6 Edible Flowers To Elevate Your Garnish Game

As fine dining techniques begin to disperse into more mainstream restaurants, and even more so into home cooking, things like edible flowers are helping chefs and home cooks elevate their garnish game. Not only can they offer a splash of color, but most bring an immense amount a flavor in one little bite! Here is a list of some of the more common edible flowers that are fairly accessible, and in some cases, are growing wild in your own backyard:

Nasturtium:

Image

This beauty is found in cultivated gardens, as well as can be foraged in the wild. Both the greens and the blossom are edible. The lily pad shaped leaves are pretty spicy and peppery, and can be a bit of an acquired taste. The blossoms are much more mild in flavor and spice. In fact, they bring a touch of sweetness to help round out the flavor profile of the plant. The blossoms make a great addition to a salad and should be served raw.

Marigold:

Image

The varietal of marigold shown here is Mexican Marigold, but there are many different types of marigolds, with many different looking blossoms. The greens are edible as well are the blossoms, but be sure to find the young, tender greens which will be easier on the palate. The flavor is reminiscent to a sweet anise. I would even described it as a tangerine-bubble gum flavor. Marigolds are also a great addition to a garden, as they will fend off certain unwanted insects. Some of my favorite types of marigold are:

Mexican Marigold

French Marigold

Signet Marigold

Mustard:

MustardI

If you time it right, mustard blossoms can be foraged in the wild. Southern California hillsides are blanketed with them from spring to early summer. If you don’t have access to them in the wild, or they are out of season, these can be cultivated in the garden by letting mustard greens bolt (go to flower). Mustard blossom flavors can range from a mild tingle to a serious bite on the palate. One of the chefs that I work with was making his own mustard purely out of the blossoms…brilliant!

Radish:

SONY DSC

These little beauties have to be one of my favorites! So delicate, and so delicious! Radish blossoms are another edible flower that can be found either in the wild, or in the garden. I’ve seen radish blossoms in an array of colors; white, pink, yellow, purple and there is no mistaking what kind of plant this blossom is coming from, so much radish flavor and spice packed into a beautiful little blossom.

Chive:

Chive Blossom

Once you’ve tried a chive blossom, you realize what an impact an edible flower can have on a dish. The first time I had one, they were sprinkled on top of a raw oyster…WOW! It was a revelation and made me understand that a plant can have many usable parts, not just the traditional ones we know them for. Boasting a bit of spice, a chive blossom is a great substitute or addition to any recipe requiring that distinct allium flavor.

Borage:

Borage

Think cucumber! Thats right, borage blossoms taste exactly like cucumbers. These hearty plants are very easy to grow, and are a favorite to bees. The blossoms are prolific on the

plants, and will bloom from early spring to late fall. However, use caution when harvesting as the plant has some prickly leaves!

**It is important to note that whenever foraging in the wild, one should obtain permission to enter on to private property. It is also imperative to identify the plants you are harvesting from as safe for consumption.**

 

Coastal Foraging In Southern California…(a.k.a. Going Coastal)

My job got a whole lot more awesome…if that’s even possible!

I set aside one day per work week completely devoted to foraging for Alma Restaurant. This usually involves going out into the wilderness somewhere to find edible items to bring back to Chef Taymor. This trip I went coastal 😉

carp coastsb coast

I had to head a bit north of LA; unfortunately much of the direct LA coast line is too polluted to forage. But venture a bit north of LA and the coastline is  very much alive and full of beautiful edible products. Like the sea grass growing here:

seaweed rocksea grass

I was amazed how many varieties of seaweed I encountered. Each having their own unique texture and flavors.

sea lettuce seaweed salad

Some were more briny than others, some were more tender and delicate. The  minerality of the seaweeds also varied depending on whether or not they were growing in sand or on rocks.

seaweed salad 2

Just as vegetables in the garden differ in size, flavor, and texture,  so too did the sea vegetables I harvested.

seaweed loot

I feel as if I have just discovered a whole new world in coastal foraging and I feel so blessed to live in such an abundant and fertile region of the US!

birds car

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

~Marcel Proust

Foraging in Santa Barbara, CA

5am wake up calls are made less sucky if it means you get to forage in Santa Barbara all day. Having lived in Santa Barbara for almost 10 years, I have a pretty good lay of the land.

