Mercedes India: Petal Palette

May 19, 2011

Fresh aromas and vibrant hues of the flowers have found a place in pans and saucers. The blooming vogue is temptation enough to indulge in a heavenly bite.

It’s a walk for our senses. The crimson of the roses in the jam add a dash vibrancy. Marigolds strewn on a bowl of custard sauce lend an orange spark. The whiff of jasmine spells a charm on the rice. Tea brewed with chrysanthemums wipes off the stress. Candied lavender look exotic on the three tier cake. No, we are not enjoying a walk in a botanical garden; but we are comfortably seated in one of our favourite eateries. The table is adorned with jellies prepared with rose geraniums, apples served with lemon verbena, soups garnished with lily petals, chicken delicacies pepped with marigolds and a lot more. The spread is intoxicating. The preparations are enticing, healthy and need we add, tempting. We are re-waking up to the blooming trend where fresh aromas and vibrant hues of the flowers are once again being used to create heavenly delicacies.

The culinary use of flowers dates back 1,000s of years with the first recorded mention being in 140 B.C. when many different cultures incorporated flowers into their traditional foods. Romans used to experiment with edible flowers like roses, mallows and violets. Oriental dishes were made using daylily buds. Italian and Hispanic cultures prepared stuffed squash blossoms and Asian Indians used rose petals in many recipes. The use of traditional flowers in cooking never stopped. In Bengal cuisine, Mochar Cutlet has always been used to prepare banana blossom. “Today , we are a part of the huge movement of going back to our roots and everything that is organic. In the culinary world also, we’re moving towards a cleaner palette and gentler tastes. And, there can’t be a better choice than to taste undiluted flavours; using rose essence is very different from using actual rose petals,” says Marut Sikka, master chief and restauranter. “Many restaurants have begun to grow flowers in-house too, to get the freshest results possible. Also, people have become more health conscious,” says Vijay Pandey, Executive Chef, Oakwood premier, Mumbai. “The trend is being readopted by chefs all over the world because the people have begun to crave for a connection with natural foods,” adds Hitesh Gupta, Executive Chef, L’Angoor, Gurgaon.

And the reasons for the vogue are many. The usage of edible flowers in dishes add a unique element to a particular dish, apart from the scent, flavour, medical benefits and the visual presentation. Flowers like the hibiscus have revitalising properties. Chamomile (either in tea or whole petals) reduce stress and boosts immunity. Begonias are thought to help eliminate toxins and cleanse the liver. Chrysanthemums help cure cold and fevers. Marigold has antiseptic properties. Saffron (stigma of a flower) makes the body hot during winter and enhances memory. Rose also has cooling properties and is good for eyes and skin. Over all, flowers have a very calming effect on the mind and body. “The prime reason for using the flowers in cooking is to enhance the visual appeal of the food. The edible flowers are very attractive, their hues and small size make the dishes tempting. And of course, different flowers have distinct tastes depending on their variety and origin,” says Tarun Kapoor, Executive Sous Chef, The Metropolitan Hotel, New Delhi. Carnations are used for steeping flavour in wine. Chervils are used for flavouring and garnishing salads. Borage bears lovely cornflower blue starshaped flowers, “Flowers lend an extremely gentle flavour to a dish. For me, flowers spell complete luxury because of their perishable quality,” says Marut. In a jasmine pulao you can taste the flavour of the flower, but it is very subtle. All the different teas like chrysanthemum, jasmine and rose are string flavoured when left to brew a bit. Lavender adds an unexpected exotic touch to tea, ice cream or salad. Sprinkling of edible flowers in a green salad makes a visual impact. “Blossoms and leaves have a cool and faint cucumber taste. They make for wonderful additions in punches, lemonades, gins and tonics,” says Vijay.

There can be numerous ways of using flowers. “Like using raw flowers for decoration, coating with clear jelly for display, making natural flavourings, preserving the flowers in brine and reusing them, dehydrating the flowers to increase their shelf life for later use, making flower flavoured oils and vinegars to be used in salads, flavouring the hot beverages like tea and freezing them in ice cubes to use in various drinks,” says Tarun. “We use hibiscus in preparing mocktails. Also, rose has a distinct flavour, I like to use it to make Gulab Phirni,” says Marut. At Oakwood, the chefs use rose in their chilled Rose Petal and Water Chestnut Kheer. “We prepare delicacies like Orange and Lavender salad, Chive flower omelette, Chicken with marigold and Rose Ice Cream,” shares Hitesh, adding, “Baby rose can be used for garnishing.” “Some of the more popular dishes using flowers are fried squash blossoms, frozen flower bowl with fruit salad, rhubarb rosemary jam, homemade rose water and rose oil and strawberry mousse with tulip cup,” says Tarun. “Squashes and desserts are most common because of the synergy between certain common flowers and sugar.” Adds Marut.

And can a person consuming a dish made using flowers know that it is real flowers he is in biting into? “It might be a little difficult to make out that you are eating food prepared with real flowers because these days one gets all the essences in the market, which have strong flavours,” says Hitesh. “Yet, the trend is definitely popular with the foodies. It is difficult to find out if flowers have been used in the dish or not as the flowers are very tender and become a part of the dish being used with,” says Tarun.

Now, while flowers add a wow factor to the dish, they pose a threat too. Some precautions have to be exercised while using flowers in cooking. Always buy or procure the flowers from a reliable source only. Use the flowers immediately after procuring or plucking from the plant. Store them in ice cold water to increase their shelf life. Flowers purchased at florists should never be eaten. Never used non edible flowers for garnishing. Do not eat flowers, if you have any allergies or asthma. Too much usage of flowers in cooking can be bad. “Don’t fry or overboil flowers,” recommends Hitesh. “Add the flowers at the last stage of cooking. Peferably, use it in the cold dishes such as salads, desserts, etc. Try to choose young and fresh flowers as the flavour will be simpler as compared to a complex aroma and flavour of old and dried flowers,” adds Vijay. One should be clear on the distinction between edible flowers and non edible flowers, “Be sure the flavour of the flower compliments the dish. Certain flowers give a pungent flavour as well. As a rule, taste them first,” says Marut.



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