Last week at my aunt's house, I was having a cup of tea in her lovely kitchen while she was making cookies with my children. She has an envious house with a garden, which in a city, like finding water on Mars. As they cooked, she told my daughter to run out and get ‘the light purple flowers'. She then proceeded to take the lavender that my daughter had dutifully brought in, tore up a few buds and chucked it in the batter. Both my kids gave me a look that smouldered with rebellion, thrilled that an adult had broken all the rules and put something from the ‘playground' in the food (I normally ban eating mud, sand etc). I smiled back indulgently, knowing that there are flowers you can eat but letting them think they had one up of their mum, the ultimate prize of all kids. After the outing though, I decided to do a little checking on edible flowers and which ones you could eat so that I could impart this wisdom to the children before they put a poisonous azalea in their mouth when they next went to the park.
The use of flowers in cooking began several thousand years ago. Capers, which are the flower buds of a Mediterranean plant, have been used in cooking for over 2000 years in Europe. There are early references of dandelions in the Bible and the Greeks have used lilies and chrysanthemums for centuries. Romans used roses and violets in an array of dishes. The Portuguese use safflower as a substitute for the horribly expensive saffron. During the Victorian age, violets, primroses and nasturtiums were sprinkled over salads and Chartreuse, a French liquor, had carnation petals as one of its secret ingredients. Candied flowers were often used to decorate cakes and other confectionary. In more recent years, there has been a revival of using flowers in food as a part of the organic health movement. They are delicate to use and must be handled with care if you are planning to create a signature dish - the petal wilt quickly and it is safest to add them in towards the end of the meal preparation.
If you would like to pretty up your dishes with some blossoms, here's a list of a few blooms that are attractive and safe to use. In alphabetical order,
Banana flower: One of the few flowers that are used for their savoury flavour, banana flower hearts are used widely in Asian cuisine and cooked like you would a vegetable. The flavour is similar to that of an artichoke and as with an artichoke, only the fleshy parts are edible.
Calendula: This flower has a taste that is similar to saffron and is great in pasta and rice.
Chamomile: A great introduction to any tea, it has a mild, pleasant, slight woody, apple-like taste that soothes as you sip.
Hibiscus: The petals of this flower are used as a tea infusion and are known to have medicinal properties.
Lavender: This beautifully scented flower is a favourite in desserts like the aforementioned cookies to mousses, scones and bread too. Leave a bud in your sugar and taste summer all year long.
Nasturtiums: Though these are commonly used as a garnish because of their vibrant colours, they have a delicious peppery flavour and give any salad a lovely pep up.
Roses: One of the most popular edible flowers, it has been used in the Middle East extensively to scent syrups and jellies. In India rose petals are used as garnishes on kheer and phirnis and rose water drinks are real refreshers in scorching summers.
Violets: These flowers have are as sweet as they look. The deeper the hue, the sweeter the flower. Extensively used fro decorative purposed, they go also blend beautifully in to sorbets.
Take your pick from this lovely bouquet of flowers and pretty up your plate. Just don't let your kids watch!
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
• Rinsed and dried edible flower blossoms, separated from the stem such as lilac florets, rose petals, scented geraniums
• 1 large egg white, at room temperature
• Few drops of water
• About 1 cup fine sugar
• A small paint brush
• A baking rack covered with waxed paper
Combine the egg white with the water in a bowl and beat lightly with a fork or whisk until the white just shows a few bubbles.
Place the sugar in a shallow dish.
Hold a flower/ petal carefully, dip a paint brush into the egg white and paint the flower until it is completely covered but not excessively. Holding the flower/petal over the sugar dish, gently sprinkle sugar evenly over on both sides. Place the flower/petal on the waxed paper to dry. Continue till all flowers are done.
Let the flowers dry completely; this could take 12 to 36 hours, depending on the humidity in the air. To hasten, place the candied flowers in an oven with a pilot light overnight, or in an oven set at 150 degrees to 200 degrees F with the door ajar for a few hours.
Store the dried, candied flowers in airtight containers until ready to use. They will keep for as long as a year.
SPICY BANANA BLOSSOMS
1 Banana Blossom, peeled and chopped
1 cup or more Yogurt, mixed with 1 cup water and salt, to taste
2-3 tbsp Coconut, grated
1 large Onion, chopped fine
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Urad Dal
2-3 Green chillies, chopped
2-3 Curry Leaves
Peel off the red petals of banana flower to reveal tiny yellow and white flowers. Put the flowers in a bowl as you peel off the petals.
Each flower consists of 4 parts - one long outer cover, one short outer cover, one white hard thread with a tiny head and lots of little thread-like sheaths. Remove the long outer cover and the hard thread. Chop up the remaining bits and soak in the yogurt mixture for 15-20 minutes to get rid of any bitterness.
Heat a saucepan with oil. Temper the mustard seeds, urad dal, onions, curry leaves and green chillies. Sauté until the onions are browned.
Drain most of the yogurt from the soaking flowers Add handfuls of the flowers at a time to the cooking onions. Stir-fry. When you've added all the flowers, add a couple of tablespoons of water and cover and let cook for about twenty minutes. Check and drizzle with water if it appears too dry.
When cooked and soft, sprinkle with the grated coconut. Serve warm with rice or rotis.
Hibiscus flowers - 2-3 (preferably red)
Milk - 1 glass
Cardamom powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Sugar to taste
Wash hibiscus flowers well and remove the petals separately.
Heat a pan and boil milk and petals. Let it boil nicely until milk gets a pale lavender colour.
Add sugar and cardamom powder and mix until sugar dissolves.
Filter it and drink hot or cold.