I worked for a professional chef years ago who used fresh flowers from her garden as garnishes for her catering. This made an impression on me, and as soon as I had stopped traveling long enough to have a garden, I set out to grow my own edible flowers. I’ve had the most luck with nasturtiums and over the years, I’ve used the varying shades of yellow, orange, and red blossoms at countless events to jazz up salads and hors d’oeuvres.
Over time I became aware that you could also use the spicy blossoms to make vinegar (and dressing) and I may have come across a nasturtium-carrot soup, but other than that I thought their culinary talents were limited to the role of edible garnish. Now that I have four gargantuan and very prolific plants in my garden, I’ve been struggling to use even half of the blossoms before they fade.
A little research has turned up some great ideas for cooking with these beautiful flowers. Apparently the entire plant is edible, so you can use the beautifully-shaped leaves as a somewhat less spicy addition to a mix greens salad. The leaves and the blossoms can be chopped up and tossed with pasta salad, or you can get more creative like in this recipe for Citrus, Dates and Nasturtiums from My Halal Kitchen.com.
Nasturtium pesto, nasturtium mayonnaise, and nasturtium butter can be spread on sandwiches, seafood, grains, rice, and veggies. Apparently the dried seeds were ground and used as a replacement for pepper during World War II. You can also combine the nasturtium ‘pepper’ with salt and herbs for a seasoning mix.
Some of the most creative uses I’ve seen are stuffed nasturtiums with cream cheese, nuts, scallions, and garlic; apple mint nasturtium jelly for grilled lamb chops; and Manresa chef David Kinch’s nasturtium risotto on Martha Stewart.com.
More good news is that even if I can’t use up all the blossoms in my cooking, the plants are also great garden companions to veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers because they deter pests.
My experience with nasturtiums point to two of the reasons I love being a chef: I get inspired everytime I work with another chef and just a little curiousity always leads to a lot of culinary education.
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