Asian people, just like many other people on this planet, harvest lots of squash (cucumbers, melons, gourds, pumpkins, and summer squash) in the summer time. Aside from picking the fruits themselves, there are the plants' flowers too. Hmong farmers tell me that the leaf tips, with their shorter hairs, are delicious.
We often hear of Italian preparations of squash blossoms and in fact, I enjoyed wonderful deep fried blossoms in Florence, Italy many years ago. When I ordered them, upon seeing others do it, the waiter advised against it, saying that they were just flowers, as if they were peasant food. Peasants, home gardeners, farmers, and astute shoppers are super lucky whenever they get to feast on the delicately flavored crisp flowers.
In Vietnamese cookbooks written in Vietnam, squash blossoms are commonly stuffed with a seasoned mixture of hand chopped pork, shrimp, scallion, fish sauce. Then they're fried in rendered lard to create hoa bí nhồi tôm thịt rán. Large blossoms are typically used for such an application.
Last Friday, I shopped at the Old Oakland farmer's market and scored big time on squash blossoms. At one organic stall, 24 gorgeous blossoms went for $2. They were perfect -- fresh and unwilted -- not damp and soggy looking.
Once home I discovered that the ones I bought were only about 3 inches long -- too small for stuffing. I just battered and deep fried them. My husband was grateful when he dove into them with a dipping of chile-garlic sauce. I drank a beer on the rocks and he sipped rose. A great way to conclude the week.
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup rice flour, any Asian brand
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
¾ plus 1 1/2 tablespoons ice water
24 squash blossoms, organically-grown ones preferred
Corn or canola oil for deep-frying
Accompaniments: chile garlic sauce, fish sauce diluted with water and flavored with minced garlic, or lemon wedges.
1. In a small shallow bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, rice flour, cornstarch, and salt. Make a well in the center, pour the water into the well, and then whisk the water, starting with the ¾ cup, into the flour mixture. Whisk in additional water, up to 1 1/2 tablespoons, to create a silky batter that drips off your whisk in thin ribbons. You want a medium-light texture. Set aside.
2. Brush off any dirt from each squash blossom and gently pry apart the petals to reveal the inside. Male flowers (most likely the ones you have) have a little yellow stamen at the bottom, which should be removed with your finger. Just knock it over, and gently pull it out. Ripping the petal a bit is fine. (My blossoms had been trimmed of their characteristic long stems. You may leave the stem or cut them with scissors. Know that during frying, long stems darken and burn easily unless you manage to coat them with batter.) Set aside.
3. Pour oil to a depth of 1 inch into a wok or 5-quart Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat to 350ºF on a deep-frying thermometer. (If you don’t have a thermometer, stand a dry bamboo chopstick in the oil; if small bubbles immediately gather on the surface around the chopstick, the oil is ready.)
4. Fry the flowers in 4 or 5 batches, to avoid crowding the pan and lowering the oil temperature. Dip each flower into the batter, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, and then gently drop it into the hot oil. Fry, turning once and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain an even temperature, for about 1 minute on each side, or until golden and crispy. Use chopsticks or a skimmer to move the flowers around as they fry and to split up any that stick together. When the slices are ready, use the chopsticks or skimmer to transfer them to a cooling rack or a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Serve immediately with one or all of the accompaniments.
Leftover batter may be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Just re-whisk to a smooth texture and bring to room temperature before using.
When stuffing the blossoms, don't over stuff. Leave a good half of the blossom unfilled. A chopstick helps to get the filling in there. Once filled, gently twist the petals closed to seal. Stuffing include the Viet one mentioned above, or cheeses like mozzarella and chevre.
Home Gardeners: If you grow squash, you can harvest either male or female blossoms, though if you want fruit to set, eat mostly the male flowers -- which grow from long stems. Leave some male flowers so they may pollinate the females. Freshly picked blossoms are great.
Stir-fried Squash Blossoms: One Hmong farmer had bags of them for a dollar. They weren't in great shape but I bought them anyway and decided to gently saute them with garlic and salt for a delicate treatment -- a dish that my husband and I enjoyed on a recent visit to Saigon. Just heat up the skillet or wok over medium heat, add a touch of oil, some minced garlic, and the blossoms. Sprinkle some salt and gently cook, stirring, until wilted and done. The blossoms collapse to about 1/4 of their original volume. Serve as a vegetable side dish.