Tag Archives: flowers

Recipe: Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves

24 Jun

Fritti LR
Zucchini flowers taste as good as they look, if not better. Stuffed with fresh mozzarella, a hint of anchovy (or not),  lightly battered and fried until crisp and golden, they are summer on a plate. Fresh sage leaves–encased in the same warm, crispy shell–will turn your thoughts to autumn. But the good news is, you can have them now. Two appetizers straight from the garden.

Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves
4-6 servings

1 c. (250 ml.) water–regular or sparkling
1 c.  flour, spooned lightly into the measuring cup (about 133 gr.)
salt and pepper
12-14 zucchini flowers*
9 0z. (250 gr.) fresh mozzarella
2-3 anchovy fillets (salt-cured, packed in olive oil)–optional
canola or sunflower oil–enough to fill a medium sauce pan to about 2.5 inches (6 cm)
handful of fresh, firm sage leaves

*Use male zucchini flowers. They appear at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which appear at the end of the emerging zucchini.


1. Prepare the batter: Put the water in a medium bowl and sift the flour over it, whisking to incorporate. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. The batter should be thick enough to coat the flowers, but not pasty. See the right consistency for a light batter below. Set aside the batter while prepping the flowers.

Fritti LR-9

2. Lay out all the zucchini flowers, wipe them clean, and discard any that appear bruised or past their prime (they are quite perishable). Trim the stems to about 1 inch (2.5 cm), leaving enough stem to grasp and dip. Pull off the sepals (the spiky green parts at the base of the flower). Gently work your thumb and index finger into the flower and pinch off the pollen-topped stamen. You will probably tear the flower slightly; that’s ok, but try not to tear it too much, or shred it. See the prepped flowers and discarded sepals and stamens below:

Fritti LR-4

3. Mozzarella and Anchovies: Cut the mozzarella into as many 2.5-inch ( 6 cm) long rectangular pieces as you have flowers–or whatever size best fits into the flowers you have. You can omit the anchovies, you can go all in and lay a nice piece of anchovy fillet on top of each piece of mozzarella before placing both in the flower, or you can take a moderate approach. That entails placing the anchovy fillets in a bowl, drizzling them with some extra olive oil, mashing them with a fork, then placing the mozzarella pieces in the anchovy oil so they get a hint of the flavor rather than a wallop. Either way, you want to place the mozzarella pieces (with or without anchovy) into the flowers, covering them up as best as you can and twisting the ends of the flowers closed to create a mini pouch.

4. Bring the oil to high heat in a medium saucepan. Holding the stem end of a sealed zucchini flower, dip it into the batter in a twirling motion to keep it closed (sealing any open parts with your fingers and twisting the bottoms closed again if needed). When the flower is completely covered in batter, carefully lower it into the oil. Repeat for as many flowers as will fit into the saucepan in one layer without crowding; you will need to cook the flowers in batches. When one side is golden, turn the flower over (or push the flowers gently under the surface of the oil as they cook, to ensure both sides become golden).

Fritti LR-5

5. Drain the fried flowers on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and eat as soon as possible!

Fritti LR-6

6. Now for the much-easier sage leaves: Wipe them clean, dip each one into the batter, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and…

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7. … enjoy!

Fritti LR-8

Virginia is for (Flower) Lovers

7 May

Having a college student in Virginia means having a good excuse to visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. A previous visit was bittersweet; a recent one this past weekend was just sweet. I love spring, and flowers, and being outside on a glorious day. Here are a few of the horticultural (and aquatic) sights that significantly increased my happiness quotient last Saturday.

                                                            Moth Orchid

                          Tulip                                                             African Daisy

                       Moth Orchid                                                        Tulip

The turtle’s shell is the pond’s equivalent of a lunch counter, providing fish with a nice algae snack.

Collegiality, Competition, and Lotuses

29 Jun

Early this morning, my mother and I stumbled upon an other-worldly scene: thousands of lotus flowers in bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC. We arrived at 7:30 am to see the lotus flowers while they are open. The lotuses were indeed gorgeous, but the most striking aspect of our visit was seeing all the photographers who had arrived before us to stake their claims. The ones I spoke with were amateurs–but they were serious amateurs, with lenses almost as big as my leg, tripods, reflectors, step ladders, rolling equipment cases, and assistants. Some came from as far as New York. I had no idea Kenilworth’s lotus blooms attracted this much attention. I showed up with my camera, a small case containing three lenses (the largest of which is smaller than my hand), and my mother. No tripod, no reflector, no ladder. I looked glaringly out of place, unencumbered by the accoutrements of the trade, with not even a flak jacket to my name.

