Corn flowers, primroses, forget-me-nots, day lilies, marigolds, roses, lavender, nasturtiums, dahlias, chrysanthemum…
I love to scatter flower petals over desserts, cakes and biscuits. Judiciously used they also add a little magic to starter plates and salads. Of course the flowers must be edible but a wide variety of blossoms are, as well as the flowers of broad beans, scarlet runners, sun chokes, peas and sea kale, but remember they will eventually grow into the vegetables so pick sparingly.
The canary yellow zucchini and squash blossoms are also irresistible not just to tear into salads but also to dip into a tempura batter – stuffed or unstuffed.
Even the cheery little nasturtium flower with its peppery taste are both cute and delicious stuffed with a little herby cream cheese. We also chop the gaily coloured nasturtium blossom and add them into a lemony butter to serve with a piece of spanking fresh fish.
Fennell and dill flowers have a delicious liquoricey, aniseed flavour. They too add magic to fish dishes and broths but also to some pastas and of course salads.
Dahlia flowers are gorgeous sprinkled over salads, I particularly love them scattered over an heirloom tomato or potato salad.
Thyme flowers are various shades of blue and purple – we love to use them to garnish little pots of pate or to sprinkle over a bowl of silky onion and thyme leaf soup.
Sage and hyssop flowers are even more intensely blue and they two give a vibrant and perky flavour to salads and summer vegetable dishes.
The kombuchas and water kefirs that we serve at the school every day also include edible flowers which introduce the yeast of the area into the gut enhancing drink.
This freekeh salad makes a wonderful vehicle for a variety of edible flowers. Pomegranate molasses is now widely available and now has become a favourite ingredient for those of us who have developed a passion for Middle Eastern flavours.
Heritage Tomato Salad with Flowers, Za’atar and Freekeh
This is a pretty salad with lots of edible flowers from the garden and the tomatoes are particularly good. Freekeh is a Lebanese wheat. It’s picked while still under ripe and set on fire to remove the husk, which smokes and toasts the grain.
100g (3½ oz) freekeh or farro
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
12 cherry tomatoes
2 teaspoons za’atar
lots of edible flowers, perhaps marigolds, cornflowers, violas, rocket flowers, or borage (remove furry calyx from behind the flower), chive or coriander or fennel blossom depending on what’s available in Summer.
Put the freekeh or farro into a saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-6 minutes, depending on the freekeh (some are broken grains, others whole). It should be soft but still slightly chewy. Drain, season with salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss. Taste and correct the seasoning.
In a little bowl, whisk the pomegranate molasses with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to emulsify.
Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Season with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil. Lay the tomatoes on a plate, scatter with the freekeh, then sprinkle over the za’atar and edible flowers. Finish the plate by drizzling with the pomegranate molasses mixture. Taste and add a few more sea salt flakes if necessary.
Freekeh cooking times vary quite dramatically depending on the type and age of the freekeh.
Onion, Thyme Leaf and Thyme Flower Soup
Sprinkle thyme flowers over the top to add a little “je ne sais quoi”
Serves 6 approximately
450g 1lb (1lb) chopped onions
225g (8oz) chopped potatoes
45g (1 1/2oz) butter
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
150ml (5fl oz) cream or cream and milk mixed, approx.
fresh thyme leaves and thyme or chive flowers
a little whipped cream (optional)
Peel and chop the onions and potatoes into small dice, about one third inch. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. As soon as it foams, add the onions and potatoes, stir until they are well coated with butter. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a paper lid on top of the vegetables directly to keep in the steam. Then cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes approx. The potatoes and onions should be soft but not coloured. Add the chicken stock, bring it to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked, 5-8 minutes approx. Liquidise the soup and add a little cream or creamy milk. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen garnished with a blob of whipped cream, sprinkle with thyme leaves and thyme or chive flowers.
Stuffed Nasturtium Flowers
Nasturtiums are the flower that keeps on giving – super easy to grow. This charming little bite, also good served with a little smoked mackerel alongside, a delicious little starter or a nibble to go with a glass of wine.
Children love helping to fill the flowers.
12 whole nasturtium flowers, freshly picked (+ 1 for tasting)
110g (4oz) fresh ricotta or goat cheese
2 teaspoons of chopped chives
1 teaspoon lemon thyme
1 teaspoon chervil, chopped
a little honey, optional
½ teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 chive blossoms
12 pickled nasturtium capers
Mix the freshly chopped herbs gently with the cheese. Taste, add a little honey and seasoning if necessary.
Open a flower, use a piping bag or teaspoon to fill the centre. Almost cover with the petals. (Taste to make sure the balance of flavours is good)
Tweak if necessary and continue to stuff the remainder of the flowers.
Cover a serving plate with nasturtium leaves, lay the flowers on top.
Garnish with a sprinkling of chive blossom and nasturtium capers.