My first foraged item of the day were these beautiful apple succulent tips. These tiny little guys are just as their namesake; crisp, tart, and refreshing!

applesucc  applesucc2

Next up were these wild radish blossoms. Not only pretty, they add a nice spice as a garnish!

radishflower2

There is a sloping hillside on the ranch that I foraged on, it is shaded and cool. Everything that grows in this area is lush and green. I was so excited to find these little fiddle head ferns along the base of the hillside!

fiddlehead

The climate couldn’t have been better, a mild 70 degrees in February. As the light shone through the canopy of trees, I came across a beautiful field of wild nasturtium.

nasturtiumnasturtium2

And adjacent to that was another field, full of wild New Zealand spinach (also known as Tetragonia tetragonioides). This is a beautiful field green, that is tender and crisp.

nzspinach nzspinach2

Next stop was the top of the hill, overlooking the Pacific. Just a half mile up the road and the climate changed drastically from the shaded hillside. It was much warmer, and there was wild mustard everywhere!

mustard   mustard2

Even my dog Moo was getting in on the foraging action! Except I think he was trying to forage lizards :p

mooforage

We headed back down the hill to the Cherimoya orchards to look for some Santa Barbara snails!

Cerimoya are a beautiful fruit with white, candy-like flesh. They soften as they ripen, just like a banana.

cheri

We also came across these almond blossoms. They smell sweet and almondy, just as you would expect the flower from this tree to be =]

almondblossom

And finally…JACKPOT! We found our Santa Barbara escargot, fed off of organic cherimoya trees. Hopefully these guys will like their new digs in Venice.

snails

My car was packed to the brim with all of my foraged treasures. I’m so excited to share a piece of this beautiful place with diners in LA!…but not excited to get back to the traffic =-/

radishflower traffic

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

~Jawaharlal Nehru

Quail Hunting In The Sisquoc

I have to begin this post with saying as a person who eats 90% of their meals vegetarian, and 85% of those meals vegan, I am sensitive to those who do not agree with hunting. In fact, for many years I would have included myself as one of those people. I mainly choose to eat this way for two reasons. First, I listen to my body. And I simply feel better not eating much meat or dairy. Second, it is my way of boycotting the way the majority of meat and dairy is produced in this country. I know I am just one person, but hopefully I can make some small difference by voting with my dollar.

So how did I come to the point where I wanted to explore what hunting was all about? Well, recently I read the Faviken cookbook, and it helped me to understand that we can have a symbiotic and beautiful relationship with the natural world around us. It was inspiring to learn that age old traditions are still upheld in today’s culinary world, in every detail imaginable. This includes hunting, foraging, and farming for many things on your menu.

faviken

faviken magnusfaviken quail

I was lucky enough to live on a ranch in Santa Barbara. And it was here that I met Tony, the owner of the ranch. I knew he hunted on a regular basis, and asked if I could join him on his next outing. He told me that he and Graham (owner of Los Padres Outfitters who runs horseback tours and excursions) were going to the Sisquoc to go quail hunting for three days and I was welcome to join; I quickly accepted his invitation!

There was a group of six of us that headed on horseback into the San Rafael wilderness. We unloaded the horses and gear at the Nira trailhead, and started off the Manzana trail. Our final destination was about 8 miles into the wilderness, to a small cabin owned by a friend of Tony’s. The region is so remote that only a few inhabitants live on the trail.

IMG_3545san raf wilderness

The cabin we were staying at was located in between Dabney Cabin and the Manzana school house (as shown below)

manzana_trailmap

The trail was long and winding. Full of beautiful scenery, and rugged terrain.

 IMG_3554 IMG_3562 IMG_3563

After about 2 hours of riding, we finally came upon the cabin. The billowing of smoke from the chimney was a welcome sight as it was quite chilly out.

IMG_3595

Luckily the owner of the cabin was a skilled craftsman and had welded an old buoy into a fireplace. This thing was AMAZING, and heated the entire cabin. The outside temp the evening we got in read 18 degrees!