For the most part, there was a great spirit of collegiality–sharing of tips, patient waiting for good spots, etc. But everyone was there to get a good shot, and as the sun bore down and the light became trickier, some competitiveness emerged. One photographer and her friend/assistant had spent some time setting up tripod and camera, and were focusing on a particularly lovely lotus flower. Another photographer stopped close by, but not in the first photographer’s line of vision, to see if he could get a differently angled shot of the same flower. He asked if that was okay. Female photographer: “I can’t tell you where you can or can’t stand, but there are lots of other flowers here.”  Male photographer got the hint and moved on. I’d like to think that was the exception, rather than the rule.

I was using a macro lens to capture a dragonfly on a lotus bud when another photographer came by, took a second look to see what I was shooting so close up, and got very excited when he saw the dragonfly. I stepped aside to give him a  turn. The good thing about dragonflies is that once they find a spot they like, they often spend some time there, so I knew I would probably get another chance. Plus, the gentleman I ceded the spot to had a huge lens and I knew he would be able to get a really, really nice close-up shot. If I got any closer with my little macro lens, I’d fall into the pond.

Later, I was admiring some lotuses, but ruing the fact they were in direct sunlight–and hence, beyond my ability to shoot them properly–when the same gentleman stopped by again, and had his friend hold up a huge reflector that allowed both of us to take the shot (third photo below). In the end, I like to think that though we are all photographers of varying abilities, we are kindred spirits nonetheless–out there to capture fleeting moments of beauty. Below are lotus buds and blooms, with close-ups of a lotus receptacle, and of water pooling on a lotus leaf.



Spathe and Spadix

9 Jun

There are two plant parts that are frequently found together whose names I quite like: “spathe” and “spadix.” The two words evoke something mysterious, almost like “cloak” and “dagger.” In fact, there is an element of danger when it comes to plants that have both spathes and spadices, such as Anthuriums, Calla Lilies, and the fabulous Titan Arum (also known as the Corpse Flower because it smells like rotting flesh): they are all poisonous. Their sap contains needle-like calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause significant pain and swelling if an unwitting animal happens to take a bite of the plant. Ingesting large amounts can be fatal because the swelling can make swallowing and breathing difficult–but most animals quickly learn to stay far away. The plants have an excellent defense system.

Toxicity aside, plants with spathes and spadices are striking, as evidenced by this Anthurium andreanum ‘Fantasy Love,’ which is a member of the Arum family (Araceae, aka the aroids). This Anthurium may want to repel herbivores, but it also wants to attract pollinators and one way to do that is via the colorful spathe.

The spathe looks like a petal, but it is actually a bract–a modified leaf. It helps get pollinators closer to the actual flowers, which are tiny and are located in spirals on the spadix. Here is a close-up view of an Anthurium spadix–the stigmas on the almost microscopic white female flowers are emitting a fluid that indicates the flowers are ready to be pollinated. If pollination is successful, the spadix will produce little fruits (or berries) containing seeds.

Sometimes spathes are open and fairly flat, as with the Anthurium above, but they can also encase the spadix and appear funnel like, as with Calla lilies. The photo below is an internal view of my neighbor’s ‘Calypso’ Calla lily–with the  deep-red spathe almost entirely surrounding the spadix.

One last fun fact: some spadices in the Arum family can produce a lot of heat in cold weather, reaching temperatures significantly warmer than the surrounding air temperature. The Titan Arum is one of them. This ability is yet another way the plants attract pollinators.  A warm spadix does two things: it provides pollinators with a bit of energy in chilly weather and it acts as a fragrance diffuser, wafting that delicious putrid odor just a bit further as an added enticement. So if you are a pollinator, you get a colorful, warm, and nice smelling (ok, odoriferous) welcome. If you are a herbivore, you come under chemical attack. Isn’t nature great?

