The beauty and art of flora cuisine

How often do you use edible flowers in your dishes?

These, when used correctly, can contribute to a final dish in terms of taste and flavour, as well as decoration. This month we want to encourage women to get creative with flowers that are safe to eat and cook with.

Capital Hotel School (CHS) executive chef Alicia Giliomee shares her favourite flora cuisine recipe below. She also answers some of our questions about how to safely integrate flora cuisine into our cooking at home.

Lavender and Vodka Cured Salmon, Honey & Pepper Glazed Gnocchi and Parsnip Puree with Beetroot stained Apple recipe

For the Lavender and Vodka cured Salmon:

180g piece of fresh Norwegian salmon fillet, trimmed of any excess skin, bones and fat

1 cup coarse salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1 handful of rinsed lavender stalks with leaves (no buds or flowers)

2 sprigs of fresh dill, chopped finely

Zest of 1 lemon

5g fresh ginger (skin on), julienne cut

50ml Vodka

Click here to view the rest of the recipe.

Normally people aren’t sure if the flowers are there for decoration or to be eaten – what would you recommend using edible flowers for?

Firstly, as with any food item, herb or spice, make sure you know if it is to be used for medicinal or consumption purposes. If you are going to eat a flower in its raw form, gently nib off the calyx and stamens which are unpleasant and bitter to the taste. Then start experimenting with different flavour combinations by testing a few varieties. It’s like finding a good bottle of wine – the fun is in the tasting.

Use fresh in salads, dressings, creams and coolers. Use dried and draw as an infusion for your favourite ice tea or stir into sauces, jellies and risotto just before service for an avant garde approach to dining.

What would be the need to use these flowers in cooking? Is it for presentation or taste?

I suppose you can ask the same about any other food item for that matter. The question is not what or why, but why not? Our global palate has been subjected to deeper, lingering aromas and flavours. So yes, there is a consideration and misconception with diners that Flora cuisine might not stand its own ground. However, a better understanding of how to use this delicate ingredient will prove that the pretty flower can sing her own aria on the plate (and not just look the part…).

Can you recommend some of your favourite edible flowers you use in your dishes? Both meals and desserts?

The pungent lavender, rose, camomile and jasmine petals and stems are very versatile indeed. I use them for sweet and savoury. They pair beautifully with beef, lamb, chicken and even pork. Shellfish stand up well to these pungent petals and pairs well with a slight heat element of chilli or a splash of white /rose wine.

Gentle infusions come from the viola, snapdragon, sweet William as well as wisteria (to name but a few). These petals work well with lemon and can be used for sweet and savoury as well (as in the case of the pungent flowers).

Is this kind of cooking/garnishing season specific?

As with any ingredient, there are certain season limitations. However, famers/urban growers have identified the gap in the market and with green houses, humidity and temperature control, the demand has been met.

Most important, when it comes to working with plant matter (as with animal matter), try to use virgin plants/blooms-untouched by pesticides and additional hormones. These components inherently cause a resistance barrier with the cells and it affects final flavour extraction during cooking. You can really taste the difference on the leaf structure-it is coarser has a slight bitter aftertaste.

To give people a better idea of why we recommend using edible flowers in their dishes – can you tell us what they taste like? It is fruity, bitter, sweet?

Every person’s palate will differ, as we all have certain preferences, but here are some of my flavour favourites:

  • Tulips-tastes like watermelon and dust combined. Torn leaves go great with watercress and chevin (goats cheese)
  • Marigold-slight pepperiness and gentle hint of dusty honey. The pepperiness pairs well with Malay-style curries and works well with beef tartar.
  • Hibiscus – slight musk & redcurrant flavour. Pairs well when drawn for a tea or made into tempura hibuscus petals with a lemon verbena emulsion.
  • Lavender – sweet, lingering earthiness with a great deal of tannin. You need to be careful here (just as with a pungent herb like rosemary), for cream/jelly infusions when you need to heat up the lavender, only use the leaves and young stems. The blooms turn the mixture bitter. One such infusion that requires care is Napoleon’s Aphrodisiac – basically a deep and dark hot choc drink flavoured with lavender and a few other secret spices…
  • Rose – believe it or not, this petal’s sweetness is in the aroma. The fresh petal is actually quite bitter. So, when using the petals fresh in a salad or dessert, remember to nib off the white eye of the petal where it tapers down to the calyx.
  • Wisteria – just like plumbago it tastes of sweet nectar with a slight grape flavour. Great with brie and asparagus quiche or turn it into a heavenly jam and serve with scones and clotted cream.
  • Sweet Williams (those mini single layer carnations) – musky pepperiness. Great with sashimi and ginger. Also refreshing as the heat element in a summer watermelon and feta salad.
  • Nasturtiums – pungent and slightly numbing on the tongue. Pairs well with white meats, fish and shellfish. My favourite is a salmon and nasturtium terrine paired with freshly grated radishes and tenderstem asparagus.

How would you prep to use an edible flower? Can it be used as it or is there certain parts of the flower that need to be removed before consumption?

Rinse in a light saline solution (salt water to kill or ward off unwanted insects or bacteria), rinse then under clear water very gently, gently shake off additional moisture droplets/place on paper towel. Before consumption remove the calyx with stamens.

Separate from eating the flowers, how else do you use these flowers to decorate? Freeze whole small flowers into ice rings or cubes for a pretty addition to punches and other beverages.

Sure, the ice-cube trick always impresses. You can line terrine or jelly moulds with petals

Crystallise petals by lightly brushing with raw egg white and then dusting with castor sugar, leave to dry and harden.

Dry in the windowsill and place in a salt grinder with some Himalayan salt, pink peppercorns and garlic flakes for a delicious savoury grind

Dip rose petals in chocolate and use as cake/dessert decoration.

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