Food & Drink

Five unique ways to cook with flowers

If you feel like you’re stuck in a creative rut in the kitchen, why not get involved with a delectable trend that’s emerging this year? Part of a wider return to ancestral eating, cooking with flowers is set to be one of the nostalgic food trends that we’ll be loving in 2023. Linda Salt, Historian at homeware and ceramics brand Denby, shares five ways you can experiment with a host of edible flowers and infuse your midweek meals with something special.

1. Homemade infusions

Floral-infused syrups are a great way to incorporate edible flowers into your cooking more easily. Syrups can be made by heating dried petals with water, sugar, and added extras like lemon zest or fresh ginger root: after the leaves have softened and the sugar has dissolved, strain the mixture and you have a batch of botanical sweetener ready to store.

You can use this to add a twist to your favourite cocktails or simply mix with soda water to make a refreshing non-alcoholic drink that the whole family can enjoy. Rose-infused syrup — made with both the petals and a dash of rosewater — is perfect to drizzle over desserts such as basbousa, an Egyptian cake made with semolina, coconut, and almonds.

You can also make the most of edible flowers like lavender, lilacs, or violets by infusing them into butter or sugar: this way you can keep enjoying these botanical flavours and scents in your cooking long after the blooms would have wilted and died. Grind up your chosen petals with granulated sugar in a good quality pestle and mortar, before drying it out on a baking sheet. Break up any larger crystals and store in small glass jars to display the pastel-coloured sugar in your pantry. Just remember that with intensely flavoursome flowers like lavender, violets, and rose, a little goes a long way!

2. Hibiscus: Tacos de Jamaica

©Denby

One unique dish that shows just how versatile flowers can be is Tacos de Jamaica (so called because red hibiscus is also known as flor de Jamaica). Instead of using meat, these tacos are filled with rehydrated hibiscus petals, meaning that not only is this dish authentically Mexican, but it’s vegan too. Their slightly chewy texture means that they’re a great meat substitute and the dish feels just as satisfying.

A key tip for this recipe is allowing the leaves to soak in water for at least two hours, ensuring that they’re nice and soft before you start cooking your taco filling. This time allows you to prepare your onions, garlic, tomatillos, peppers, avocado, and coriander, and whip up a salsa verde to serve on the side. Once combined and seasoned, this fragrant mixture takes on a striking red colour and can be used to fill tacos, enchiladas, or burritos: wherever your imagination takes you!

You can also reuse the water you rehydrated the hibiscus petals in, as when reheated with a little sweetener and lemon this serves as a homemade herbal tea that’s high in antioxidants and vitamin C. In addition, this mixture can be used to make Agua de Jamaica, a variation on the naturally flavoured agua frescas popular in Mexico, by adding sugar, ginger, lime juice, and serving over ice with a splash of soda water. This refreshing botanical drink pairs perfectly with the spices, chillies, and herbs used in Mexico’s hearty signature dishes.

3. Squash blossoms: Ricotta-stuffed appetisers

Called courgette flowers in the UK, these squash blossoms grow from the end of the vegetable and while they can be equally as delicious, they’re often overlooked. Whether you grow your own courgettes or choose to buy their flowers online or from a local market, don’t neglect these bright yellow blooms: instead, take inspiration from the Italian dish Fiori di zucca fritti and try your hand at a savoury appetiser that’s guaranteed to impress your guests.

This recipe stuffs the large squash blossoms with ricotta, parmesan, and mint, before dipping in a light batter and frying until golden and crispy. By twisting the blossoms at the end, they become a bite-sized parcel that’s perfect to lay out on a ceramic platter and serve alongside a spiced tomato dipping sauce.

4. Teas, cocktails, and liqueurs

If you want to try your hand at one of the most traditional uses of flowers, use your favourite edible petals to make homemade tea. Blooms with anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and soothing properties such as calendula are a great choice for a healthy, healing brew: simply heat dried petals in water and add a dash of natural sweetener to taste.

Or, if your favourite time of day is happy hour, flowers can become a decadent part of your drinks cabinet. As well as adding floral-infused syrups to cocktails or gin and tonic, blooms like jasmine or elderflower can also make delicious homemade liqueurs. You can even showcase your flowers in these drinks by freezing them into ice cubes: pansies or violets are a great choice due to their large petals and bright colours. Adding a handful of these to a glass topped with a homemade cocktail adds a professional touch and allows you to enjoy them, preserved at their freshest, for much longer.

5. Desserts

©Denby

Despite having a variety of uses in savoury dishes, flowers are more commonly used in desserts and sweets due to their light, fresh flavours, and beautiful presentation. A fashionable trend amongst Victorian cooks was to use primroses and violets in cakes, jellies, and French desserts like blancmange, and these botanically inspired recipes are seemingly inspiring us once again (Delicious Magazine).

A perfect dessert for the colder months, hibiscus-poached pears look particularly impressive as they soak up the vivid red colour released by the petals. Use your batch of hibiscus tea — along with allspice, beetroot, and honey — to poach the fruit, and serve with ice cream or on a bed of spiced rice pudding. For the perfect presentation, use a handcrafted ceramic bowl in a neutral shade to highlight the colour of the flowers, drizzle over one of your infused syrups, and scatter with a handful of fresh petals.

Linda Salt, Historian at Denby says:

“More than just a great presentational flourish, edible flowers can infuse your dishes with a botanical flavour and give a pop of vibrant colour.

“From lilac sugar and herbal tea to Victorian-inspired desserts and savoury Mexican dishes, there are many ways you can incorporate edible flowers into your cooking this year. Don’t be afraid to experiment!”

All images ©Denby, used with kind permission

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