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Drum rolls, please ….. Squash blossoms, yay!!
I always knew they were edible. But I had no idea how versatile they can be. I had only eaten squash blossoms once, many years ago. They were battered and fried. Even then, I thought they were pretty impressive. But I have never cooked with them. It had to do with their unavailability. Unless you grow squash, you can’t get squash blossoms easily. I hear sometimes they appear in farmers’ markets and some specialty stores. Those of you not growing squash, check out those places. It’s worthwhile to hunt for these blossoms
I happen to grow squashes this year. The neighbor’s bamboo roots have now encroached on the squash planting area. Excavating these roots inevitably resulted in the squashes getting unintended pruning. Leaves, stems, flowers, and little fruits soon piled up.
I looked at them, the flowers especially, and thought … how gorgeous! So big and so bold, and they looked so happy. What a waste to just throw them away. I could not do it. I could not throw them in the compost. So they came with me into the kitchen.
Beware, by the way, of bees hitchhiking inside these flowers. I had to rescue a few bees from drowning in my sink. They get so attached to these flowers they need more than just a gentle shake to get them to leave. Some even accosted me en route to the kitchen.
I prepped the flowers by rinsing them gently under running water. All recipes I find recommend removing the stamens or pistils, but not one offers a reason. If you know why, please let me know. Are they poisonous? Doubtful. Bitter? Tried one, nope! I decided the reason could be a texture thing. The one stamen I tried was a little stringy, but not too bad. Not like the stems and the green sepals. Those you definitely need to remove. They’re not all that palatable.
So, in the end, I still don’t know why the stamens or pistils have to be removed. I think there’s a tendency to repeat recipes without much investigation. I’m leaving it up to you what to do. Removing them happens to be the hardest part of the cleaning process. I decided to do it, however, just to be safe.
At first I used a small paring knife, and I tore a couple of flowers. Then I used two fingers to pinch them off. Tore a few more. The best way to remove them, I find, is to hold each flower face up under a gentle stream of running water, then reach down with just one finger, scrape the stamen off the base with your fingernail, and let the water bring the loose stamen to float up. Then discard the stamen, and pour out the water collecting inside the flower. Shake to dry a little, and it’s ready to go.
There are countless online recipes for stuffed squash blossoms. Most of them call for a simple creamy cheese mixture (ricotta, goat cheese, or cream cheese) with some herbs, to use as filling. Once the flowers are filled with this mixture, then the loose petals are twisted to seal the filling. These little parcels are then dipped in a batter, and finally fried. Not a bad way to enjoy these flowers.
Of course, you can always just dip unstuffed flowers in a tempura batter and deep fry them. Even better way! Crunchy fried foods are always a treat.
And then there is Yotam Ottolenghi. Is that a great name or what? I’m nursing a slight obsession at the moment. In one of the episodes from his show Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feasts, he traveled to Turkey and met with chef Musa Dağdeviren. Together they went to a squash farm, harvested the flowers, stuffed them with a rice filling, then cooked the dish on a wood-burning oven, at the farm.
I wish I could post the video here, but I don’t know how, or if WordPress would allow it. If you google “Ottolenghi stuffed courgette flowers” you’ll be able to find the video for it. (Update: My new BFF (Blogger Friends Forever) Fae has posted the video in the comment section below. Isn’t she fabulous? Thanks, Fae!)
Wasn’t it wonderful? Except there was no recipe. But never mind, I had leftover sauce from my moussaka-making and leftover rice from Chinese takeout. I mixed them, added more spices (cinnamon, allspice), some chopped parsley, and used the mixture to stuff my flowers. Don’t overstuff. These flowers are quite fragile. And the rice will expand during cooking.
Line the bottom of a pan with unstuffed flowers, the ones that were torn during the cleaning process, prior to placing the stuffed parcels on it. Or you can use other vegetables like cabbage or kale. The point is to not let the flowers get stuck on the bottom of the pan. Add a cup of broth or water to the pan, and stick the whole thing, covered, in a 375° F oven for 25-30 minutes. Or you can cook it on the stove top. Just make sure that the liquid doesn’t completely dry out. If it does, add a little more.
Essentially, these are dolmades. I posted a dolma recipe here, which you can use instead.
Served with tzatziki sauce, the stuffed flowers make for a satisfying meal.
The best way to enjoy these flowers, however, is this,
Squash blossom chips. You’ve heard of people talking about how good kale chips are. No, squash blossom chips ARE good!
Cut off the fleshy bottom part of the flowers (the calyx). Toss flowers in olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then dredge in plain bread crumbs. Bake in 350° F for 10-15 minutes, flipping once halfway. Because of the different sizes of the flowers, they will not all dry at the same time. Some of mine didn’t dry completely , but that’s okay. They still tasted very good! My daughter has requested daily squash blossom chips! Thank goodness there are new flowers opening daily.
Next up, I’ll be trying this recipe,
from this book.
I shall return with another squash blossom recipe if it turns out good.