Flo­ral Cui­sine: Us­ing Flow­ers in Cook­ing

~ Us­ing Flow­ers in Cook­ing ~

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Chef Ali­cia Gil­iomee.

The prac­tice of us­ing ed­i­ble flow­ers is as old as mankind it­self. An­cient gath­er­ers used roots, fra­grant scrubs and leaves (herbs), bark and seed (spices) as well as flow­ers (known for their pleas­ant pun­gent aroma) to draw and in­fuse in po­tions. Some were used in an­cient rit­u­als and some just for the sheer en­joy­ment of it, but flow­ers (just as herbs and spices) have al­ways held some mys­ti­cal power of adorn­ment.

Nor­mally peo­ple aren't sure if the flow­ers are there for dec­o­ra­tion or to be eaten – so, as with any food item, herb or spice, make sure you know if it is to be used for medic­i­nal or con­sump­tion pur­poses. If you are go­ing to eat a flower in its raw form, gen­tly nib off the ca­lyx and sta­mens which are un­pleas­ant and bit­ter to the taste. Then start ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent flavour com­bi­na­tions by test­ing a few va­ri­eties. It's like find­ing a good bot­tle of wine: the fun is in the tast­ing.

Use fresh in sal­ads, dress­ings, creams and cool­ers. Use dried and draw as an in­fu­sion for your favourite ice tea or stir into sauces, jel­lies and risotto just be­fore ser­vic­ing for an Avant Garde ap­proach to din­ing.

I'm often asked why I use flow­ers in cook­ing – is it for pre­sen­ta­tion or taste? I sup­pose you can ask the same about any other food item for that mat­ter. The ques­tion is not what or why, but why not? Our global palate has been sub­jected to deeper, lin­ger­ing aro­mas and flavours. So yes, there is a con­sid­er­a­tion and mis­con­cep­tion with din­ers that Flo­ral cui­sine might not stand its own ground. How­ever, a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how to use this del­i­cate in­gre­di­ent will prove that the pretty flower can sing her own aria on the plate (and not just look the part!).

My favourite ed­i­ble flow­ers for use in dishes – both main meals and desserts, are the pun­gent Laven­der, Rose, Camomile and Jas­mine petals and stems. I use them for sweet and savoury. They pair beau­ti­fully with beef, lamb, chicken and even pork. Shell­fish stand up well to these pun­gent petals and pairs well with chilli or a splash of white /rose wine. Gen­tle in­fu­sions come from the Viola, Snap­dragon, Sweet Wil­liam as well as Wis­te­ria (to name but a few). These petals work well with lemon and can be used for sweet and savoury as well (as in the case of the Pun­gent flow­ers).

When it comes to my favourite dishes us­ing ed­i­ble flow­ers, one of my favourites is a dish I pre­pared as Plat du Jour at Die Ou Pas­to­rie, in Som­er­set West years ago. It was a Tulip stuffed with White Choc Mousse, with mock Baklava sheets and a Vanilla-Jas­mine in­fused Honey driz­zle. Another favourite would be a clas­sic Laven­der Bavarois with Raspberry-rose Coulis and Pis­ta­chio Melba.

As with most chefs, the fas­ci­na­tion of cook­ing with these kinds of flow­ers be­gan with a sim­ple recipe for Rose Petal jam from a Mar­garet Roberts book I read to within an inch of its life in the CJ Lan­gen­hoven Li­brary in Oudt­shoorn while still in high school.

As to whether this kind of cook­ing/gar­nish­ing is sea­son spe­cific, there are cer­tain sea­sonal lim­i­ta­tions. How­ever, farm­ers/ur­ban grow­ers have iden­ti­fied a gap in the mar­ket and with green­houses, hu­mid­ity and tem­per­a­ture con­trol, the de­mand has been met.

Im­por­tantly, when it comes to work­ing with plant mat­ter (as with an­i­mal mat­ter), try to use vir­gin plants/blooms – un­touched by pes­ti­cides and ad­di­tional hor­mones. These com­po­nents in­her­ently cause a re­sis­tance bar­rier with the cells and it af­fects fi­nal flavour ex­trac­tion dur­ing cook­ing. You can re­ally taste the dif­fer­ence in the leaf struc­ture – it is coarser and has a slightly bit­ter af­ter­taste.

To give Touris­mTat­tler's read­ers a bet­ter idea of why I rec­om­mend us­ing ed­i­ble flow­ers in their dishes, here are some of my flavour favourites: Tulips: Taste like water­melon & dust com­bined. Torn leaves go great with wa­ter­cress and chevin (goats cheese).

Marigold: Slight pep­per­i­ness and a gen­tle hint of dusty honey. The pep­per­i­ness pairs well with Malay-style cur­ries and works well with Beef tar­tar.

