MELVILLE, N.Y. — Greenport, N.Y., chocolatier Miche Bacher’s new book, “Cooking With Flowers” (Quirk, $24.95), came out last week. Newsday talked to Bacher about picking, preparing and cooking with flowers.
Q: What would you say to the cook who has only used flowers as a centerpiece?
A: When people think of flowers and food, they usually think of using them in salad or as a decoration. It’s my mission to get people to see them as an ingredient in a dish, a delicious and healthful ingredient and not just a novelty.
Q: Do flowers taste good?
A: Some are spicy, some are earthy, some are sweet with notes of mint, citrus or apple. Some flowers taste bitter, some taste like your grandmother’s perfume. Flowers add complexity and color to food.
Q: So how does the home cook get started?
A: You may already have flowers growing in pots or your yard that are good for cooking. If not, now is the time to go to the nursery. Before you pick anything and bring it into the kitchen, educate yourself about which flowers are, in fact, edible. Daffodils, for example, are not, while the tulips growing right next to them are. When in doubt, look it up. (A good source is tinyurl.com/prl4hz.)
Another option is foraging. Peterson’s “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants,” available at Amazon.com, is a good guidebook. Pick a clean (and legal) spot. Resist the urge to stop by a field alongside a busy road. Roadside flowers will be covered with toxins from car exhaust.
And don’t use flowers from a flower shop. These blooms are most likely sprayed with pesticides not labeled for food crops. Instead, buy from trusted farm stands, where you can chat with the grower about your cooking plans.
Q: How do you prepare the flowers?
A: Before cooking, take care to prepare edible flowers, washing them well and removing pistils and stamens, which hold the pollen.
Q: Do cooks have to worry about possible allergic reactions, if they’ve never cooked with flowers before?
A: As when trying any new food, you should introduce flowers into your diet slowly. Some people who have hay fever, asthma or allergies may be allergic to flower petals as well.
Q: For the novice, are herb flowers a good gateway into cooking with other kinds of flowers?
A: Absolutely. So many people are growing their own herbs. And then they think that when the herbs bolt and flower, that’s it. But you’re not done. Cut all those flowers and make pesto with them. You can do other things with herb flowers. I throw them into cookie dough, because I like a hint of savory in my sweets.
Q: What do you do when fresh local flowers are unavailable?
A: You can use dried flowers. Lavender in particular is just as good dried as it is fresh. Hibiscus has more tart flavor when dried.
Q: Say you have geraniums in your backyard, but no roses. Can you substitute one flower for another in your book’s recipes?
A: For the most part you can. But taste before you substitute, and substitute something with a similar flavor profile. As for geraniums and roses, yes, that substitution will work. So go for it.
PASSIONFRUIT ORCHID TARTLETS
3 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1 egg white
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ cup passionfruit puree
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
36 micro orchids, or 8 to 12 large orchids, fresh and/or candied
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Thoroughly coat the inside of a tartlet pan with cooking spray.
2. Spread coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the oven — tossing occasionally, for a consistent golden brown — for about 15 minutes, or until the flakes are mostly golden brown.
3. In the bowl of a food processor, process coconut with egg white until finely ground and completely mixed. Press mixture into the bottoms and up the sides of the tart shells. Bake the shells just until they start to turn golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
4. To make the curd, mix yolks and sugar together in a medium saucepan. When they are fully mixed, add passionfruit puree, butter and salt. Put pan over medium heat and stir for about 15 minutes, until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.
5. You can immediately spoon passionfruit curd into the tart shells or you may put it in a container, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Top the tarts with candied orchids and serve. Makes 8 (3-inch) tarts or 12 (2-inch) tarts.
COCONUT LILAC TAPIOCA
½ cup large pearl tapioca
2 (14-ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 cup lilac blossoms
About 36 fresh and/or candied lilacs
1. Soak tapioca in coconut milk for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to make sure you end up with individual bouncy nuggets rather than a solid lump of tapioca.
2. Combine milk and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a fast simmer. Stir in tapioca with coconut milk and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 1 hour, or until tapioca turns soft and translucent. Let pudding cool before stirring in lilac blossoms. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week. Makes 6 servings.
CORN AND BLACK BEANS WITH NASTURTIUMS
1 cup black beans, soaked overnight, or canned beans, rinsed
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 cup nasturtium flowers, roughly chopped
½ cup nasturtium leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Put beans in a big pot of water and boil them until they are fork-tender, about 1 hour.
2. Drain beans and combine with remaining ingredients in a serving bowl.
3. Toss, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and for up to 3 days.
Makes 4 servings.
Here are three online sources:
Marx Foods, marxfoods.com
Gourmet Sweet Botanicals Store, tinyurl.com/cpcblfn
Sur La Table ((tinyurl.com/ccr3mbx) sells a nice variety of candied, crystallized flowers.