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Flowers: For Fantastic Flavor

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Unusual Ingredients

Spring Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(1) pages: 16 to 18

Preserved or fresh, flowers are special and are special foods. Use them for taste and terrific visuals; they make ordinary foods special. There are many that are healthy and do taste delicious. Their petals can be consumed, their sepals–-the green or brown small leaf-like items just below the petals usually are not. Petals of chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, and tulip are good examples of items worth eating, as are those from clover, runner beans, and violets. Check on the web before eating any one if you are unsure if they are safe to eat. Below are a few, in alphabetical order, that can start you eating many fine flowers that are good to eat.

ALLIUMS, be they chive or garlic blossoms, and those from leeks, ramps, shallots, and other members of this large family are good cooked in any way. We suggest you begin by blanching them, or eating then raw. Most of these flowers are stronger-tasting than their greens, but not so strong as to be offensive. We cook ours separately then add them to one or another dish. They are good as is in salads and in cold dishes. Most provide mild flavoring when blanched, and they are better that way rather than if long–cooked. As a matter of fact, the longer they cook, the milder they get, but some also get mushy if cooked too long. That said, do not over cook them if you want to taste them.

BANANA BLOSSOMS which some call banana hearts, are popular in almost all Asian cookery. They can be cut up and eaten raw or cut then cooked. They are also delicious battered or breaded. We suggest removing their outside colored leaves, really their petals, and then slicing them. This is when they can be battered or fried. One can let them rest on paper towels for about half an hour to bleed some of their liquid either before or after cutting them. Some suggest tasting a piece to see if they are bitter, and if they are, then adding a touch of sugar before coating them.

BASIL is more popular for its leaves than its flowers. That may be because most folk never tried their flowers. They are milder than the leaves and do have a slight lemony flavor. Good raw or cooked, one can sprinkle them on hot or cold dishes for a festive look, and a shot of additional flavor. Milder than their leaves, many like them for the mild addition they provide or in or on dishes. They can be used as is, torn into smaller pieces, or battered in clumps for larger-looking pieces.

BORAGE, which is cornflower blue offers a faint cucumber taste that many like in beverages, with their eggs, and in lightly cooked dishes. Using them in soups and in lightly sweetened desserts, also in ice creams and other frozen foods, is popular, as well. Blue is not a common color in foods, so chefs do use it sparingly. Some do hide its color with batter or breading.

CHERVIL has lovely white flowers that go well with all cooked greens and with all other foods. These blossoms have a slight licorice taste, and are good fresh or dried. They are best when added just before eating, they need that fresh texture, so do add them at the last minute, and that way they will maintain their texture when fresh and alone or coated with almost anything. Many are surprised to learn these are cooked flowers, even delighted; and they do appreciate their taste.

CHICORY is good both as buds and as flowers. We do recommend using only a small amount of them as they can have a slightly bitter after taste. They also delicious pickled and many like them best made this way. They benefit married to salt, so keep that in mind before using them, and do keep in mind that they marry well with sugar and other spices.

DAY LILIES are slightly sweet and can be used as vegetables; therefore, they can be used in larger quantities than most other flowers, fresh or dried. Best when young and not opened, when older and dried, they are fine after they close in the evening, not when opened and during the mid-day. Some folks tell us they taste close to a zucchini or asparagus, and that they are good in virtually every dish, appetizer to dessert. They suggest cutting away the lowest quarter inch because that part can be bitter, particularly if not very young. Like squash blossoms, they are good coated with a batter or bread crumbs, even knotted when dried and cut into one-inch pieces, fresh or dried. Chinese markets sell them dried and they do stay for months stored in a thick plastic bag on a pantry shelf. We like them soaked when dried, do so for twenty minutes, then use these dried beauties.

DILL can be used as flowers and for as their leaves, fresh or dried. They are particularly good with foods from the sea and in hot and cold soups. Many tell us they like them in dips. They are tangy when very fresh and lose that taste aspect when the blossoms dry out.

FENNEL has a mild licorice taste, and is good in dishes served at the beginning of a meal, so do consider them in appetizers. There, they are better than if reserved for meals; end. Used fresh, they are particularly pleasant in soups, hot or cold, and in chilled entrees.

FRUIT TREE BLOSSOMS be they from apples, orange, lemon or lime trees, also elderberries and other berries, have strong aromas, so do use them sparingly. Before you do, remove the outside sepals and some of the outside petals, too. All of them can be candied in egg white and sugar, a touch of vodka, too. When candied, they can be a garnish or a component of a dish, and they are very good in pastries and in beverages.

GINGER is fragrant as a flower, and it tastes gingery, be there such a word. The petals can be used as garnish in bulk or in very small amounts, and their young shoots are edible cut up as a vegetable, cooked or left raw. A light coating of sugar helps them when very young, and that is recommended at that time in their life-cycle.

