As if there wasn’t enough to love about spring, each year it arrives with armloads of beautiful blooms to usher it in. We’re accustomed to adorning our tables with fresh floral arrangements, but edible varieties can do double duty as fancy – and tasty — ingredients or finishes for your brunch plates.
Not all edible flowers taste as floral as you might expect. Nasturtiums are part of the brassica family (along with kale, watercress and kohlrabi) and have peppery, almost radish-like petals and leaves. When chives are in bloom, their tiny purple flowers are mildly oniony, and calendula – otherwise known as pot marigold – has bright yellow-orange petals with a subtle flavour some compare to saffron. Lilacs are lemony, and the leaves and flowers of tiny tangerine marigolds taste –perhaps unsurprisingly – like tangerine.
Pansies and violets make pretty accessories, but don’t taste like much, which makes them as well-suited to a salad as they are floating in your cocktail or scattered over dessert. Hibiscus flowers are so large they’re commonly dried and steeped to make tea; you could also simmer them in equal parts sugar and water to make a sweet-tart syrup to drizzle into cocktails or over ice cream or yogurt.
If it’s a more floral flavour you’re after, roses, lavender and elderflower have stronger perfume that translates particularly well to baked goods and sweets. The petals of more aromatic varieties can be tucked into sugar to infuse it for baking, or simmered into simple syrups to brush over warm cakes. Just ensure your flowers have been grown chemical-free (your florist should know – or pluck them from your own garden to be sure) and that you can positively identify the variety. Or seek out ingredients such as bottled rosewater or dried culinary lavender to help bring your brunch into bloom. St-Germain, an elderflower liqueur, is available in most liquor stores, and you can even buy bottles of elderflower syrup at IKEA.
Curing your own salmon is surprisingly simple. A dry cure of sugar and salt, spiked with citrus, spices and perhaps some peppery nasturtiums, is rubbed heavily over a fresh fillet, which is then weighted down and left for 24 hours. Once cured and thinly sliced, the delicate white and purple flowers of blooming dill and chives are ideal for garnishing your gravlax. Nasturtiums are a little more unexpected: Both petals and leaves add a fresh, radish-like flavour that’s delicious tucked into your bagel and cream cheese.
- 1 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed, toasted
- A few nasturtium flowers or leaves
- 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1/4 cup fine table salt)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2-3 teaspoons grated orange, lemon or lime zest
- One 1 pound (approximately) salmon fillet
- Edible flowers, for garnish
Crush the coriander and fennel roughly in a mortar and pestle or pulse them in a spice grinder. If you like, crush in a few nasturtium leaves or petals, or try other edible flowers – perhaps a few calendula petals or tangerine marigolds. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, sugar, citrus zest, crushed spices and flowers.
Place a piece of plastic wrap over a shallow baking dish or rimmed sheet large enough to accommodate the salmon. Scatter half the salt mixture over it and lay the fillet skin side down overtop. Sprinkle the rest of the cure mixture over the fish and spread it evenly to coat. Bring the edge of the plastic wrap up to cover the fish, place a small cutting board or second sheet on top and weigh it down with a can or two; refrigerate all day or overnight. After about 12 hours, unwrap the fish and flip it over, rerubbing the (now wet) cure over the surface; rewrap and return to the fridge for another 12 hours.
Wipe or rinse off the salt mixture, pat the fish dry and slice it thinly to serve with crackers, flatbread or bagels, and cream cheese, labneh or whipped creamy (Macedonian-style) feta, with nasturtiums or other edible flowers for garnish.
Malabi with Cardamom Rose Granola
Makes about 6 puddings and 5 cups of granola
Malabi is a simple, delicious Middle Eastern milk pudding flavoured with rosewater and traditionally thickened with rice flour, though modern-day versions use cornstarch for a smoother texture. You can make and chill it ahead, then top with a smattering of crunchy granola with dried rose petals in place of the rose syrup that’s often drizzled overtop.
- 1 14-ounce (398-ml) can coconut milk
- 1 can full of milk (or a second can of coconut milk)
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon rosewater or orange blossom water, or 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 cups old-fashioned (large flake) oats
- 1/2-1 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2-1 cup seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup melted butter or coconut oil
- 2/3 cup honey
- 2-4 tablespoons dried rose petals (optional)
To make the malabi, pour the coconut milk into a large saucepan, then fill the empty can with milk and add it to the coconut milk. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar to get rid of any lumps, then whisk into the milk mixture. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking, until it thickens. Divide between six small glasses or bowls and chill for at least one hour, or until set.
To make the granola, preheat the oven to 300 F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, coconut, seeds, cardamom and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the melted butter and honey, warming the honey if it’s too thick. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir to coat well.
Spread the mixture evenly onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until pale golden. Set aside to cool completely, then stir in the dry rose petals if you’re using them.
Store extra granola in sealed containers or jars. Sprinkle over the malabi just before serving.
Flowery Rhubarb Pistachio Pavlova
A crunchy, chewy pavlova can be made in a range of sizes: a large one to serve in wedges, individual meringue nests the size of dessert plates, tiny two-biters you can pick up and eat with your fingers, or anything in between. For straight-up meringues, this pistachio-swirlled mixture could be dropped by the spoonful onto a sheet and baked (same time, same temp) until dry.
