Edible flowers - Annie Stirk's recipes

PUBLISHED: 19:38 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013

Annie Stirk

Annie Stirk

Summer entertaining blossoms with Annie Stirk, Yorkshire Life's food and wine consultant, as she shows us how to make the most of edible flowers PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER

Picture the scene. It's one of those blissful summer days: big blousy peonies spilling over the lawn, bees gently humming, the heady scents of honeysuckle and roses, the sound of swifts wheeling and screeching against a perfect blue sky. Is there a more perfect setting for entertaining al fresco?

There is something about getting together with family and friends to eat in the garden, whether it's for a languorous lunch, or a chance to transform the garden or patio with lights and candles, to enjoy supper under the stars. I couldn't resist adding a little extra magic and romance to this month's recipes by using some edible flowers.

Edible flowers have been used in cooking throughout history, and they are enjoying a revival again now. Used with care, they can add a whole new dimension to recipes, both for flavour and aesthetically. However, although many flowers are edible and are also used medicinally, some are poisonous. So stick to the ones you know and follow our guide.

In general, flowers from herbs and vegetables are safe. If you are lucky to have some space in your garden, why not create a bed or border for edible flowers. They should be grown organically and kept free from pests and pesticides.

Never use edible flowers from a nursery or garden centre, unless they have been especially grown for cooking. Remember to only pick flowers for culinary use that you know haven't been sprayed with pesticides, fertilisers or chemicals.

Petal power

Edible flowers can be used to garnish salads, desserts and drinks. Crystallized flowers can be used to decorate cakes and confectionary. Marigolds (calendula) can add both colour and flavour to dishes using eggs, rice and milk. Soak the petals in warm milk (twice the amount of milk to petals) which can then be used in cakes, breads and desserts to liven up the colour. Many flowers can be used to flavour oils, dressings and marinades and in salads, adding not only flavour but colour too. Courgette flowers are great when stuffed and are also excellent battered and deep fried.


Precautions:

Never use flowers bought from a florist or other outlet as these will probably have been sprayed with pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals. Avoid using flowers picked from the roadside. Never use non-edible flowers as garnish as they may get eaten by accident. Use flowers sparingly in your recipes, as too much can lead to digestive problems.

Harvesting and preparing edible flowers

Pick flowers just before you need them in the early morning. Wash the flowers gently in cold water. Add a little salt to the water to get rid of any insects. Pat excess water from flowers with kitchen paper and allow to dry at room temperature. Store the flowers in the 'fridge in a plastic bag. The petals are the edible part of the flowers, not the centre. Always cut off the white 'heel' at the bases of the petals as they tend to be bitter.


Some favourite edible flowers

Alliums (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) - all parts of these plants are edible. The flowers tend to have a stronger flavour than the leaves. Suitable for salads, in egg dishes such as omelettes and in soups.

Angelica - celery/liquorice flavour. Suitable for salads and fish dishes.

Anise Hyssop - delicate liquorice flavour.

Basil - a milder flavour than the leaves. Suitable for salads and pasta dishes.

Bergamot - milder than the leaves, savoury/fruity flavour. Suitable for salads, rice, pork and pasta dishes.

Borage and Burnet - cucumber taste. Suitable for cold soups, sorbets and drinks such as punch, gin and tonic and iced teas.

Calendula - also known as marigolds. Flavour similar to saffron but more pungent and sometimes bitter or peppery. Suitable for many dishes including meats, poultry, eggs, pasta, rice and salads. Adds colour to liquids such as milk.

Carnations/Dianthus - sweetish spice flavour. Suitable for desserts and salads.

Chamomile - sweet, apple flavour. Often used to make tea. Chervil - anise flavour. Suitable for fish dishes.

Chive - mild onion flavour. Suitable for salads, in egg dishes such as omelettes and soups.

Chrysanthemums - slightly bitter, peppery flavour. Suitable for salads and infusions. Blanch petals before use.

Coriander (also known as Cilantro) - similar flavour to the leaves. Suitable for salads, vegetables, pulses and grains.

Cornflower - slightly sweet clove-like flavour. Suitable as a garnish.

Dill - stronger flavour than the leaves. Use as the herb. Suitable for seafood and dressings.

Elderberry - sweet flavour. Do not wash as this removes the flavour. Check for insects before use. Remember: other parts of this plant are poisonous except the fruit. Do not eat any part of the flower stems.

Fennel - mild aniseed flavour. Use as the herb. Suitable for desserts and garnish.

Garlic - milder flavour than garlic cloves. Suitable for salads.

Hibiscus - citrus flavour. Suitable for use in salads or as a garnish. Use sparingly.

