The Delectable Squash Blossoms
Every year, I anxiously wait for the late summer/early fall squash blossoms to appear in farmers markets around us here in the Northeast. The sights of bright orange flowers with delicate petals are a distinct pleasure to the senses.
Remembering squash blossoms and finding my own way
Squash blossoms have a special resonance for me. They transport me to a period of my childhood in India when my mother used to make squash blossom fritters that used to be immensely satisfying with their right mix of crispiness and sweet tenderness. Perhaps what also made the experience so enjoyable was that the flowers used to be the product of a plant my brother grew and nurtured on a tiny slice of land in the back of our rented house.
As our family moved around, the fritters disappeared from my mother’s menu. Yet the memory of batter-dipped fried squash blossoms stayed with me well into adulthood.
Almost ten years ago, I noticed squash blossoms for the first time in a local farmer’s market. I immediately grabbed a bunch of them in the hope of somehow replicating my mother’s fritters. I kept on repeating the process but what I ended up creating was nowhere near what my mother would have been proud of.
Gradually it dawned on me that I needed to find my own niche and not just try to copy my mother’s cooking. I also realized that food tastes and preferences like music change over time, and that I might have a different take on my mom’s fritters trying them now. “Why not be innovative?” I asked myself, especially when we now have access to countless herbs and spices from all over the globe that our mothers and grandmothers could only dream of. Also, I aimed to create something where the batter would serve as a complement to the delicate and refined taste of the flowers without overpowering them.
Discovering male and female squash blossoms
Before I introduce you to my own version of fried squash blossoms, here is a brief preface.
Squash blossoms are the edible flowers of Cucurbita species and come from any summer or winter squashes. In the U.S. the bright orange squash blossoms sold at farmers’ markets are primarily from zucchini (also known as courgette) plants.
All zucchini plants produce both male and female flowers. Male flowers contain a stamen at its center that helps to produce pollen. The female flowers have their reproductive organ at the base of the flower called pistil. The typical number of male blossoms in a zucchini plant tends to be as much as three times more than female blossoms. Adding the factor that female blossoms are left to produce the squash, male blossoms are the predominant variety sold in in the markets. Both female and male blossoms are similar in taste.
Cooking squash blossoms across cultures
Squash blossoms have a long history of being used in cooking of various cultures, and have long been added to prepare soups, salads and entrees. In Asia, for example, just like my mother did a long time ago, the flowers are fried in batter for a crunchy tempura-like snack. In Italy, they have long been used for stuffing, baking as well as frying. In Mexican cooking, squash blossoms are often used in making quesadillas. Native Americans have used them in making soups.
Below is my recipe for pan-fried Zucchini blossoms. Estimated time from start to finish: 20 minutes or less. Special Note: Given the highly fragile nature of the blossoms, it’s ideal to cook/consume them the same day they are picked.
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 tablespoon harissa spice blend/paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup chilled sparkling water or still water
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 to 10 zucchini blossoms
Step 1: Clean the Blossoms
· Check the zucchini flowers are clean and free of any insects.
· Remove the stamen or the pistils with tweezers.
Step 2: Prepare the batter
· Mix chickpea flour, spices, salt in a bowl.
· Whisk in the sparkling water until a batter forms. If the batter is too thick, add a little more water.
· Set aside for 5–10 minutes.
Step 3: Sauté the blossoms
· Preheat a non-stick frying pan or skillet in medium heat.
· Add oil to evenly coat the pan.
· Dip each flower blossom into the batter, coating it uniformly, and then place in the hot oil in the pan one at a time.
· Fry for about 1–2 minutes on each side until the batter turns golden brown
· Remove and place flowers on a paper-towel covered plate to remove excess oil
Step 4: Eat and Enjoy
Eat the blossoms while hot or warm
· Fried blossoms can be eaten as an appetizer or as part of a main meal. They complement an Indian dish made of dal (lentil soup) and rice really well.
· If you’re looking for a drink that could go well with these blossoms, I would recommend using a glass of chilled Prosecco.
Nutritional facts: Chickpeas are part of the legume family and are an excellent source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, and other minerals. Squash blossoms are very low in calories and high in vitamin A & C.