How to Make the Most of Edible Flowers in Your Cooking
Pretty, colourful flowers can do so much to brighten up a space, and at The Market Experience we’re lucky to be surrounded by so many flowers. Our base is inside Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat, one of the world’s largest wholesale flower markets.
But we’re also real foodies at The Market Experience, and we know there’s so much more you can do with flowers than stick them in a vase. If you’re keen to use flowers to add something fresh to your food and drink as well as simply adding a sparkle to your home, then read on for some of our best tips on how to incorporate edible flowers in your cooking.
Hot tea and Iced Drinks
Plenty of flowers widely available in Thailand make for delicious herbal tea infusions, and are perfect whether enjoyed hot or served over ice to provide some relief from Bangkok’s ever-sky-high temperatures.
Particular favourites at markets, cafés, street stalls and restaurants around Bangkok – especially noodle soup stalls and shops, where you’ll find these kind of drinks in particular abundance – include butterfly pea flower, chrysanthemum, and roselle. You might also come across teas made from bael fruit, lemongrass, and pandan leaves. The fresh or dried flowers are simply steeped in hot water – often with a generous helping of sugar – and then either served as-is or poured into a glass piled high with crushed ice that helps to both cool down and dilute the drink.
Butterfly pea flower tea is even more of a spectacle to serve – once brewed it’s a beautiful dark blue colour but, with the addition of a little lime juice, it turns a majestic purple thanks to the acidity. At The Market Experience, we like to make an iced infusion that combines roselle flowers and Chinese dates – a mixture that’s truly addictive.
Cocktails and Boozy Infusions
Why stop at iced tea when you can take the floral action a step further with the ingenious addition of a shot or two of something boozy? We are big fans of including edible flowers in our cocktail creations, and the show-stopping colour-changing action of butterfly pea flowers makes for a great place to start.
You can simply combine a little of the cooled butterfly pea flower tea infusion into a martini glass with a serving of vodka or gin, along with your choice of soda or other mixer to lengthen the drink. When you come to serve the cocktail, squeeze over a little fresh lime juice and wow your guests as the drink changes from blue to purple before their very eyes.
Alternatively, plan ahead and infuse a small bottle of gin or vodka with dried butterfly pea flowers for anything from a few days to a couple of weeks in advance – the flowers themselves don’t carry much of a flavour, so you’re simply looking to impart the glamorous colour into the alcohol. Then mix the gin or vodka into a cocktail in a martini glass as above, or shake it into your favourite cocktail – just don’t forget to add the lime other acidic citrus juice at the very end in order to make the most of the butterfly pea flowers’ colour-changing act.
Finally, while it doesn’t use flowers as such (but you can still get everything you need from Pak Khlong Talat flower market!), we’re particularly fond of infusing our own tom-yum-inspired vodka at home. To get the flavours of Thailand’s infamous hot-and-sour soup in your next cocktail, simply add vodka to an airtight jar and throw in a few pieces of chopped galangal, some bruised lemongrass stalks, and one or two roughly torn kaffir lime leaves. Leave the jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks, shaking at least once a day, and then add a halved bird’s eye chilli on the last day. Leave the chilli to infuse for a few hours, then strain off the herbs and spices and transfer the vodka into a clean bottle for use in your newly spiced-up cocktails.
All of these cocktail ideas can be made as mocktail alternatives by replacing the alcohol with soda, fruit juice, or your choice of other mixer.
You might be familiar with prawn or squid tempura, or perhaps chicken – but how about adding a twist to your cooking by making tempura with edible flowers instead?
Plenty of flowers are perfect for deep-frying in that characteristically light and crispy batter that tempura is known for – we particularly love using the butterfly pea flowers that we also make tea with, as well as bougainvillaea flowers, bok choy flowers, sweet potato flowers, and roughly chopped green beans for good measure.
Simply prepare the tempura batter, lightly coat the flowers in it, and then briefly fry in hot oil until crisp. Serve the flowers with a chilli-based dipping sauce – at our cooking school in Bangkok’s flower market, we teach our customers to make a stunning coconut-chilli dipping sauce that will have you hooked.
Pad Thai and other Thai dishes with a Twist
Shaking up your cooking game by adding edible flowers to the mix doesn’t stop with tempura – there are plenty of other dishes you can make with flowers and other fresh market produce.
At The Market Experience inside Pak Khlong Talat flower market in Bangkok, we love to switch up our pad thai by making it with edible flowers instead of or as well as noodles – as well as making fabulous vegetarian red curries with water lily stems and green bananas, or throwing hummingbird flowers and lotus stems into our sour curries.
There’s no end to the variations you can make to conventional recipes by substituting meat and other proteins for beautiful and delicious edible flowers, or simply including the flowers as well, for extra flavour and colour!
You might not eat your straw (although with this twist you could!) but, with the long-overdue global movement to cut our plastic usage, the popularity of plastic-free straw alternatives is on the rise, with the likes of bamboo, glass, and stainless steel taking the lead. We’re going one further – we’ve been experimenting with fresh lotus stems and morning glory stems as straws!
While you’ll only get one use out of each straw – and you’ll need to run a chopstick or similar implement through the stems before use to remove any excess membrane that might prevent your drink from passing smoothly through – these are totally compostable (and edible!), they look great, and they are simply something new and exciting to have a go with. We think they are a winner, and we encourage you give them a try too!
What are your favourite ways to cook with edible flowers? Let us know in the comments!