From pansies in pesto pasta to hanaho in sashimi and ixora frosting on cupcakes, Mumbai’s chefs are experimenting with fragrant, flavoursome and exotic edible flowers in their restaurant menus. Krutika Behrawala tracks this trend
While planning a summer brunch with riends, Ayushi Shah, dessert chef and owner of Icing On Top, decided to experiment and added the fragrant dianthus to a cinnamon spritzer and elderflower to a cocktail. Adding to the heady experience, Shah tried to mix lavender and pansies in butter and geranium in cream cheese. Excited with the results, the innovative chef will launch a new menu featuring edible flower desserts from next week. “Working with flowers is quite easy once you understand the flavours. From sweet and bitter to light, peppery and citrus-ey, flowers present a range of tastes,” informs Shah.
Lotus On Fire served at Yuuka uses a mix of calendula, viola and nasturtium flowers
Take the garden route
Did you known that Chartreuse, a classic green liqueur developed in France in the seventeenth century, boasts of carnation petals as one of its secret ingredients? The culinary use of flowers can be traced back to Chinese, Greek and Romans, who used them in numerous recipes. Many traditional Indian recipes have also mentioned the use of tamarind flower and rose petals.
Dianthus imparts clove-like spiciness to this bubbly Dianthus and Cinnamon Spritzer; part of Icing On Top’s new edible flower dessert menu. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
However, it’s only of late that we’ve noticed exotic varieties being used in dishes across cuisines, reveals chef Ting Yen of Yuuka, who uses a mix of marigold, viola and nasturtium in salmon and duck dishes served at the Lower Parel-based modern Japanese restaurant. “The use of edible flowers in their current form goes back to the 1990s, when a few of my contemporaries were experimenting with it. But in recent times, you see them being used across restaurant and cuisine styles. It’s a promising trend that lends itself to chefs spending time growing their own flower-beds, and even foraging. It also suggests that smaller restaurants are paying attention to taste profiles and plating,” he believes.
Blue cornflower petals in Tandoori Paneer Barrels, Chilly Pickle Cream, Fresh Fenugreek Crisp and Pav Bhaji add to the sensory experience, served at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra. Pic/Satyajit Desai
At The Taj Mahal Palace’s Wasabi by Morimoto, the violet hanaho and murame make their way from Tokyo into the Assorted Sashimi dish. “The use of flowers is not restricted to garnish, as they are also used to influence the aromas and taste of a cuisine. For instance, the soury undertones of hanaho and murame match up the umami flavour of the sashimi,” informs chef Amit Chowdhury.
No wonder, chef Nidhi Behl actually blends a mix of seasonal flowers into the pesto gravy with gnocci and pasta that’s served at the Mediterranean-themed Byblos Kitchen + Bar. “Flowers in a desert cuisine are the ultimate motif of luxury. Besides adding colour to a salad or to finish a dish, they also have a distinctive pleasurable mouthfeel,” she mentions.
Ixora cream cheese frosting on vanilla cupcakes at Icing On Top. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Not just a fad?
For city chefs, it’s not just about plucking a petal and adding it to the plate. While Behl visited Ayurvedic botanical farms to learn about the medicinal properties of the flowers she was using, Yen tasted lots of flowers before figuring out the ones that complement his cooking style.
Though the tiny petals of blue cornflower — specially imported from Holland — only make a stray appearance on Tandoori Paneer Barrels served at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, it perks up the smoky cottage cheese. “We have done extensive study behind the cuisine that we serve and during the process of developing it, we got exposed to numerous edible variety of flowers. We introduced flowers in the dishes for holistic sensory experience, not as a mere fad,” elaborates Chef Saurabh Udinia, Chef de Cuisine - Modern Indian Cuisine, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd.
Get it right
While flowers lend themselves to most cuisines, one needs to be careful about the quantities. “Not all flowers are edible and at times, even edible flowers may cause indigestion or allergic reactions if eaten in large amounts. I always suggest easy-to-manage varieties, like rose, marigold and hibiscus to begin with,” elaborates Linesh Pillai, Managing Director, Terra Farms India, who provides expertise to farms like The Farmhouse Company from where many eateries including La Folie and Icing On Top, source their edible flowers.
“If the flower is too fragrant, it is best to use it in smaller portions. Also, its coloured bits taste better than the inside whites, which are usually bitter,” says Shah. Yen adds, “The dish cannot be too dense. For example, using flowers won’t add value to spiced curries and kebabs. Instead, use them with thinly sliced meat/seafood. Using edible flowers must accentuate the overall dish. They should be used delicately — do not overwhelm the plate and get carried away by their beautiful colours.”