IMG_3580 IMG_3578

   We unpacked the horses and our gear, and settled in for the night. There were no phones, no computers, no hot water, a few hours of light from a gas powered generator, and some good whisky to keep us warm.  Spirits were high as we tucked in for an early morning wake up call for the hunt.

As dawn broke, the horses began to stir and the dogs at our feet started to whine with excitement for the new day. I was in charge of breakfast for the morning , and made some Johnny Cakes with a spiced apple topping. Johnny Cakes are like pancakes but made with cornmeal. The apples were picked fresh from Tony’s ranch the day before we left and the cakes were cooked to crisp perfection in the cast iron skillet.

IMG_3581   IMG_3584IMG_3586IMG_3593

Here’s the simple recipe that was a perfect fit for the rustic setting:

1/2 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup hot milk

1 tablespoon shortening

Combine the ingredients, heat oil in the skillet. Drop batter in hot skillet, and flip after golden brown

For the apple topping:

2 lbs apples, diced

1T cinnamon

3T brown sugar

1t nutmeg

.5t salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Heat in large sauce pot until apples soften. Serve warm.

After breakfast we packed up the horses and headed to the Sisquoc riverbed, just a short ride from our cabin. Along the way we picked up three friends; donkeys that were living in the area. As natural pack animals, they were happy to join our posse for the day.

IMG_3616 IMG_3617

I felt very luck to be joining such skilled huntsmen. Dave, Graham, and Tony had been hunting most of their lives, and were excellent trackers. They were able to teach me a lot about how to read animal tracks, what to look for on the hunt, and gun safety.

IMG_3620 IMG_3624 IMG_3628

One of the most surprising things I learned from the hunt, was how many parallels it shared with being an athlete. To be a successful hunter you have to operate in the moment and rely on all of your senses. It can be physically demanding, and when hunting in a group it is imperative to communicate, and work together towards a common goal…these are also parallels I draw to working in a kitchen.

In the end, the hunt was a success!

IMG_3632

I’m looking forward to the next time I can go out with Graham and Tony. They shared many stories of living off of the land, and being closely connected with the natural world around them. It was refreshing and energizing being able to get off the grid for a few days, and I feel I have a closer understanding of what it is to have an active role in my food system. I have the utmost respect for the quail that we caught, and no part of the beautiful bird went to waste.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
~John Muir

Mushroom Foraging in Mendocino County, CA

In late November of 2012 I had the fortune of attending a guided mushroom foraging expedition with Forage SF: http://foragesf.com/

DISCLAIMER:  If you have never foraged before, especially for something as potentially deadly as mushrooms, it is imperative that you go with a trained guide.

The location was about 3.5 hours north  of San Francisco, in Mendocino County. My good friend Clifton Su, also a cook, joined me. We stopped at Model Bakery in Saint Helena to grab a couple of coissants for the long drive ahead of us. I will say this, albeit totally delicious, coissants do NOT make the best road trip food. By the end of the crusty, buttery treat, my car looked like a coissant storm had rolled in and left a nice dusting of flakes behind.

coissant

After about 3 hours on the highway, we turned off into the hills. The paved road quickly melted into a gravel path, which turned in to a dirt trail winding its way in to the back country of Mendocino.

the drive in the hills

Our small group gathered at an old cabin in the woods to talk about our gameplan.

cabinbox shroom skull

Because Clifton and I were inexperienced mushroom foragers, we relied heavily on the knowledge of Kevin, our guide. His words to live by, “Little brown, put it down!” Meaning most little brown mushrooms with gills underneath are inedible and poisonous.

kevin magic

This was a truly magical experience. Spending hours trompsing around a forest, basket in hand, on the lookout for wild mushrooms!

me

SUCCESS! Porcinis and Chanterells

porcini perfect chantrelle

Oyster and Coral

oyster coral

Witches Butter and more Coral

witches butter more coral

Clifton and I had a day to remember!!

Big Daddy Porciniasian clif  Porcinis

We must have been good hunter-gatherers as cavemen because we came back with some serious bounty

Loot our bounty

As the sun began to sink low into the winter sky, we headed home. Exhausted and hungry, we stopped for dinner in Healdsburg at Scopa and had one of the BEST pizzas ever

the drive home pizza scopa

I can get use to this foraging thing 😉

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

~Albert Einstein