Banana Flowers and Other Edible Parts

22 May

Being a bit less mobile than usual, I thought I’d use the opportunity to choose a photo I’ve previously taken and see if I can learn more about the subject. What you see below is commonly called a banana flower or banana blossom (photo taken at the United States Botanic Garden). I’ve always been struck by this part of the plant, a deep-red appendage that dangles below the bunches of bananas. Though we like to think of the banana plant as a tree, it is technically a perennial herb, albeit a really big one; it dies down to the ground after the plant flowers and produces fruit. The inner part of the stem of the plant (which is actually a false stem consisting of leaf sheaths) is edible, as are parts of the flowers–they are considered vegetables and are popular in Asian and tropical cuisines, where they are used in salads, curries, stir fries, and other dishes.

The banana “flower” seen in the photo above is actually the lowest part of an inflorescence consisting of layers of bracts (the petal- or leaf-like parts) that cover rows of  flowers. The female flowers are higher up and can develop into fruit (bananas). Once that happens, the inflorescence elongates and produces a terminal male bud. Here, the redder (and tougher) outermost bracts of that bud have opened upward, revealing yellow-tipped male flowers underneath and paler closed bracts below.

Different parts of the banana flower (or bud) can be eaten: the innermost bracts, the florets (once the stamens and tough covers have been removed), and the inner core, or heart. The tougher outer bracts are often used as serving plates for dishes made with the other parts of the banana flower. I don’t have easy access to banana flowers, but if you do and want to experiment with them, here are some resources:

To read about the ornamental Golden Lotus Banana/Chinese Dwarf Banana, see this post. To read about the difference between Musa (bananas), Strelitzia, and Heliconia, see this post.

And here are some additional banana-related photos:

1) A banana leaf unfurling at the Eden Project in England. Each leaf emerges from the center of the banana plant in the form of a rolled cylinder. Once the last leaf has emerged, the plant produces the inflorescence, which starts off pointing skyward, but then falls over and dangles as it gets heavier and the female flowers develop into bananas.
2 ) Banana bunches on the plant (with the terminal bud having fallen off). Some bunches can contain 200-300 bananas each; the largest one recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records contained 473 bananas and weighed 287 pounds.
3) Banana transport in Rwanda.


Flowers Above

27 Mar

Recently, when walking to and from work or through my garden or around my neighborhood, I have tended to keep my eyes at ground level, on the alert for early blooms and signs of spring. But this evening, in the magical hour before sunset, I looked up… and was immediately rewarded by the sight of emerging flowers on local trees, a glorious sight indeed–and a reminder that good things also come from above.

Red Maple flowers

Emerging Cornelian Cherry Dogwood flower cluster

Red Maple flower cluster, photographed on black table

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

27 Nov

This photo is of something I was not expecting. During my recent trip to Rwanda, this gorgeous leaf formation caught my eye. I had never seen anything quite like it. It was a striking burst of color on an otherwise fairly bare branch. When I asked someone what it was, I was surprised to discover that it was a poinsettia, and that poinsettias can grow into small trees up to about 10 feet in height. I had no idea, because to my untrained eye this looks nothing like the potted poinsettias that abound at Christmastime (except perhaps for the red leaves). I’ll take the tree!

So an unexpected encounter led to an unexpected discovery — and I couldn’t be more delighted. The red leaves are called brachts; the actual poinsettia flowers are tiny and yellow.

Troopers in the Autumn Garden

23 Nov

I have sadly neglected the garden. I’d like to blame it on work and family obligations, but the real reason is that I find the autumn clean-up far less satisfying than the spring clean-up. In the spring, when I gather up the detritus from winter, I am delighted to see tiny new shoots pushing through the earth underneath. I love seeing new buds unfurling. The atmosphere in the garden is of one of eager anticipation. The prep work then is like priming a canvas before painting in order to set the stage for a masterpiece to emerge. It is a fantasy, I admit–but in June, when viewed at just the right angle in just the right light by someone who is squinting slightly, the garden does look somewhat like an Impressionist work of art.

