As a chef and gardener, when I think of spring my first thoughts are of cooking with my favorite spring vegetables but this year I decided to think about cooking with spring flowers. I particularly like herb flower which are all edible and typically taste like more subdued version of the herb leaves. Since the weather has been unseasonably warm many of my herbs are flowering and will soon go to seed. Herbs as well as other common garden flowers can add both beauty and flavor to summer salads. I prefer the taste of flowers that are spicy, vegetable or herbaceous rather than those with a floral taste. I used two books to guide me in flower selection, Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender and Other Edible Flowers by Miche Bacher and Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy. I was able to source flowers that were safe to eat, pesticide free and available in useful quantities from gourmetsweetbotanicals.com.
One of my favorite spring salads is adapted from a recipe I discovered several years ago in a Food and Wine publication with quick and easy recipes. The salad is Edamame and Pea Salad with Sweet Onions and Goat Cheese. I have made this recipe many times and think it is delicious. However, I do not think it qualifies as "quick" as each vegetable must be separately blanched, onions cut in attractive wedges, bacon cooked, mint harvested and chopped and cheese cut in tiny cubes. Nothing difficult but it does take some advanced planning. I think it is well worth the effort and looks beautiful with the addition of purple pea flowers.
Edamame and Pea Salad with Sweet Onions and Goat Cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. thickly sliced or slab bacon cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 sweet onion (3/4lb) cut in 1/2 inch wedges through the root end
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, cooked
1 1/2 cups English Peas (about 2 lbs. in shell) or 6 oz frozen
2 cups sugar snap peas (6oz)
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped mint
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 oz aged goat cheese cut in 1/4 inch squares
1/2 cup of pea flowers (about 25 flowers)
In a large skillet, heat a teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate. Add the onion wedges to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes until the garlic begins to turn golden. Transfer the onions and garlic to a plate.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch both peas separately and cook the edamame placing each in an ice bath to stop the cooking as soon as it is ready. All vegetable should be bright green and crisp, tender.
In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice with the mustard and the remaining olive oil. Add the edamame, English peas and snap peas, bacon, onion wedges, garlic and mint. Season with salt and pepper and toss until combined. Sprinkle in the goat cheese and add purple pea flowers just before serving. Serve at room temperature.
This Persian inspired salad uses mainly herbs - mint, flat leaf parsley, dill, chives, sorrel and pansies, some soft spring greens, radishes and asparagus with a Meyer Lemon vinaigrette. The flowers are pansy petals and violas.
The final salad in this flowery escape used the petals of these beautiful calendulas.
I added calendula petals and chicken to another favorite salad inspired by the Sweet Herb and Rice salad from David Tanis in his book Heart of the Artichoke. I look forward to exploring more "florally enhanced" cooking through the coming warm months.