From medieval monks to Michelin-starred chefs, edible flowers’ culinary journey

From medieval monks to Michelin-starred chefs, edible flowers’ culinary journey

Pick your edible flowers wisely and pair them with the right food. Learn it from chefs

From medieval monks to Michelin-starred chefs, edible flowers’ culinary journey
From medieval monks to Michelin-starred chefs, edible flowers’ culinary journey Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: There are edible flowers in your garden you probably did not know you could eat. If you have roses, calendula, pansies, chamomile or lilacs, you must know that ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and many other civilizatons used them for medicinal and culinary purposes.

Edible flowers found their way from medieval monks to Michelin-starred chefs. It could be for their vibrant colours, unique floral flavours or even medicinal properties, edible flowers have been a part of ancient kitchens since 140 BC; in many forms - as whole, dried, crushed or even as extracts.

Greek, Roman, Iranian, Ottoman, Mayan, Chinese, and Indian cooks have all valued the flavours of edible flowers brought to dishes. Today, chefs and many home cooks are using flowers in innovative ways, across the globe.

Cuisines across the world that use edible flowers

• In Turkish cuisine, rose water and rose petals are widely used in many dishes. Speaking to Gulf News Food, Chef Muhammat Ors at Babaji Turkish restaurant, Dubai, said: “In Turkish cuisine, flowers are eaten raw, are used for decorating plates, tea, making jams (rose jam), in syrup sorbets, as stuffing with rice (stuffed squash blossom with rice), in pickles, popular sweet bites called Turkish delight and even perfumes, for its delightful smell and taste.” In Turkey, some popular edible flowers are acacia, buckhorn, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, rose, chicory, squash blossom, chamomile, orange flower, lavender, lily, jasmine, and flowers of lemon, to name a few.

In Turkish cuisine, rose water and rose petals are widely used in many dishes
In Turkish cuisine, rose water and rose petals are widely used in many dishes Image Credit: Shutterstock

• To preserve violet flowers, medieval monks would crystallise them, whereas British chefs ground them with chicory to make confections. According to the food blog, audiences of Shakespeare’s plays would drink rose water to quench their thirst and nibble on stewed primroses. Towards the 17th century, French monks were known to have used carnation petals in many of their beverages.

• Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Italians use stuffed blossoms or stuffed zucchini blossoms, and one can find them on the menu of fine dining restaurants.

Zucchini blossoms
Zucchini blossoms Image Credit: Shutterstock

• In the Indian Eastern state of Bengal, fritters prepared with yellow-coloured mustard flowers called Sorshe fuler bawra is a popular recipe. Another Indian Eastern state – Bihar, uses moringa or white flowers of the drumstick plant to make fritters. Its texture is soft and robust, similar to button mushrooms. Bright yellow-orange coloured flowers of pumpkin plants are also popularly made into crunchy fritters across eastern India. Whereas the south Indian states of India – Tamilnadu and Karnataka use Agati flowers from the small soft-wooded tree, known as a vegetable hummingbird, to make vegetable curries.

Moringa Flowers
Moringa Flowers Image Credit: Shutterstock

• Apart from enriching food palates, many Asian cultures, such as the Chinese and Japanese, use flowers for their symbolic representation, as they are believed to bring joy and good luck. Chrysanthemum petals are often added to soup or jasmine tea.

• In Mexico, hibiscus flowers are used to make jamaico, a cold drink infusion perfect for refreshment on a hot summer’s day, flavour ice creams and sorbets. Mint tea with orange blossoms also popular in North Africa.

