Executive Chef Arzooman Irani shows us how to cook with edible flowers

Simply put, Executive Chef Arzooman Irani loves to cook and believes that magic happens in his kitchen. ‘Wild at heart, deep in soul’, these words aptly describe the food as well as the Chef behind them.
There is definitely an inventive streak to taste, to mix and match new ingredients and create food that people enjoy and take home the very essence of it. He took an early interest in cooking as in his words “my grand-mother was my inspiration…as she cooked with love for her loved ones…”

Born and raised in Pune, Arzooman has a Diploma in Hospitality from Australia, a degree in Professional Cooking from the Baltimore International Culinary College, USA and has a Diploma in Management studies from the Swiss Hotel Association – Les Roches, Switzerland. Whilst gaining theoretical and technical knowledge, Arzooman has also been hands on, hence making him very versatile in his trade.

Since then, his career has taken him to hotels and restaurants from Australia to the United States to back home to his native – India. Though he specializes in Mediterranean Cuisine, as a result of his travelling and absorbing the cuisines of different places, he has picked up a lot of cooking techniques, ingredients from each and every place that he has worked and brought about some element of his own creativity to that cuisine.

During his career as a Chef with the Taj Group of Hotels he has worked at the Taj Fisherman’s Cove, Chennai, The Taj Green Cove Resort, Kovalam – Kerala, The Taj Fort Aguada Beach Resort – Goa, Vivanta bt Taj – Whitefield, Bangalore Vivanta by Taj – Bentota, Sri Lanka, Vivanta By Taj – Gurgaon and The Intercontinental, Marine Drive. With his extensive knowledge of the hospitality industry and global culinary experience of luxury hotels and restaurants, Executive Chef Arzooman is now with The Hilton, Jaipur.

Which flowers have you used for cooking so far?

I have used Nasturtium, pansies, roses, marigold, banana blossom, Zucchini Blossoms, tulips for creating dishes such as Chrysanthemum Sweet Potatoes, Rose Petal Ice Cream, Date and Marigold Muffins, Tuna-stuffed Tulips and Fresh Rose petal and Pinenut Biryani.

How does the addition of flowers enhance the dish?

Edible flowers have been used for years in cooking or as decorations for various dishes.
Beautiful flowers add flavour, a burst of colour, personality and texture to even the most simple, sweet and savoury dishes. Top chefs throughout the world are increasingly using more and more edible flowers to enhance their salads, as well as for decoration on appetizers, starters, cakes and many other dishes. While this may relatively be a new trend in global kitchens, flowers have been known to be featured in dishes across India since ancient times whether it is the famous gulab jamun, or even banana blossom (vazhaipoo). Flowers have been used in food for ages and for good reason.

Do any of your restaurants have a preparation where edible flowers are used?

Yes. Chaandi our Indian Speciality Restaurant at the Hilton Jaipur has a signature Fresh Rose petal and Pinenut Biryani. Aurum our all day dining restaurant features a Mushroom and Courgette Flower Soup. Besides that we use edible flowers for our salads and even our cheese board.

While selecting flowers what factors do you keep in mind?

Always buy edible flowers fresh from a vendor who grows edible flowers, or grow flowers yourself. When buying, make sure they’re coming from a credible source and are grown organically. It’s really important that the flowers you’re consuming are free from sprays and pesticides. Never, ever pick flowers from the road side or random parks, as they might contain residues from pesticides that are harmful for human consumption. Before using the flowers, shake any excess dirt off them and wash properly.

The best way is to dip the flowers in a bowl of iced water, and let them air dry on a paper lined tray. Use the flowers immediately, or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container upto one week. Also, it’s good to know that not all parts of the flower are edible. Remove the stems, inner pistils and stamens. For sturdier flowers, you can remove the petals and just use them. For smaller, delicate flowers, use the entire thing. If you’re not going to be using the flowers fresh, another option is to dry the flowers. Follow the same process for cleaning and preparing the flowers. Arrange on a lined baking sheet or tray, and let the flowers air dry for about a week.
Keep in mind that as the petals dry up, it leads to a loss of volume.
Even if you’re starting out with what seems like a lot of flowers, you’re going to end up with a lot less.

Please give us a few examples of flowers which work best for various different courses.

Nasturtium

One of the most popularly used flowers in cooking, nasturtiums are slightly spicy and peppery in flavour. The flavour notes are similar to that of watercress or arugula, and so it works well in dishes that could do with a hint of pepper spice. It’s often used in salads, buddha bowls, open faced sandwiches, and to garnish cheese and appetizer platters.

Hibiscus

The deep cranberry like colour and citrusy floral notes make hibiscus a popular choice. It’s great as a drink or dessert garnish; dried petals can be used to brew tea (and make iced tea), flavour kombucha, or used to make syrup for sweetening cocktails with.

Lavender
Sweet and perfumed, lavender buds are most commonly used in desserts. These buds make excellent infused teas and beverages; and can be used to make jams, jellies, and syrups as well.

Pansies and Violas

Known for their gorgeous hues, these flowers are used primarily as a garnish to provide bright pops of colour. Use these flowers as a topping for salads, buddha bowls, or on open sandwiches; or on ice-creams, cakes and drinks.

Rose

Another popular choice, roses have been used in food in many cultures across the world. Different varieties of roses have slightly different flavours. The most common uses are to make infused beverages and teas; but it can be used in a host of other ways — syrups, jellies, jams (like the Indian gulkand, rosewater, or simply used as a garnish for drinks and desserts.

Banana flowers

Banana flowers can also be cooked with and used in curries, stir fries, and soups, and quite common in regional Indian cooking. These flowers have a delicate flavor. When using banana blossoms, the tough outer husks are removed and only the tender inner petals are used.

Squash flowers

Zucchini blossoms and pumpkin flowers are both edible and since these flowers are slightly sturdier, you can actually cook with these flowers. Try stuffing these flowers with mozzarella cheese, coating in beer batter and frying.

 

During which stages of cooking can flowers be used?

This entirely depends on the dish and what you are trying to present to the audience.
If you are using flowers for a salad, those flowers should be added last.
If it is for a muffin, you need to extract the flavour, hence the flowers are added right in the beginning and again later to garnish.
For the biryani you add the rose petals just before you give dum to the biryani, when it is ready to serve.

 

Recipes for Date and Marigold Muffins

Ingredients:

180ml milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
225g self-raising flour
150g sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
50g dates, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp marigold petals, chopped

Method:

Combine the milk, oil and eggs in a small mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly to blend. In a separate, large, bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the chopped dates and marigold petals before mixing thoroughly.
Form a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in the egg mixture before stirring until the flour is just moistened. Grease the cups of a 12-well muffin tin then add the batter, filling the cups no more that 3/4th level. Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200°C and bake for 18 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the muffins emerges clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool further. Serve warm.

Jyoti Balani