It’s Carolyn today. Two months ago Tia Marta wrote about gathering and preparing delicious cholla buds, but that is only the barest beginning of the edible flowers that can add fun and interest to our meals. Spring is the best time to find the biggest bounty of beautiful munchibles. Gather a bowlful of ocotillo blossoms, add water, and let it stand overnight. You’ll have a delicate juice. The flowers must be open for the nectar to leach into the water. I wrote about the early Native American uses to ocotillo as a medicinal herb in American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest.
This is also the season for elderberry bushes to flower. Sometimes called elderblow, the flowers make delicious fritters. I have given full directions in my earlier blog Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen and you can see it here.
Moving from the desert to your own garden, you’ll find many edible flowers. Many of them make delicious additions to salads. Among them are nasturtium flowers, which have bright, peppery flavor.
Arugula tends to bolt early and especially did so on this very hot spring on the Sonoron Desert. But the flowers, though small, taste lovely, not quite as intense as the the leaves.
Other delicious salad additions are pansies and violas, their smaller cousins.
When I began gathering material for this post, I recalled a dish I made years ago that involved sauteeing chicken with cinnamon and rose water and then finishing the dish with a sprinkle of small rose and marigold petals. My friend Suzann and I served that at a wedding we catered for two naturalists.
Dried edible flowers make wonderful and healthy teas. Tina Bartsch at Walking J Farm grows and dries calendula flowers for John Slattery at Desert Tortoise Botanicals who uses them as one ingredient in his Desert Flower Tea. He combines them with desert willow flowers, ocotillo flowers, hollyhock flowers, and prickly pear flowers. His website says that the tea is an anti-oxidant and good for tissue repair. The tea is available at Native Seeds Search, Tucson Community Acupuncture, the Food Conspiracy. Calendula petals taste tangy and peppery and add a golden hue to food. Calendula has been called “the poor man’s saffron.”
One of the most used flowers in cooking, particularly in Mexico, is the squash flower. The male flowers will never develop into squash, so you can harvest some of them. When I was in Oaxaca a few summers ago, I took a cooking class from Chef Oscar Crespo and just had the best time. One of the things we cooked was stuffed squash blossoms. Here is the recipe.
FLORES DE CALABAZA RELLENAS DE QUESO
Cheese-filled Squash Flower Blossoms
12 squash flower blossoms, washed
½ cup (2.5 oz/80 g) fresh cheese, sliced into sticks
12 epazote leaves (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup club soda
Oil for frying
Slice the cheese so that it fits in the blossoms. Remove the sepals and pistils (that’s the parts inside the petals), then cut the stem to 1¼ in . Fill the whole blossom with a slice of cheese and an epazote leaf. Push the cheese all the way in, and twist the petals to close.
Make a batter with the flour and club soda, starting with 1/2 cup of the club soda. Add more if necessary to make a thin batter like pancake batter.
Place the oil in a frying pan and bring to high heat, about 350 degrees. Dip the stuffed blossoms in the flour mixture. Fry them for 2 minutes or until golden brown, turning at least once. Remove from the oil and drain on absorbent paper.
These can be served accompanied with a red or green salsa or floated in a tomato broth.
Carolyn Niethammer writes books on the food and people of the Southwest.