Hibis­cus: Slight musk & red­cur­rant flavour. Pairs well when drawn for a tea or made into a tempura.

Laven­der: Sweet, lin­ger­ing earth­i­ness with a great deal of tan­nin. You need to be care­ful here (just as with a pun­gent herb like rose­mary), for cream/jelly in­fu­sions when you need to heat up the laven­der, only use the leaves and young stems. The blooms turn the mix­ture bit­ter. One such in­fu­sion that re­quires care is Napoleon's Aphro­disiac – ba­si­cally, a deep and dark hot choc drink flavoured with laven­der and a few other se­cret spices.

Rose: Be­lieve it or not, this petal's sweet­ness is in the aroma. The fresh petal is ac­tu­ally quite bit­ter. So, when us­ing the petals fresh in a salad or dessert, re­mem­ber to nip off the white eye of the petal where it ta­pers down to the ca­lyx.

Wis­te­ria: Just like plumbago it tastes of sweet nec­tar with a slight grape flavour. Great with Brie and asparagus Quiche or turn it into a heav­enly jam and serve with scones and clot­ted cream.

Sweet Wil­liams (those mini sin­gle layer car­na­tions): Musky pep­per­i­ness. Great with Sashimi and gin­ger. Also re­fresh­ing as the heat el­e­ment in a sum­mer Water­melon & Feta salad.

Nas­tur­tiums: Pun­gent and slightly numb­ing on the tongue. Pairs well with white meats, fish and shell­fish. My favourite is a Salmon and Nas­tur­sium Ter­rine paired with freshly grated radishes and ten­der stem asparagus.

Bor­age: De­rived from the Celtic word “courage”, it was tra­di­tion­ally brewed into a tea for the men who went off to war. Now it cre­ates peace on the plate with its deep blue re­gal petals and gen­tle cu­cum­ber flavour. Too del­i­cate to en­dure heat-use fresh with Panna Cotta or a Chicken & Duck Ter­rine.

It's im­por­tant to note that the type of flower used (as with herb/ spice) will in­flu­ence the listed mea­sures above. Used cor­rectly though, it can con­trib­ute to the fi­nal com­po­si­tion holis­ti­cally and not just as win­dow dress­ing. For ex­am­ple, laven­der (as with saf­fron or cloves) is used spar­ingly – in­ci­den­tally both Saf­fron and cloves are di­rect flower com­po­nents (saf­fron – the sta­mens from the cro­cus flower; cloves – the un­opened flower buds of a trop­i­cal tree). When it comes to tex­ture, the leaves are del­i­cate, but as with some, you can turn them into tempura/crys­tal­lized petals and it im­me­di­ately turns the ta­bles 180 de­grees.

In terms of prep­ping ed­i­ble flow­ers, I rec­om­mend rins­ing in a light saline so­lu­tion (salt wa­ter to kill or ward off un­wanted in­sects or bac­te­ria), then very gen­tly rinse and shake off ad­di­tional mois­ture droplets and place on pa­per towel sheets. Be­fore con­sump­tion re­move the ca­lyx with sta­mens.

Sep­a­rate from flow­ers for eat­ing, I also use flow­ers to dec­o­rate. Whole small flow­ers can be frozen into ice rings or cubes for a pretty ad­di­tion to punches and other bev­er­ages, which al­ways im­presses.

You can also line ter­rine or jelly moulds with petals. To crys­tal­lize the petals, start by lightly brush­ing with raw egg white and then dust­ing with cas­tor su­gar, then leave to dry and harden. Dry in the win­dowsill and place in a salt grinder with some Hi­malayan salt, Pink Pep­per­corns and gar­lic flakes for a de­li­cious savoury grind. Or dip the rose petals in choco­late and use as cake/dessert dec­o­ra­tion. In con­clu­sion, as with all herbs/spices, there are two things you need to con­sider:

1. What is the pur­pose of the prod­uct in the dish, and;

2. at what time dur­ing the cook­ing /prepa­ra­tion/ser­vice process

to add it.

Knowl­edge and tim­ing are key, but then again, all knowl­edge is there for the tak­ing if we want to wake up and smell the roses… About the au­thor: Chef Ali­cia Gil­iomee is head of de­part­ment for Pro­fes­sional Cook­ery at Cap­i­tal Ho­tel School & Train­ing Academy. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.cap­i­tal­ho­telschool.co.za

Flo­ral Cui­sine has be­come a pop­u­lar and vis­i­ble food trend in re­cent times, so in this ar­ti­cle, I share some in­sights, tips and tricks that I’ve learned about us­ing ed­i­ble flow­ers in cook­ing over a ca­reer span­ning 16 years.

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