Flowers are not just for garland or adorning your hair. India has several dishes that are made from flowers and are delicious says GITA HARI.
Our restricted awareness with the gastronomic practices of using flowers has seldom stretched beyond the sporadic jasmine tea or rose petal garnishes. But that’s a thing of the past as we discover from chefs who craft nothing less than an out-and-out food spread to unleash the edible qualities of flower power.
For those to whom fresh flowers are only meant to symbolize love or be offered to celestial deities, this culinary revelation might be viewed as blasphemy. In the hallowed kitchens of 5-star hotels, chefs rip apart bright yellow petals from chrysanthemums, not to check she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not, but to garnish a Melon & Parma salad. Crimson rose petals are rumpled, like a rejected paramour would, to be added to glasses of chilled sherbet. If it seems like a deliberate disfigurement of nature’s most marvellous creation, it is for the extensive cause of culinary innovation. When we can appreciate the beauty of flowers in full bloom around us, enjoy their fragrance with our olfactory nerves why not let our palate relish a sweet-smelling floral feast!
Do you know a delicate ochre pumpkin flower can produce a robust soup? Or that banana flower can add to the versatility of the plant by ending up in a gourmet dish. Chamomile flower, besides being a favourite among tea lovers, can hold its own in a dessert cake. Often chamomile and lavender flowers are used as tisane to relieve stress. Rose most commonly used as candied petals in jelly, cupcake, ice cream or as gulkhand in paan are the exotic contributions of the royal rose pedigree. Vanilla orchids are from where we derive vanilla flavour in ice creams and cakes. Essences of flowers like jasmine are also added to boost the aromatic trait of sweets.
Banana flowers, rich in proteins and fibre, are commonly used in Indian kitchens. According to Master Chef Bala of South of Vindhyas restaurant in Orchid Hotel, it is not uncommon to find Vazhaipoo Poriyal as a side dish in Tambrahm homes. Sous Chef Prasenjit Ghosh of Bengali restaurant 25 Parganas of Hotel Sahara Star says, “Mochar Ghonto is a popular Bong delicacy of banana flowers which is also used as filling in Mochar Chop.”
Drumstick or mango flowers are used as garnish in rasam – again a healthy south Indian relish. Sajne Phool Charchari is a Bengali dish comprising drumstick flowers with potato and green peas. Freeze small, attractive edible flowers to serve on lemonade or cocktails. Parts of flowers like their roots, stalks and stems are also used in preparations. For instance, lotus root or nadru is used extensively in Kashmiri cuisine. Besides sunflower oil or safflower oil in our daily use in cooking is common too.
On global cuisine front, snips of pumpkin or zucchini blossoms make for ideal garnishes in soups and salads lending the dish a colourful and springy appearance. Capers are the green buds of caper flowers used in French and Italian cuisines. Aquatic herb nasturtium known as jalkumbhi in Hindi is mostly used for its medicinal properties. Piquant flavor of its flower adds zing to sandwich, salad and dips. Lavender flower is sometimes added to focaccia bread. Broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes which we often consume but few people know them as flowers. Chinese founded the practice of flowers in tea – jasmine tea or bundled dried flowers that unfurled by pouring piping hot water on them.
Flowers in dishes can be a decorative input to enhance presentation of exotic preparations but not all flowers are edible (especially avoid flowers of potato, brinjal, tomato, capsicum) and one must make sure of their edibility before using floral ingredients in food.