Owner of Mumbai-based French patisserie Le15, Pooja Dhingra’s Instagram shows her latest creation — the cherry blossom macaron. Inspired by her recent trip to Japan, where she saw sakuras bloom across Tokyo, Dhingra returned home bursting with ideas. “I picked up dried cherry blossom flowers and tea, and infused it in ganache to make the macarons,” says Dhingra, who has earlier experimented with dehydrated rose petals, marigold and dried lavender from France for her hot-selling macarons.
At Yuuka in Mumbai’s Palladium Hotel, the Japanese restaurant helmed by Boston-based chef Ting Yen, fried sakura flowers are used on top of its Tofu carpaccio, a dish that emphasises the delicate nature of Japanese cooking. For the dish, Sakura flowers are coated with panko crumbs before deep-frying them in hot oil. “The oil should be hot, but not too hot. The secret lies in light hands,” says Yen, in an email from Boston.
Though it is a small component of the dish, what makes him go the mile? It has to be the right kind of crunch yet retain the flavours of this delicate flower. “Edible flowers have distinct taste, and no matter how flat the palate of the diner, the fact is that it does truly make a difference,” he says.
Yen uses a mix of flowers such as fragrant marigold, tangy calendula, sweet viola and peppery nasturtium for his signature creations such as Salmon on Fire and Salmon Truffle.
Increasingly, restaurants are paying attention to plating and taste profiles, and chefs are taking special interest in this trend — right from growing flowerbeds to even foraging. Given Delhi’s urban sprawl, chefs have more space to play around with ingredients. When Chef Pankaj Sharma of Dramz says he likes to use local ingredients, he is referring to what he is growing in own backyard. The lawns outside the spacious whiskey bar in Mehrauli are bedded with seasonal flowers and micro-greens, all of which find their way to his plates. A visit to the garden with Sharma will have him proudly point out at seemingly innocuous shrubs and instruct you to pluck a leaf or bud and taste it. Onion flowers? Yes, please.
Around the corner is Sujan S at Olive Bar and Kitchen. Apart from overseeing his restaurant’s celebrated Mediterranean cuisine, Sujan holds The Tasting Lab on Thursdays at the adjoining Greenhouse on The Ridge, a curated multi-course dining experience, which sees him blend science, nature and food in a no-holds-barred way. Your scallops will come with nasturtium and fermented garlic, while a salad will have 30 components, herbaceous and more.
A light touch of essence or an infusion in a dessert, or a syrup or floral liqueur for artisanal cocktails can give an edgy accent to them. For instance, at Goa’s A Riverie, a quirky restaurant in Calangute, essential oil made of finest Bulgarian rose petals is infused in brut champagne cocktail. Priced at $20,000 for a kilo (roughly Rs 13 lakh), it is the most expensive ingredient used at the restaurant.
Not to be left behind, Delhi’s bars are also playing in their gardens. Social, in Hauz Khas Village, has cocktails that use frozen chamomile leaves blended with whiskey and cranberries and served with the flower; as well as Schizophrenic, which is an infusion of vodka, edible lily essence, lavender and the flower itself. At The Hungry Monkey, the heady elderflower cordial is used in a tequila-based cocktail, which tastes like summer. At La Folie in Mumbai, fresh damask roses — a rare variety with mellow fragrance — are used to make an infusion for its damask desserts.
Similarly, violets from Toulouse region of France are used in the popular L’enviolet dessert. As the trend picks up in India, chefs are open to experimenting with Indian origin flowers such as jasmine, marigold and hibiscus. “However, one must pair them correctly with the base. For instance, marigold may work with a carrot cake if it has a nice orange and marigold compote, but will it go well with a chocolate based dessert?” asks Chef Sanjana Patel of La Folie.
Flowers in Indian cuisine
Banana flowers: These heady flowers are primarily used in Bengali and south Indian cooking. Known as vazhaipoo in Tamil, these are used in deep-fried vadas or stir-fried with coconut. Mocha (banana blossom) is turned into a spicy dish in Bengali cuisine.
Drumstick flowers: In Sojne Phul Bhaja, drumstick flowers are stir-fried with brinjal.
Pumpkin flowers: In Bengali food, pumpkin flowers and buds are batter-fried and enjoyed as snacks, while south Indians turn it into a stir-fry, with lots of coconut.
Rose petals: Who hasn’t had a gulkand milkshake or rose water or petals in their dessert?
With inputs from Shantanu David