To infuse the meringue itself with floral flavour, stir a big pinch of dried lavender, rose petals, lilacs or other fragrant edible flowers into the sugar; let it sit for at least a few hours (or indefinitely), then run it through a sieve to remove the flowers before using the scented sugar to make your meringue. Or infuse your cream with lavender or rose by dropping some petals in, leaving it overnight, then straining it before whipping.
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (about 50 grams)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
- 3 cups fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb
- 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
- A few rose petals, 1 teaspoon rosewater or 1/4 cup elderflower syrup/St-Germain (or to taste)
- Hibiscus syrup, for drizzling (optional)
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1-2 tablespoons icing sugar or elderflower syrup/St-Germain
- Fresh berries or sliced stone fruit
- Edible flowers or petals
Preheat the oven to 250 F. Put the pistachios in a food processor with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar and pulse until finely ground (don’t worry if there are some larger pieces). In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the remaining sugar with the cornstarch and cream of tartar.
In a large, clean glass or stainless-steel bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until very foamy. Gradually add the sugar mixture, beating constantly, until the mixture holds stiff, glossy peaks. Beat in the vanilla. Shake the pistachios over the meringue and fold a few times with a spatula – don’t blend them in completely, but leave swirly streaks.
To make one large pavlova, spoon the meringue mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and using a spatula or the bottom of a spoon shape into an 8-10-inch nest. For smaller pavlovas, shape large spoonfuls of meringue into smaller nests whatever size you’d like.
Bake for one hour, until crisp and dry. Turn the oven off, open the door and leave the meringue(s) inside the oven as it cools. Meanwhile, simmer the rhubarb with the sugar and elderflower syrup or St-Germain for about 20 minutes, or until the rhubarb breaks down and the mixture has a saucy consistency. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator.
Right before serving, whip the cream, sweetening it with sugar or elderflower syrup or St-Germain, until soft peaks form. Top the pavlova with the rhubarb compote, then whipped cream and berries or sliced stone fruit. Drizzle with hibiscus syrup if you have some, and garnish with edible flowers.
Makes about 3 cups
Raspberries and roses make a delicious pair. In this recipe, you can leave the seeds and petals in to make jam, or strain them out to make jelly, or simmer and strain the raspberries and then add the rose petals with the sugar if you’d like some texture from the soft petals.
- 2 pounds fresh or frozen raspberries
- 1 cup pink or red rose petals (unsprayed)
- 1 cup water
- Sugar (about 2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
Put the raspberries, rose petals and water into a medium pot and bring to a simmer. Cook, mashing with a potato masher or wooden spoon, until the berries break down and release their juices. Strain through a sieve into a bowl or another pot. (If you have a bowl with measurements on the side, that’s ideal.)
Return the juice to the pot and add about 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of juice. (Do the same if you’re using the whole fruit, without straining it.) Add the lemon juice and rosewater and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, or until the jelly falls off the spoon in a sheet (rather than drips), or if you drop some on a small, cold saucer it wrinkles when you push it with your finger. (If you have a candy or jelly thermometer, it should be about 220 F.) Divide into clean jars and refrigerate for up to a couple months, or freeze for longer storage.
A Bees Knees cocktail is made with gin and fresh lemon juice and sweetened with honey, which is usually turned into a simple syrup for easier blending. (To make this: Whisk or shake together two parts honey and one part hot water, and let cool before using. The syrup will keep in the fridge for months.) If you don’t have lavender honey, add a pinch of dry lavender to the syrup as you whisk it, and strain once cool, or use elderflower syrup or St-Germain to taste in place of the honey. If you like bubbles at brunch, top up your cocktail with fizzy water or sparkling wine.
- 3/4-1 ounce lavender honey syrup, elderflower syrup or St-Germain
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 ounces gin
- Crushed ice
Combine the syrup, lemon juice and gin in a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass, tumbler or stemless wine glass over ice. If you like, top up with a splash of sparkling water or wine.
How to pair your centrepiece with your menu
Flowers are the grace notes that set off your decor and make a room smell heavenly. Some discerning foodies, however, see beyond their obvious beauty and carefully curate blooms to complement a meal, in much the way wine is paired with food to accentuate flavours or highlight a region from which both came.
“Essentially the pairing of florals with a particular table scape is the synergy of two sensory experiences that can do wonders to heighten the overall experience of sharing a meal,” says Julia Shelton, founder of Toronto floral delivery service 2 Peonies. “Both florals and food heavily engage our visual and olfactory tracts so they are a seamless creative matchup. And, of course, the botanical influences can also be incorporated into the actual dish.”
Sweet peas, for instance, originated in Italy, so Shelton suggests placing these delicate flowers in the middle of a table as a simple contrast to robust Italian cuisine. Marigolds, which Shelton notes are easy to grow here in Canada, originated in South America. Their festive petals in shades of orange, yellow and red go well with a ceviche busting with fresh citrus. Carnations, the national flower of Spain, are a fun way to enliven a paella party menu.
“The combinations are endless,” Shelton says. Orchids and jasmine, native to various regions in Asia, are the perfect pairing with the rich sweet and spicy aromas of a Thai dish. Big fluffy petals of peonies – a symbol of good fortune, bravery and honour in Japan – are a nice foil to the intricacy of plating minimalist Asian cuisine.
“Flowers make an environment feel friendlier,” Shelton says. “They lighten the mood. They add an air of elegance and, like good food, they just make people happy.”
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