Add a burst of color and flavor to your plate this summer with edible flowers

OPB, June 2013

The promise of summer begins with the first bright bursts of color in the garden.

At Ned Ludd in Northeast Portland, the sign of the season is in the butter.

“In the summertime we always make flower butter,” says chef/owner Jason French. The chef chops sunny marigolds, nasturtiums and cornflowers, and then rolls them into a compound butter. “It’s gorgeous,” he says.

Chefs can easily use edible flowers to grace plates as garnish, but blossoms can add so much more to a dish such as through what French calls “flavor bursts.” For example, he’ll use the horseradish flowers that just arrived to his kitchen from Dancing Roots Farm as a flavor kick in a dish of lemon-cured ivory salmon. “The petals and buds taste really green and fresh, but also have the pop and pungency of horseradish,” says French.

Thinking beyond the elements of flavor and beauty, French uses edible buds and blossoms to provoke emotion. “It’s much more about a color scenario, really trying to get the plates to feel summery — a flowers-in-the-field type emotion we are trying to evoke,” he says.

Using ingredients to move people, or cause them to pause for reflection, is not uncommon in the kitchen at Jory Restaurant at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg. There, executive chef Sunny Jin likes to play with floral hints, using delicate blossoms from more robust and aromatic herbs.

If you add rosemary to a chilled green garlic soup, the addition of a mere small sprig will overtake the entire soup’s profile, the chef explains. “However, if you use only its flowers paired with smoked duck and manchego, you’ve got something that connects,” says Jin.

The chef recently created a dish of rabbit Involtini with spring nettle risotto, pinot vine-smoked marcona almonds, salad of chicories, and thyme blossoms. “Most of us can easily identify the flavor of thyme,” he says, “but the blossoms really make you think for a few seconds and wonder what this familiar taste is.”

Jin plucks edible flowers from a 1.5-acre chef-garden just outside the restaurant. “A few of our favorites in the kitchen are blossoms of thyme, chive, mint and rosemary,” he says. Arugula, mustard, violet, basil, borage and even dandelion are some of the flowers you’ll find in the kitchen any given day. The chef also harvests lilac, lavender, nasturtium and radish flowers.

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