These days, when going to the market comes with the risk of getting contaminated with the dreaded coronavirus, I mostly stay at home and let the market come to me. Thank goodness for online sellers who deliver vegetables, seafood and meat right to their customers’ front doors.
But sometimes there are missteps, such as recently, when instead of delivering kalabasa (native squash), our online suki delivered squash flowers. I was actually planning to use the kalabasa to make pinakbet. Alas, the delicate squash flowers simply won’t do for this rustic Ilocano dish. And it was too late to return them to our suki because they had driven off to their next destination.
But as they say, if the world gives you lemons, make lemonade. Thank goodness I’m familiar with squash flowers. In fact, these past few years, squash flowers have become trendy. Chefs put them in soups, toss them in salads, stuff them with cheese, sprinkle them with herbs, put them on top of pizza and sometimes use them as garnish. What’s more, these edible flowers have a nice savory flavor that makes them adaptable to a variety of cooking methods. It’s no wonder they’ve become one of today’s most prized ingredients.
I decided to cook the flowers tempura-style. I had tasted something similar in a restaurant and liked the crispy texture. For the sauce, I made a Japanese-style sauce, because its sweetness would complement well the flowers’ savory flavor.
Fried ‘Kalabasa’ Flowers
100-150 g kalabasa (squash) flowers
1 c all-purpose flour
½ c cornstarch
1 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp baking powder
1¼ c ice-cold water
1 c cooking oil
Wash the squash flowers well. Remove the inner stamen or pistil (these are bitter) and snip off part of the stems if they’re too long. Pat the flowers dry with paper towels.
In a bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, paprika and baking powder. Pour in the ice-cold water. Stir the flour and water together until well-blended.
Bring the cooking oil to medium-high heat in a frying pan or wok. Dip the squash flowers in the prepared flour mixture. Fry in the hot oil, a few batches at a time, until the flour is fully cooked and the flowers are crisp.
Transfer each cooked batch to a plate lined with absorbent paper. Serve with the sauce.
For the mirin sauce:
¾ c mirin (Japanese rice wine)
¼ c sugar
¼ c soy sauce
Heat the mirin in a saucepan until the alcohol evaporates, about one minute. Add the sugar and soy sauce and continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves completely and the liquid becomes thick and syrupy. Serve with the squash flowers.