Saturday, April 21, 2012

Edible Vegetable Flowers

I was never a picky eater.  Neither were my brothers.  Sure, we turned up our noses at lima beans and brussels sprouts, but there was The Rule: we always had to try a little of everything, even if we thought (or knew) that we didn't like it.  Eventually we must have figured out it wasn't worth the fight.  Besides, my dad actually liked lima beans and brussels sprouts, and there was always the dream that he might actually agree to eat our share.  Yeah, right.

As a result, we were known far and wide (at least by our grandparents' friends and cashiers and mailmen and hair stylists) as the children who ate everything on their plates.  They shouldn't have been so impressed.  One grandma served us spammies (yes, Spam sandwiches) and dinosaur cookies and pecans and grilled cheese sandwiches with real Velveeta and other exotic foods.  Our other grandma baked us cookies and took us all out to Russ's and Bill Knapp's and other old people restaurants, where we could order anything we wanted.  It's no wonder we cleaned our plates.  There were no brussels sprouts on those kid's menus.

One of my brothers, though, developed a curious taste for raw kale--you know, the stuff they tuck next to the pickle spear as a garnish.  He would collect the kale from everybody's burger platters and eat them while the grandparents marveled.  I'm pretty sure he kept this up for a couple of years before realizing that he was a human, not a goat, and should be eating Grandma's spammies instead.

Some garnishes are pretty and delicious, though (yes, I am going somewhere with this, and it isn't to the land of Spam).  A couple weeks ago I made an edible bouquet of fruit and vegetable flowers for an event at work, which turned out like this:

It was all edible, down to the green onion leaves.  And now I have a new skill set to put on my resume.  Or at least on my blog.  I wouldn't want you to feel left out.

Flower Pots and Vases

For the base of my arrangement, I hollowed out a large cantaloupe, first cutting out an opening on top (as you would a Halloween pumpkin), then scraping out the seeds, and finally scooping out the flesh with a melon baller.  I trimmed a little piece off the bottom so it wouldn't wobble.  Then I packed the empty rind with large chunks of iceberg lettuce, an inexpensive filler into which you can poke skewer "stems."

If you don't want to spend the time making an edible vase, you can stuff chunks of lettuce into a flower pot or other container.  Or just arrange the flowers in a vase.  Or don't give them stems at all.  It's up to you.

Stems and Leaves

If you do want to arrange your flowers in some kind of container (as opposed to setting them on a plate as garnish), you'll want to start with some leaves and stems.  For each flower, you'll need one green onion and one skewer.  Skewers are $1-2 for a package of 100 at Meijer, Kroger, Target, Walmart, etc.  Look in the kitchen gadget section.  I use the 12-inch ones that are about 3mm in diameter.  The thicker ones are good for supporting pineapple flowers, but they won't fit inside a green onion.

Trim off the root end of the green onion, as well as the tips of any discolored or ragged leaves.  I like to trim all the cut-off leaves on a diagonal.  Insert the pointed end of a skewer into the root end of an onion, and carefully push it all the way up until about an inch or two of skewer sticks out at the bottom.  If the skewer ends up inside a leaf (this happens a lot), poke a hole so that the leaf can hang down naturally and the end of the skewer is visible.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Radish Roses
Begin 8 hours in advance.

Pick evenly rounded radishes without any big dents or soft spots.  Trim off any little hair-like roots.

Cut a thin slice off the stem end so the radish can stand upright.

Using a sharp paring knife, cut a V-shaped wedge in the root end, about 1/4" deep.  Most of the root should come off; if not, it's okay.

Make two identical V-shaped cuts in the shape of an X over the first cut.  This completes the top of the rose.

If you look at the radish from the side, you will see six red points.  Underneath each point you will cut a petal.  Using just the tip of the paring knife, make two shallow facing cuts to create one petal (see pictures below).  The knife should not point into the center of the radish--this would make too deep a cut.

Use the tip of the knife to ease the petal open slightly.  Repeat all the way around for a total of six petals.

Float the completed radishes in a bowl of ice water in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours--this allows the petals to open.

Pepper Lilies and Tulips
Begin 8 hours in advance.

I use mini sweet peppers (available at Aldi and any grocery store) for these flowers, but bell peppers can be cut in a similar manner.  Select peppers that are straight and fairly uniform in shape; the ones on the left will work, but the others will not (extra peppers can be frozen for cooking).

Insert your paring knife straight down into the pepper, all the way through, about 3/4" from the stem.  Make a cut from there to the opposite end.

Make two similar cuts to divide each half in thirds, this time cutting through only one wall of the pepper.  You should end up with six equally sized segments attached at the bottom.

Now for the tricky part:  Carefully trim each of the six "petals" to remove any ribs or excess flesh; you can also trim the sections into points if needed.

Leave the seeds intact; you may need to remove the surrounding ribs, however.

Float the peppers in a bowl of ice water in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours; the petals will spread open, creating a lily shape.

To make a tulip, cut off the end of a pepper; the remaining section (stem end) should be about as long as it is wide.

Make two cuts in the shape of a cross about halfway down the pepper.

Trim each of the four segments into a rounded petal.  Leave the seeds intact, but trim away any ribs.

Float in ice water in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

Finishing Touches

One your eight hours are up, the radishes and peppers should have opened up into beautiful flowers.  Drain them on paper towels and cut off any stems with kitchen shears.  Any of the flowers can be used as garnishes, or you can pile them up in the center of a veggie tray (the pepper flowers are particularly tasty with hummus or white bean dip).

Or you can attach the flowers to their green onion stems.  Simply stick the flower onto the pointed end of the skewer--gently rotate the flower back and forth until it's secure.

Finally, arrange the stems in a vase, or stick the exposed skewer into your lettuce-stuffed container.  Voila!

1 comment:

Big Sky Bird Rescue said...

Absolutely gorgeous!!!! Thank you, Audrey, for your inspiration!