For your edible flower fix
>> Relish nasturtium in Tandoori Guchchi, pansies in Besan Cheela Cannelloni, marigold in Sarson Ka Saag Galawat Kebab, etc.
At Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, BKC.
>> Get a taste of marigold, viola and nasturtium in dishes like Salmon on Fire, Salmon Truffle, Moullard Duck Breast, Salmon Crudo and Lotus on Fire.
At Yuuka, Lower Parel.
Salmon on Fire with crispy shallots, citrus ponzu and raspberry gastrique along with edible flowers like calendula, marigold, viola and nasturtium flowers
>> Taste marigold, strawberry blossoms, mustard blossoms, nasturtium blossoms, pansies, lavender blue, chive flowers in Edible Flower Pesto with Gnocci or Pasta (Special), Edible Flower Salad, Drunken Passion Fruit Iced Tea and Deconstructed Feta Cheesecake.
At Byblos Kitchen + Bar, Lower Parel.
Edible Fower Salad with Citrus Vinagrette at Byblos Kitchen + Bar. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Drunken Passion Fruit Iced Tea with Edible Flower Garnish. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
>> Yum Woon Sen, a spicy salad with glass noodles
(wheat protein, chicken and prawn options) comes garnished with petunia and passion flower petals.
At O:h Cha, Lower Parel.
Yum Woon Sen, a spicy salad with glass noodles (with wheat protein, chicken and prawn options) comes garnished with petunia and passion flower petals, served at Lower Parel’s O:h Cha
>> Choose from Petunia Cream Cheese, Ixora Cream Cheese, Plum Mango Lemonade and Dianthus and Cinnamon Spritzer.
From June 27
At Icing On Top, Kemps Corner.
(order: 48 hours in advance)
Petunia Cream Cheese, flavoured with mildly-spicy petunia petals, paired with butter-flavoured waffle cookies is part of Icing On Top’s new edible flower dessert menu. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
>> Experience exotic flavours of hanaho and murame in Assorted Sashimi with Edible Flowers.
At Wasabi by Morimoto at The Taj Mahal Palace, Colaba.
>> Calendula (marigold): Also known as Poor Man’s Saffron, the sharp taste of calendula resembles saffron. Flavours range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Petals also add a yellow tint to the dish. Sprinkle them on soups, pasta or rice dishes, herb butters, and salads. Rich in vitamin C, the flower also aids digestion, reduce fevers and stimulate the immune system.
>> Carnations and Dianthus: The sweet petals, once trimmed away from the base, can be steeped in wine, candy, or used as cake decoration. Dianthus, the miniature member of the carnation family, has light clove-like or nutmeg-like taste.
>> Hibiscus: With vibrant cranberry flavour, it is used in hibiscus tea. However, avoid using it in large quantities due to its overbearing tartly taste. High on antioxidants, it helps prevent cholesterol deposits.
Chef Nidhi Behl makes a pesto gravy with edible flowers (in centre bowl on black plate) for Edible Flower Pesto with Gnocci or Pasta. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
>> Nasturtium: One of the most popular edible flowers and rich in vitamin C, nasturtium blossoms start with a burst of sweet, floral flavour and a spicy pepper aftertaste. Either stuff whole flowers with savoury mousse or add to salads. Use entire flowers to garnish platters, salads, cheese tortas, open-faced sandwiches, and savoury appetisers.
>> Begonia: The blossoms have a citrus-sour taste and the petals are used in salads and as a garnish. Their stems can be used in place of rhubarb.
>> Gladiolus: With a nondescript flavour (vaguely like lettuce), it can be added to sweet or savoury spreads or mousses. Toss individual petals in salads or cook it like a day lily.
>> Chive Blossoms: Its florets are used to add light onion flavour and aroma to the dish.
>> Garlic Blossoms: With white or pink flowers, the blossoms are milder than the bulb yet provide that pungent zing to your salad.
>> Chrysanthemums: When combined with shiitake and mackerel, they help enrich the blood and combat ageing and stress. The same when combined with Wakame/seaweed or ginger helps combat muscle/body swelling and helps lower blood pressure.
>> The Borage flower: It adds real cucumber taste to a dish and goes well with fish, crab and lobsters.
— Inputs from Linesh Pillai (Managing Director, Terra Farms India), Chef Amit Chowdhury (Wasabi by Morimoto) and Chef Nidhi Behl (Byblos Kitchen + Bar)