Pan-grilled Fish with Vietnamese Cucumbers and Fennell Flowers
Pan-grilling is one of my favourite ways to cook fish, meat and vegetables. Square or oblong cast-iron pan-grills can be bought in virtually all good kitchen shops and are a ‘must have’ as far as I am concerned. In this recipe you can use almost any fish – mackerel, grey sea mullet, cod, sea bass, haddock – provided it is very fresh.
8 x 175g (6oz) of very fresh fish fillets
small knob of butter (soft)
Vietnamese Cucumbers (see below)
Heat the pan grill. Dry the fish fillets well. Just before cooking but not earlier dip the fish fillets in flour which has been well seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pass the floured fillet between the palms of your hands to shake off the excess flour and then spread a little soft butter evenly over the entire surface of the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes (time depends on the thickness of the fish). Turnover and cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with the Vietnamese cucumbers and fresh herbs on the side.
Sprinkle a few fennel flowers on top.
Be sure to wash and dry the grill-pan each time between batches.
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fish Sauce (Nam pla)
2.5cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1-2 Serrano or Jalapeno or fresh Thai chillies
juice of 2 or 3 limes
fistful of fresh mint sprigs
fistful basil sprigs
thinly sliced scallions or onion
Peel the cucumbers, cut them lengthwise in half, and remove the seeds with a spoon if they are large. Slice the cucumbers into thickish half-moons and put them in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle lightly with fish sauce, then add the ginger and palm sugar. Toss well, and let the cucumbers sit for 5 minutes or so.
Add a good spoonful of the chopped Serrano or Jalapeno chillies (seeds removed, if desired) or finely slivered Thai chillies. Squeeze over the juice of 2 limes and toss again, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serving.
Just before serving add a fistful of roughly chopped mint and basil leaves. Taste and adjust the seasoning with lime juice as well as salt and pepper. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions or paper-thin slices of onion.
Honey and Lavender Ice-Cream
Honey and lavender is a particularly delicious marriage of flavours. We make this richly scented ice cream when the lavender flowers are in bloom in early Summer. Lavender is at its most aromatic just before the flowers burst open. Serve it totally alone on chilled plates and savour every mouthful.
250ml (9floz) milk
450ml (16floz) cream
40 sprigs of fresh lavender or less of dried (use the blossom end only)
6 organic egg yolks
175ml (6floz) pure Irish honey, we use our own apple blossom honey, although Provencal lavender honey would also be wonderful
sprigs of lavender
Put the milk and cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the lavender sprigs, bring slowly to the boil and leave to infuse for 15-20 minutes. This will both flavour and perfume the cream deliciously. Whisk the egg yolks, add a little of the lavender flavoured liquid and then mix the two together. Cook over a low heat until the mixture barely thickens and lightly coats the back of a spoon (careful it doesn’t curdle). Melt the honey gently, just to liquefy, whisk into the custard. Strain out lavender heads.
Chill thoroughly and freeze, preferably in an ice-cream maker.
Serve garnished with sprigs of fresh or frozen lavender (see recipe)
Frosted lavender sprigs are adorable and delicious to use for garnish. Pick lavender in dry weather while the flowers are still closed. Whisk a little egg white lightly, just enough to break it up, brush the entire lavender sprig with the egg white, sprinkle all over with sieved, dry castor sugar. Lay on a sheet of silicone paper. Allow to dry and crisp in a warm spot – hot press or near a radiator until dry and crisp. Store in an airtight tin.
Honey Mousse with Lavender Jelly
JR Ryall, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House, loves to make this dessert in June using the lavender from the walled garden at Ballymaloe, just before the flowers open. Using only the best quality local Irish honey will make this feather light mousse truly unforgettable.
For the honey mousse:
1 teaspoon gelatine
1½ tablespoons cold water
350ml (12 fl oz) whipping cream
75g (30z) best quality local Irish honey
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, to taste
Whip the cream to soft peaks and keep in the fridge. Sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water in a small bowl and allow to ‘sponge’. Once fully rehydrated, melt the gelatine by placing the bowl over hot but not boiling water. Add the honey and Grand Marnier to the melted gelatine and stir until the mixture is an even consistency and allow to return to room temperature. Whisk the egg to a pale mousse, using an electric mixer, then gently fold the mousse into the whipped cream. Now fold the cream mixture into the honey and gelatine in three stages. Pour the mousse into its serving dish and chill until set. Now prepare the lavender jelly.
For the Lavender Jelly
6 fresh lavender heads
225ml (8fl.oz) water
110g (4oz) sugar
1½ teaspoon gelatine
2½ tablespoon cold water
Put the sugar and the 225ml/8fl.oz water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Once the syrup has boiled remove the saucepan from the heat and drop in the lavender heads. Enjoy the wonderful lavender perfume as the syrup cools to room temperature. Meanwhile sprinkle the gelatine over the 2½ tablespoon cold water in a small bowl and allow to ‘sponge’. Once fully rehydrated, melt the gelatine by placing the bowl over hot but not boiling water. Strain the cooled syrup through a sieve, add to the melted gelatine and mix well. Arrange 6 lavender heads on top of the set mousse and carefully spoon over enough liquid jelly to cover the lavender and chill until the jelly is set.