GLADIOLA flowers have little flavor but do add fiber and beauty to any dish used in or on. They can be stir-fried or used as one would cook day lilies, and most chefs tell us they do not appreciate them boiled, but like then better when stir-fried or coated and deep fried.

JASMINE is an exceptionally fragrant flower, and a traditional addition to green tea. Alone, a tablespoon rinsed to remove any dirt and then put into a cup of boiling water makes a floral tea minus tea leaves. Without them, that beverage has no caffeine, and many like it that way, particularly before they go to bed. The flower buds are also good in desserts, hot or cold, but do not use too many of them, fresh or dried, as they can be over-powering.

SORREL is lemon-like and excellent in spreads and in any mousse-like dessert. These flowers can also be cooked a little or a lot and included in hot or cold dishes, in sauces, and as toppings for salads. The petals can be sprinkled on almost any dish, and many have trouble guessing what plant they come from.

These are a small sample of flowers used in assorted ways. There are many others. Use your imagination to use flowers in many different ways; check them on the web to make sure they are edible.
Flower-stuffed Sea Cucumbers
2 fresh sea cucumbers, soaked in warm water for half an hour; or dried ones soaked overnight, then drained
2 Tablespoons cornstarch, divided
4 large Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for half an hour in warm water, every stem discarded, then mince two of them
1 banana blossom, half minced, the other half sliced, or a small red pepper, seeded and slivered and the minced half dusted with corn starch
1/4 pound finely minced or ground pork
1/4 pound fish paste or any minced white boneless ad skinless fish
3 water chestnuts, finely minced
1 Tablespoon chicken broth powder
½ teaspoon mixed salt and ground pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1. Remove innards from sea cucumbers, and dust them with half of the cornstarch.
2. Mix minced black mushrooms, mince the banana blossom and dust it with the other half of the corn starch, then add the minced pork, fish paste, minced water chestnuts, chicken broth powder, salt and ground pepper, and divide this mixture in half. Stuff each part into one of the sea cucumbers.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a wok or fry pan, and stir-fry the garlic and ginger for one minute, then add the stuffed sea cucumbers, seam side down, and the chicken broth and the oyster sauce and the two whole black mushrooms, and bring all to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour or until the sauce thickens. Set the two mushrooms aside.
4. Put each sea cucumber on a serving platter cut each one, slicing it into half to three-quarters of an inch slices and gently move them apart. Then sprinkle the sliced banana blossoms over them and put one mushroom on each sea cucumber and spoon the sauce on top. Then serve.
Duck Tongues with Day Lilies
1 pound duck tongues
3 slices fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
½ egg white
2 day lilies, finely minced
1 Teaspoon vegetable oil
½ fresh red chili pepper, sliced in rings
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 scallion, white part only minced
dash ground white pepper
1. Boil duck tongues and the ginger for fifteen minutes, then remove and discard the tongue cartilages by bending each one in half in the middle and pulling them out.
2. Mix duck tongues, cornstarch, egg white, and minced day lily pieces.
3. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the duck tongues for one minute until the egg white is set, then add garlic, scallion pieces, and the ground pepper, and stir-fry for five minutes. Now put the tongues on a platter, put the chili pepper rings on top, and serve.
Deep-fried Fish Balls
1 pound ground or finely mince of any white fish meat
1 Tablespoon dried tangerine peel, soaked in warm water until soft, then minced
2 Tablespoons pork floss
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 small white chrysanthemum, their petals only, separated
½ cup vegetable oil
1. Mix fish meat, tangerine peel, pork floss, egg white and cornstarch and wet ones hands. Then roll this into one-inch balls, roll them in the flour, and then set them aside.
2. Put the chrysanthemum petals around the outside of a small dark-colored pre-heated bowl.
3. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the fish balls until lightly colored, about eight minutes, stirring often, then drain them on paper towels and put them in the center of the flower-encircled bowl. Then serve.
Artificial Shark's Fin and Egg Whites
4 Tablespoons pieces of artificial shark’s fin, soaked in boiling water for five minutes, then drained, the liquid discarded
4 egg whites, beaten until soft (neither firm nor stiff)
5 Tablespoons chicken stock
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled and finely shredded
2 Tablespoons Chinese white vinegar
3 Tablespoons fresh apple blossoms (optional)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 broccoli stem, peeled with hard exterior discarded, sliced thin, and blanched for one minute
1. Mix soaked shark’s fin pieces, egg whites, ginger, vinegar and apple blossoms and set aside for ten minutes.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil and stir-fry the broccoli stems for one minute, then add the above mixture and stir-fry for three minutes, then serve.
Jasmine Tea
5 dried jasmine flowers, crushed
1 Tablespoon green tea leaves
1. Bring two cups water in a glass pot to the boil, then add the jasmine flowers. Now remove the pot from the heat source and set it aside for four minutes.
2. Next add the tea leaves, stir once, and set aside for four more minutes. Then strain or simply let the flower pieces and tea leaves sink to the bottom. Now it is ready to drink with or without straining; or have your teeth do that when drinking it.

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