Edible Flowers: Unique Flavors And Textures

This week, my local public library displayed books alongside a few items picked from their garden patch. I chose both books and the edible nasturtium blossoms to enliven my rainy Saturday afternoon. The orange-red blossoms provided a shot of color against the salad greens, but I was totally unprepared for, but pleasantly surprised by, the peppery zing from these tiny petals! Edible flowers can enhance salads, but they can be also be filled with goat cheese (zucchini blossoms), steamed and served with dips (artichokes), or stir-fried (banana blossoms).

Edible flowers have distinct tastes – bittersweet and perfumed rose petals, peppery nasturtium flowers, pollen-dusted flavor of zucchini blossoms, and hints of banana flavor in banana blossoms. Inspired by the taste of nasturtiums in the salad, I revisited a recipe from my cookbook, Kerala Cooking, which highlighted canned banana blossoms.  This time around, I used fresh flowers.

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Banana blossoms make for an excellent stir-fry, and are available in Indian, Chinese, and Thai food markets, countries where whole or parts of the flower are cooked and served as a side dish. Deep purple petals of the banana blossom protect inner florets, which look like bananas in their early formative stage. Once the outer petals are stripped away, the core is a pale yellowish center of tightly packed petals. I tackled the slightly onerous task of quickly oxidizing flowers by prepping ahead (see below). I also didn’t include the florets, which have to be separated individually for a sliver of the flower. The cooked blossoms tastes floral and light, and yet the dish is substantial like a heart of palm or mushroom salad. Banana blossoms can be stir-fried with your favorite vegetables or served as in the following recipe for a more exotic accompaniment to grilled fish or meat.

Banana Blossoms With Shredded Coconut

Banana blossoms – 2

Lemon – 1 (or 2 tbsp vinegar)

Shallots – 2, chopped finely

Oil – 1 tbsp

Mustard seeds – 2 tbsp

Cumin seeds –1 tsp

Whole dried red chilies – 2

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Grated coconut – ½ cup

Salt – to taste

  • Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze in the juice of ½ a lemon or vinegar to get an acidic solution. This prevents the oxidizing flowers from turning black (similar to what happens when bananas are peeled).
  • Rub the remaining lemon over the chopping board and knife, which prevents the sliced petals from sticking together. Slice the stem off the blossom. Remove the tough or faded outer petals. (Keep a couple of petals aside to use later as decorative containers.) Discard the tiny clusters of banana-like florets, and keep peeling away the petals until the pale purple-yellow ones appear. Remove and slice them into rings. Put them immediately to soak into the bowl of water. Cut the firm yellowish core into rings, and soak them in water. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.
  • When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds.
  • Once the cumin seeds burst (almost immediately), add the shallots and stir-fry until they turn golden-brown.
  • Add the chilies and turmeric and stir for a few seconds.
  • Add the coconut, and stir for a minute until well incorporated into the mixture.
  • Drain and add the blossoms to the mixture.
  • Cover and cook the blossoms on low heat, about five minutes.
  • Serve the cooked blossoms in one of the petal servers.

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