The closest ingredient to "summer" may just be the edible flower. Available at farmers' markets and natural food stores, these stunning blooms add whimsy and beauty to your summer entertaining.
Photographer Leela Cyd, author of the book , incorporates them into many of her sweet and savory recipes, and she's here to explain her go-to ways for using eight classic edible flowers.
Before you buy these flowers, be sure to check with the seller that they are in fact edible (at supermarkets, it should be clearly marked on the label as so).
The sweet flavor of chamomile flowers add a cheerful, summery flavor to far more than your morning tea.
Try chamomile whipped cream: Simply place two heaping tablespoons of fresh chamomile flowers in a nearly boiling pot of heavy whipping cream, place a lid on the pot, and turn the heat off. Let stew for five to seven minutes. Chill the pot in the refrigerator until cool then whisk on high and add a sprinkle of sugar.
"Skip vanilla or any other additives so you can really taste the chamomile," says Cyd.
Not all edible flower recipes have to be sweet. For a savory Italian appetizer, stuff squash blossoms with ricotta cheese and fry, seasoning with salt.
A tip from a pro: If you see them at a farmer's market, snatch them fast. "They're highly temporal and only in harvest for one to two weeks per year," says Cyd.
Marigolds are vibrant, all-purpose flowers that offer a splash of colorful sunshine for summer salads.
"They have a high-impact color that's beautiful, a subtle, almost citrusy flavor," says Cyd. "They really add a delightful smile to your salad." Marigolds are used in cooking throughout the world and can also be used as a deviled eggs garnish or baked in a pie.
Rose petals can (and should) be used for far more than romantic getaways or Valentine's Day treats. "Roses make the most beautiful addition to sweets," says Cyd. "Sugar them and keep them on hand to dress desserts."
To do so, brush the petals lightly with egg whites and press them into baker's sugar. Allow to dry on a wire rack overnight and store in a sealed container, where they'll last for up to 10 days.
Alternatively, dry the rose petals and place them in distilled water; strain and keep in a spray bottle in the fridge for refreshing rose water.
Spice up otherwise mellow desserts with a few nasturtium petals, which have a kick of spicy flavor. "If you like heat, they're a great addition to add a little bit of fun and liven up whipped cream or an iced cake," says Cyd. "They're also really delicious with chocolate. I would recommend topping any chocolate dessert with nasturtium petals for a really tasty chili and chocolate combo."
Small flowers like lilacs can serve as a beautiful garnish in ice cubes for summer cocktails. Simply freeze cubes with a pinch of lilac (think about three little flowers) in each. "It's perfect for a gin and tonic," says Cyd. "But remember, less is more. It's a very strong flower, and if it's overused, it can take on a soapy flavor."
Bags of dried hibiscus are sold at most bodegas and make a lovely, vibrant base for a summer margarita. "It's very rich and earthy, so it's a nice pairing with something tart like lemonade or lime," says Cyd.
Bring two cups of water to boil, add a handful of hibiscus flowers, and steep away from the heat for five to seven minutes. "It will be almost shockingly bright red," says Cyd. "Don't be alarmed." Chill the hibiscus-infused water and use as a base for a margarita, blending in tequila, lime lemonade and ice.
"It's so nice to cook with them because they're beautiful and really aromatic with an onion flavor," says Cyd. "If you infuse a red wine vinegar or any white wine vinegar with them, you have a great base for salad dressing. It could also be blended into a pesto and put over grilled fish."
Add the blossoms to a bottle of vinegar and allow to steep for up to five days before straining (think four flowers for every one cup of vinegar).
We can't get enough of these beautiful floral sugar cookies, and we suspect your summer guests will feel the same way. Check out Leela's delicious blooming cookies recipe here.