Edible flowers in fine dining

Top chefs, bakers and tea makers across cultures use fresh edible flowers and dried flowers for cooking, flavouring and decoration. At Seafire Steakhouse, Dubai, Chef Raymond Wong talks about how chefs tend to use different flowers. He said to Gulf News Food: “As chefs, we have a great repertoire of taste and combination. So, what I do is I first taste the flowers and see which ones work with the actual dish. If the flower does not taste anything, I tend not to put it on. We don’t put flowers just for the sake of it. They have to add a certain type of element or flavour profile to the dish.” Not all flowers work with all kinds of dishes. “We use a hint of sweet-tasting flowers for dessert. Some flowers are bitter and have acidic profiles, so they go well with fish dishes.” Chef Wong also added that many farms have fresh, dried flowers that work really well with hot dishes as they do not wilt easily.

Michelin starred Chef Laetitia Rouabah told Gulf News Food: “Most of the flowers are for décor in the plate, and some of them are inside the plate for taste and flavour obviously.”

Just like how culinary practices are passed on from one generation to the other, the use of flowers in cooking is quite a rage among budding chefs. Twenty-five-year-old Chef Chris Malone, Chef De Cuisine at Ossiano – Atlantis, told Gulf News Food: “Not only are they very visually appealing, but they also play an important role in bringing out flavours. Sorrel flowers (tastes sour, like granny smith apples) and marigolds are used often at our restaurant. The leaves of marigold are beautiful, they have a flavour like that of liquorice.”

UAE diners welcome the taste, flavour and visual appeal of edible flowers. Chef Malone added: “I haven’t seen anyone pick them aside, saying it’s a flower and I don’t want to eat.”

Here is a recipe by Chef Wong and Chef Rouabah that uses handpicked edible flowers:

Corn velouté recipe by Chef Wong and Chef Rouabah Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Corn velouté recipe

15 cut cobs of sweet yellow corn

100 gms green jalapeno

50 gms cipollini (Italian flowers that translate to ‘little onions’)

100 gms lobster

1. 5 l milk

2 l heavy cream

5 gms tabasco

1 pc lemon

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Crab cake beignet style:

450 gms jumbo lump crab

200 gms mayonnaise

2 pc lemon for juice and zest

100 gms jalapeno

50 gms fingerlimes

100 gms oven-dried tomatoes

¼ bunch tarragon (a popular herb in Eurasia and North America)

50 gms lobster

1 gm espelette pepper (mildly hot red pepper from France)

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1 cob of corn kernels

Beignet batter:

160 gms all-purpose flour

160 gms corn starch

Water as the thickness needed

6 gms sugar

46 gms baking powder

2 gms espelette pepper

Other ingredients:

300 gms crème fraiche (a type of soured cream)

Croutons as per taste

Chives flower as per taste

Corn veloute:

Slice the corn kernels off the cob using a corn cutter or knife. Scrape the bare cobs with the back of the blade to remove the natural starches and juices. Pour the corn and fluid into the saucepan.

Add the minced jalapeños and Cipollini onions. Sauté all the ingredients, add the heavy cream and simmer it on slow heat for about 1 hour.

When the corn is very soft, place in blender, blending until it is a smooth puree. If the velouté is too thick, adjust by adding some milk, lobster jus and corn broth. Taste and season as needed. Season with salt, pepper (to taste), lemon juice and tabasco.

Crab cake beignet style:

For the crab cakes, beignet-style, combine the crab meat with all ingredients (oven-dried tomatoes and jalapenos diced very thin) in a medium bowl. Season to taste and set aside.

Beignet batter:

Pour vegetable oil into a large saucepan fitted with a deep-fry thermometer set to a depth of 6 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat until the thermometer reads 375°F. Meanwhile, whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt in a large bowl to create the batter. Gradually whisk in water to blend (batter will be thick).

Working in batches of four and returning the oil to 375° between sets, measure 1 heaping tablespoon of the crab mixture, roll into a ball, and then drop it into the batter. Using a fork, toss to coat and lift from the batter, letting excess drip into the bowl. Carefully lower crab beignets into the oil. Fry, occasionally turning, until crisp and deep golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt.

To finish, arrange chive flowers in the centre of the plate and pour velouté on top. Serve with crispy lump crab on the side.

Corn velouté
Corn velouté Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

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