yellow tint to soups, spreads, and scrambled eggs. Sprinkle them on soups, pasta, or rice dishes. Eat them raw in salads or add them to herbed butters or cream cheese. Squash blossoms: The flowers from either summer or winter squash are edible. Squash blossoms come in a variety of shades of yellow and orange and have a mild raw squash taste. Squash blossoms can be used as a garnish either whole or slivered. They add flavor and color to salads. The most common way of cooking squash blossoms is to coat them with a light batter and sauté them. Sometimes cooks stuff them with soft cheese before frying.
Violas: The tender, heart-shaped leaves of this flower are excellent in salads. They are also tasty when cooked like spinach. Violas make a beautiful garnish for desserts, adding an elegant touch to frosted cakes, fruit salads, flan, or sorbets. Freeze violas in ice cube trays and float the cubes in punch. Also, violas are often crystallized. These candied flowers are often used to add an elegant touch to wedding cakes.
Leek flowers: Alliums, including leeks, chives, garlic, and garlic chives, are known as “flowering onions.” All members of this genus are edible. Flavors of alliums range from mild to strong. The flowers tend to have stronger flavor than the leaves; and the young, developing seed-heads will be even stronger. Leek flowers are delicious in salads.
Borage: This plant has pretty cornflower blue, star-shaped flowers. The blossoms have a cool, cucumber-like taste. Float borage blossoms in punches. Use borage flowers as a garnish for lemonade, iced summertime drinks, sorbets, chilled soups, or cheese tortas. The leaves of the borage flower can also be added to salads, but it’s best to chop them finely as their texture is unpleasant. Also, borage leaves make a great flavoring for tea. Following are my two favorite recipes using flowers:
Salad Greens with Nasturtiums Blossoms and Fresh Tomatoes Serves 4
For the dressing:
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar Salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper to taste 4 tablespoons olive oil
In a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Slowly pour in oil, whisking until blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
½ head romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
½ head red leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces 1 cup arugula leaves, washed and dried 12 nasturtium flowers, washed and patted dry 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
Cover 4 plates with salad greens. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish each plate with 3 nasturtium blossoms and ¼ cup tomatoes. Serve immediately.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms
Fried Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta Cheese and Fresh Herbs
Last Saturday, we splurged and purchased squash blossoms at the farmers’ markets. While they can be a bit pricey, the season for this very perishable delicacy is relatively short. I stuffed them with ricotta cheese and fresh herbs and then fried them—the typical preparation. My husband loved their flavor and subtle crunch.
For the filling:
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped 1 ½ tablespoons fresh chives, minced Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste
In a small bowl, combine ricotta cheese, basil, and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to stuff blossoms.
For the zucchini blossoms:
Vegetable oil for deep-frying 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 ½ cups chardonnay wine 12 to 18 zucchini blossoms Salt to taste
Pour vegetable oil into a deep, electric skillet and heat to 375 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, place flour. Add ½ cup chardonnay wine and whisk until smooth. Continue adding ½ cup chardonnay wine at a time, whisking after each addition, until the mixture is the consistency of pancake batter.
Shake each blossom to remove any insects. Delicately wash blossoms under a fine mist of water. Drain them and transfer to paper towels to dry. Carefully blot each petal with a paper towel. Using a pair of tweezers, remove the pistil and stamen.
Press hard bulbs to flatten, then separate and extend the petals until the flower shape is visible. Stuff each blossom with a rounded teaspoon of the ricotta mixture. Twist the tops closed.
When vegetable oil reaches 375 degrees F, dip blossoms into batter one at a time, allowing any excess batter to drip off. Slide blossoms six at a time into hot oil. Do not overcrowd, as this will cause the temperature of the oil to drop. Fry blossoms, turning frequently with tongs, until golden and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with tongs and transfer to paper towels to drain. Season to taste with salt. Repeat until all zucchini blossoms have been fried.
Cooking tip: If the oil isn’t hot enough, squash blossoms will absorb oil.
Cleaning edible flowers: It is important to wash flowers before you eat them. Shake each flower gently to remove any insects that may be hiding in the petals. Delicately wash the flowers under a very fine mist of water. You may also clean flowers by placing them in a strainer and immersing them in a large bowl of cool water. Drain them and transfer to paper towels to dry. Carefully blot each petal with a paper towel. If flowers dry quickly, they will retain their natural odor and color. Be careful not to expose them to direct sunlight.
Preparing edible flowers: Using a knife, cut off the stem. Using a pair of tweezers, remove the pistil and stamen.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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