In the autumn, the garden is a much sorrier sight (well, my garden is). And the clean-up then feels more like chore than delight. But there is no camouflage in the winter, so if anything, making sure the garden looks neat and tidy is even more important. So what did I do today? Did I spend hours pruning, deadheading, weeding, or transplanting? No, I procrastinated–I took photos of the few remaining spots of color and bits of interest, telling myself tomorrow is another day.

Here are a few autumnal troopers: Echinacea ‘Southern Belle,’ a Montauk Daisy featuring a slightly lethargic bee, and Hidcote Lavender. Plus, something to look forward to: buds on Witch Hazel ‘Birgit,’ ready to burst forth very early next year for some welcome late-winter color.


A Master Pollinator in Action

4 Sep

The phrase “busy as a bee” came about for a reason. Bees never seem to stop. And we are all better off because of their tireless search for nectar, which makes them prime pollinators. This weekend, I watched one bee as it attempted to get into each flower on our two, tall Rose of Sharon plants. That’s a lot of flowers to visit. But according to my trusty Botany for Gardeners, a bee’s habit of flying back and forth between flowers of the same species is what leads to successful pollination. That, and a few incentives. First, there’s the nectar, usually found at the base of a flower — meaning the bee has to brush past the flower’s reproductive organs to reach the jackpot. Then, to make it easier for the bee (or any other pollinator) to get to the nectar, many flowers have nectar guides–markings that say “this way to the good stuff.” Those guides can be stripes, patterns, dots, or heightened color, etc.

In the photos below, a bee is lured inside a Rose of Sharon flower by the darker red stripes on each petal and the darker red inner circle that forms when all the petals come together at the base of the flower. The bee is already carrying pollen from the other Rose of Sharon flowers it has visited. It then burrows down to the base of the flower to reach the nectar — and in the process drops off some of the pollen it is carrying and picks up a bit more. Then, it heads up and out — off to pollinate the next flower.

Zucchini Flowers, Leaves, and Bees

3 Jul

Yes, it’s that time of year, a time when you realize you planted way too much zucchini. I have only one zucchini plant in the garden (not having much space for vegetables to begin with) — yet I find myself asking, how can one plant produce that much? And it’s barely gotten started.

Luckily, I love zucchini and am already thinking about what to do with my harvest. However, this post is not about cooking. It is about the plant itself, from flower to leaf. If you grow zucchini, you probably quite enjoy seeing the zucchini flowers/blossoms/blooms. I usually look at them and imagine them stuffed with a nice cheese, dipped in a light batter, and gently fried….heavenly! Some say the male flowers (which grow at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which grow at the end of the emerging zucchini) are the best for eating; I’ll happily sample either one. The flowers can also be eaten raw, sliced into salads or other dishes.

But I digress. My intention was to write about the plant–as a plant, not as a source of food. A couple of days ago, I was checking the status of the zucchini and was startled to see a fully open flower. I almost never see an open flower, which makes sense since they are only open for one day and usually from morning to early afternoon (when I am at work, or not paying sufficient attention). In order for any zucchini to be produced, bees must take advantage of this small window of opportunity and do their part by carrying pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. [Ok, I have to digress again to show a completely unrelated photo of a friend’s beehive since I don’t have a photo of a bee on my zucchini flowers–and yes, honey bees are excellent pollinators of zucchini and many other fruits and vegetables. Go bees!]

Some of my baby zucchini seemed to wither on the stems and drop off before they even got going. I wondered if this was due to all the rain we’ve been having (or even worse, if it could possibly be the fault of our male dog–despite the barricades I erected). Luckily, I discovered it’s because the female flower didn’t get quite enough pollen from the male. Gardeners wishing to help the process along can try to hand pollinate by carefully removing the anther from the male flower and dabbing it onto the stigma of the open female flower (or by using cotton swabs to transfer the pollen). In my case, with plenty of zucchini already harvested and more to come, I may need to start tying all those flowers closed!

Here is a photo of a lovely, open zucchini flower (looks male)…

… and of another part of the plant that rarely gets mentioned: the leaf. I really like the way the leaves look, and I particularly like the downward angle in this photo. But zucchini leaves are a force of nature. They are so big and so prolific that they keep taking over the small space I allocated to the zucchini plant, and I have had to prune them several times. I felt guilty cutting them off at first, but then I learned that judicious pruning lets more light in and can help increase zucchini production. Wait–is that a plus?