Before venturing into the world of edible flowers, one thing is really important: “There are tons that are poisonous,” Megan Sisco, co-owner of Circleculture Farm, says. Sisco’s farm, located in the Paseo Arts District, produces a wide range of produce for the Paseo Farmers Market and local restaurants, including edible flowers. Buying from a trusted producer like Circleculture is a good idea, unless you just happened to grow up in a family of foragers.
“We plant edible flowers for a dual purpose,” Sisco explains. “We use a synergistic planting method because we don’t use chemicals on our farm. Some plants repel pests, so we plant the repellants next to the plants that are targeted by specific pests. Secondarily, those flowers are beautiful and edible.”
Circleculture plants edible flowers together — almost like a field blend concept in grape growing—because the plants work together. Locally, common edible flowers are marigold, nasturtium, viola, shungiku (chrysanthemum), rose, herb and squash blossoms and borage, the latter of which has a distinct cucumber flavor.
Chef Jonathan Krell of Patrono has been using edible flowers almost as long as he’s been cooking. While it should be obvious that flowers taste … floral … it’s also true that they have very distinct flavor profiles, and like better-known ingredients — saffron, paprika, sage, etc. — they can have a dramatic effect on the aesthetics of a dish, as well.
“I love working with butterfly pea flowers,” Krell says. “They’re a common ingredient in Thai cooking, and they turn liquid a beautiful indigo hue. I typically poach escolar, which is bright white, and then create a dashi broth, adding the pea flowers. You end up with a white fish on top of a blue broth, so the dish looks and tastes like the sea.”
An easy place for amateurs to start is with something simple like hibiscus tea. The flowers are readily available in season, and many retail locations sell dried flowers. The ratio changes depending on fresh or dried, but for fresh petals, mix two cups of flowers with eight cups of boiling water and steep for about 20 minutes. The color and flavor are intense, and while the tea is very fruity, floral and pleasant without sweetening, many recipes call for sweetening according to taste, with honey being a popular choice. Both iced and hot are common. Fresh citrus juice can lift the aromatics and cut through some of the floral components, or baking spices like cinnamon sticks can deepen the floral notes and add richness.
Chef Krell’s Stuffed Squash Blossoms
For the filling:
- 2 cups high quality whole milk ricotta
- 1 cup shredded fontina or sharp provolone
- ½ cup Parmesan or pecorino
- 8 fresh basil leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the batter:
- 3 eggs
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1 cup cold club soda
- Salt and pepper
Mix all ingredients but be cautious not to over mix. Lumps are fine. Add more club soda if needed, looking for thin pancake batter consistency.
- Fill squash blossoms then twist tips of the buds to seal the mixture inside.
- Lightly dust in flour, and then dredge in batter leaving the green stem unbattered.
- Gently place in 350-degree vegetable oil.
- Cook till golden brown.
- Serve over your favorite marinara sauce.