Floral cuisine is the blossoming new trend this season, and what better way to welcome spring.
Ever been served a flower on your plate and not been sure if it was meant to be eaten or if it was just for decorative purposes?
Alicia Giliomee, head of department of professional cookery at the Capital Hotel School in Pretoria, has been working with flowers for over 16 years, from roses to lavender.
Her love for flowers grew after she had her first taste of a plumbago flower when she was 6 years old.
“When I first sucked the sweet nectar out of the sticky plumbago flowers I learned from a local tannie that the blooms can be cooked to make a delicious jam,” she said.
“The sweet perfume of a new world to be discovered lingered and the rest is, as they say, history.”
Giliomee has incorporated floral into most of her dishes, from pairing tulips with goats’ cheese to the pepperiness of marigolds with Cape Malay curries and beef tartar.
Giliomee said the musk and recurrent flavour of the hibiscus flower pairs well when drawn for a tea or made into Tempura Hibiscus petals with a lemon verbena emulsion.
If you have lavender in your garden, its sweet lingering earthiness is perfect for a cream or infused in jelly.
“You need to be careful here (just as with a pungent herb like rosemary); when you need to heat up the lavender, only use the leaves and young stems,” she said.
The next time you get an unwanted bunch of roses, toss it in a salad.
Giliomee said: “The petals’ sweetness is in the aroma. A fresh petal is actually quite bitter.
“So, when using the petals fresh in a salad or dessert, remember to nip off the white eye of the petal where it tapers down to the calyx.
“Wisteria, just like plumbago, 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.”
“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 nip off the calyx and stamens which are unpleasant and bitter to the taste,” she said.
“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.”
Alicia's personal favourites include lavender, rose, camomile and jasmine petals.
“I use them for sweet and savoury. They pair beautifully with beef, lamb,chicken and even pork,” she said.
“Shellfish stand up well to these pungent petals and pair well with a slight heat element of chilli or a splash of white or rosé wine.”
With all herbs and spices, timing and preparation is key when cooking with flowers.
“There is two things you need to consider,” she said.
“What is the purpose of the product in the dish? And at which time during the cooking/preparation/service time do I add it?
“Knowledge and timing is key, but then again, all knowledge is there for the taking if we want to wake up and smell the roses.”
Also read: Add some flower power to your next dish