Honeysuckle - sweet honey flavour. Suitable as a garnish for desserts and salads. Remember: the berries are poisonous. Do not eat them.

Jasmine - very fragrant. Suitable for tea and scenting rice dishes.

Lavender (flowers only) - sweet flavour. Suitable as a garnish, in savoury dishes such as stews and desserts such as custards and ices. Lilac - highly floral, slightly bitter lemon flavour. Suitable for salads.

Mint - mint flavour. Use as the herb particularly in marinades and dressings. Use sparingly.

Nasturtiums - sweet, peppery flavour. Suitable for stuffing. Leaves are also edible which give a peppery taste to salads or in sandwiches. Seed pods can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

Oregano - mild version of plant's leaf. Use as the herb.

Rosemary - milder version of the herb. Use as the herb.

Roses - the flavours depend on the variety and colour of the rose, but generally fruity. All roses are edible. Suitable for garnishing desserts and salads and excellent in syrups and jellies.

Sage - flowers have a milder flavour than the leaves. Suitable for use in salads, bean and vegetables dishes and as a garnish for pork dishes.

Squash - many squash and courgette flowers are edible. Remove the pistols before using. Excellent stuffed and deep fried in light batter.

Thyme - milder than the leaves. Use as you would the herb and in salads, rice and pasta dishes.

Violets, Violas, Pansies - sweet, fragrant flavour. Suitable for use whole in salads, desserts and drinks. Excellent crystallised. Leaves are also edible when steamed or boiled.


BAKED SEA BREAM WITH LEMON, PARSLEY, GARNISHED WITH WILD GARLIC FLOWERS

Bream belongs to a large family of fish. Bream is not as well known as sea bass, but I love the sweet, firm, but delicate flesh. It is excellent stuffed and baked, or braised. Buy the fish gutted, scaled and trimmed, though sometimes you have to give the fishmonger a gentle reminder about scaling. Bream is often known as Dourada in Spain.

Serves 6

Ingredients

6 Sea bream, around 450g each, scaled and gutted, or use sea bass

4 lemons or limes

1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

Olive oil

100ml white wine

Sea salt flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Handful of wild garlic flowers

Method

Preheat oven to 200C / 190C fan / gas mark 6.

Slice the lemons (or limes). Push 2-3 slices of lemon and some flat leaf parsley into the belly of each fish.

Lay the fish in a large deep roasting tin and arrange a few lemon slices on top of each fish.

Drizzle generously with fruity olive oil.

Splash the white wine over the fish and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake for about 20 minutes. When the sea bream is cooked the eyes turn opaque and the flesh white. Just pull back a little area of the skin to check.

Serve on a large platter and pour over lemon juices.

Garnish with the wild garlic flowers or use chive flowers, thyme or lemon balm. Have fun with whatever herbs you have in the garden.

LEMON POSSET

This is a very old English recipe which I love to use in the summer. With its zesty tang, it is the perfect way to end a lazy al fresco lunch.

Serves 6

Ingredients

900ml double cream

250g caster sugar

Juice of 4 large lemons

To decorate

Edible flowers or petals

Rose petals

Raspberries

Strawberries

Cherries

Mint

Method

Place the cream, sugar and lemon juice in a roomy thick bottomed saucepan. Stir well.

Slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 3 minutes. Stir occasionally and take care not to let the mixture burn on the base of the pan.

Let the mixture cool slightly in the pan.

Pour the mixture into a large jug for ease and then pour into 6 pretty glasses. Posset is rich, so you won t need enormous glasses and leave plenty of room for the decoration.

Refrigerate for at least 2 - 3 hours.

To decorate: scatter flower petals, or flower heads on top of the posset.

Stand the glasses on a tray or a large glass plate and scatter with rose petals.

Serve with raspberries, strawberries and cherries, scattered with mint leaves.

SALAD NICOISE

This has to be one of the best summer salads. It's an all time classic and a great accompaniment to sea bream.

Serves 6

Ingredients

250g small new potatoes, cooked and halved lengthways

125g small plum tomatoes, halved

cucumber, peeled, halved vertically and cut into chunks

50g green beans, trimmed and cooked until al dente

8 anchovy fillets

A handful of black olives

2 heads of little gem lettuce, washed

4 free range eggs, hard boiled and quartered

Dressing

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Pinch of caster sugar

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Method

Toss all the ingredients together, except for the anchovy fillets and olives.

Arrange the anchovy strips and olives on top of the salad.

For the dressing, whisk together the oil, mustard, sugar and vinegar.

Drizzle over the salad.

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