zucchini

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.

IMG_4185IMG_4219

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.

IMG_4200IMG_4217

Advertisements

Finding A Match With Claudia Roden

I learned cooking by experimenting with my mother’s ‘guestimated’ amounts for a recipe – a pinch of coriander powder, a dash of turmeric, or roughly about a ¼ cup of coconut milk. This seemingly casual style of cooking taught me to taste and adjust for individual and overall flavors while preparing a dish.

I relied on this skill recently when wanting to use up some extra zucchini. I began by following a recipe from one of my go-to cookbook authors – Claudia Roden.  A. noted that Roden’s Zucchini Fritters recipe, with its tangy feta cheese and aromatic dill, is a classic food from Turkey. However, without the two key ingredients, feta cheese and dill, I had to shop my refrigerator for equivalent tastes.

Although Roden’s unfussy recipes are precise, the flavors that are eked out from fresh ingredients are easy to replicate. Goat cheese is tangy and crumbly, and although not as strong as feta, the cheese effortlessly folds into the onion-zucchini mixture. The mixture holds together even when fried. Dill, on the other hand, has a distinct flavor, and so replicating its aromatic essence was key. Parsley proved to be a successful swap, providing the aromatics without competing with the mild taste of zucchini.

Zucchini Fritters

Onion – 1, chopped

Vegetable oil – 3+ tbsp for frying

Zucchini – 2 large, chopped

Eggs – 3

Flour – 3 tbsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley – 3-4 sprigs

Goat cheese – 7 oz

  • Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan at medium heat.
  • Add the shallots and sauté until lightly browned.
  • Add the zucchini and sauté until crisply tender.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the flour and mix.
  • Fold the zucchini-shallot mixture and cheese into the egg mixture.
  • Heat a large skillet with enough oil to fry the mixture. Keep the oil at medium heat.
  • Drop in 3-4 generous tablespoon of the mixture into the hot oil leaving enough space between each in the pan.
  • Fry each side for 3 minutes without disturbing to check if done. Browning each side prevents them from disintegrating.
  • Remove and drain the oil on kitchen paper. Makes about 8 fritters. Use immediately.
  • If storing for later use, reheat the fritters when needed in the oven at 350°F.
  • Can also be served as hors d’oeuvres with a dab of wasabi sauce and cooked tuna placed on top.

I would love to hear from you about your go-to cookbooks, and I hope to add them to my “Cook The Book” featured category. I would also like to hear about why a particular ingredient was swapped, and if it added or took away the original flavor.

Note: Zucchini Fritters adapted from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: a taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon

IMG_3088

Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth: My New Spiralizer

Other than owning a basic food processor and blender, a spice/coffee grinder, and a coffee machine, I tend to stay well away from kitchen gadgets. I prefer to improvise with tools that I already own. On the other hand, the rest of my family loves gadgets. When N. decided that the family needed a present for the holidays, I ended up with a Spiralizer!

A Spiralizer is a simple cutting tool; a hand-held device with blades that slice vegetables into strands of varying thickness and length. Although I was a little reluctant to add another gadget that would take up shelf space, now I cannot seem to stop spiraling vegetables. Instead of grating them in a food processor, I added carrot ringlets to make carrot cake for a birthday celebration. I served long strands of zucchini noodles instead of crystalline rice noodles with stock from last week’s Vietnamese soup, Chicken pho. (As befits a coincidence, the Williams-Sonoma catalog arrived in the mail with a catchier title than I thought of: faux-pho). I also made curly zucchini fries dousing them liberally with herbes de Provence.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surprisingly, I’ve been inspired by the Spiralizer and have been substituting all kinds of ingredients with ribbons and curly strands of vegetables.  Zucchini was the winner this week – replacing spaghetti to be served with meatballs, cabbage in coleslaw, and green papaya in a Thai salad.

IMG_2684 IMG_2688 IMG_2693

Farmer’s Markets – Relationships you can count on

I look forward to Wednesdays in June, as this is when my neighborhood farmer’s market erects its stands. It is a time to renew acquaintances with the familiar faces and discover unfamiliar local produce. My goal for the next three months is to expand my repertoire with untried produce.

Last year, I discovered an unexpected mouthful of Eastern fruit flavors (floral, sweet, and tangy like mangosteen or lychee) in the winter cherry. This small berry, protected in a pod that makes the fruit look like a green lantern, first grew in Europe and China. It appeared in my local farm stand at the end of August, and that brief tryst had me scouring my local grocery store for the rest of the season – unsuccessfully!

The season for the unfamiliar is short-lived, and farmers are eager to showcase their produce to consumers. When you are a regular, they will usually let you sample the unusual – in my case, the farmer handed me a winter cherry and showed me how to pop open the lantern-like cover and slip the fruit directly into my mouth. The flavors were unexpectedly refreshing; I ended up buying the container. Another time, I came across these long curly green stalks, which I would have passed on at a grocery story, not knowing what to do with them. The farmer’s daughter, a young college student who was helping her parents, snipped a small piece so I could smell their garlicky aroma. Since then, I have experimented with garlic scapes whenever they are available ( usually in late spring before the stalk is cut so that the nutrients go to the garlic bulb). I substitute the scapes for garlic, mince and add them to a salad, or simply grill them.

On Wednesday, I picked up spring onions, garlic scapes, and snow peas (mangetout or snap peas) – there were stands with red chard, spinach, radish, and herbs in containers, before my final stop at the meat stand. I asked for goat, but Terry, who owns her farm and runs the stand with a homemade sign that says her chickens, goats, and sheep run free enjoying the sunshine, said that the animal was only 50 lbs and she had to wait for it to become 70lbs!

Over the years, I have been persuaded to try different varieties of tomatoes and eggplants, but the window of experimentation is small for some, such as zucchini blossoms, potent shiso (perilla) greens used in Japanese cuisine or dandelion greens. I hope that you add a few new favorites this season and  make some new friends along the way!