Sira-sira store: Azucena eaters

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Friday, May 4, 2012

FUCHSIAS as garnish, and crisp fried nasturtiums, bright colored pansies and wine from carnations, brown citrus blossoms tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite blooms (lyrics by OK, but sing to the tune of My Favorite Things).

Ah, May makes you sing in praise of flowers, especially when they appear in your plate of humba (stewed pork knuckles), which is traditionally simmered in water, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, spices and azucenas. Yes, the very same flowers associated with funerals.

It’s the single petal tuberose (not banana flowers, as some of my friends thought).


The dried azucena buds are added to the deadly delicious humba as a reminder of our mortality. The Aztecs called the flower omixochitl or bone flower because of its appearance. Exactly! In Ayurvedic medicine the flowers are said to have anti-inflammatory properties, appear to improve emotional depth, stimulate the creative right side of the brain, and bring serenity to the mind and heart. Rightly so, after all, humba and bad cholesterol are synonymous.

Before you eat your way through the garden, know a few things about safety (from

Do’s: Eat flowers only when you are sure they are edible (when in doubt, don’t). Wash all flowers thoroughly before you eat them.

Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Separate the flower petals from the rest of the flower just prior to use to keep wilting to a minimum. Eat only the flower petals for most flowers.

If you have allergies, introduce edible flowers gradually, as they may aggravate some allergies.

Don’ts: Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers. In many cases, these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops. Do not eat flowers picked from the side of the road.

Just because flowers are served with food at a restaurant does not mean they are edible. Know your flowers—as some chefs do not.

Edible flowers incorporated in food were on top of the 2008 list of new trends featured in Gourmet Traveller, although Filipinos are ahead of their time.

Our grandparents fed us with deep-fried, battered stuffed squash blossoms (cream cheese with chopped herbs or ground beef with egg and bell peppers), simple tempura squash blossoms, or in soups and mixed vegetable sautés. We also grew on a few kamunggay (moringa) and paleya (ampalaya or bitter gourd) flowers mixed in green leafy stir-fries.

Who can forget puso sa saging or unopened banana flower? It literally means “banana heart,” since the unopened bud is heart-shaped and maroon in color. The real banana heart is the core or pith of the banana trunk.

The maroon bracts or leaves enclose the pale, stalk-like flowers or florets, layer by layer. After removing the dark bracts and reaching the pale inner portion, the unopened bud can be boiled first, then chopped and squeezed to remove the water. Some cooking methods don’t require boiling as a first step though.

Finely chopped, it makes good mock beef burger. You can slice it thickly for a vegetable dish that includes ubod (coconut pith or heart of palm); roughly chop to make salad; and slice thinly to use in bloodless dinugoan (ingredients include pureed black beans and fried tofu). You can make tempura with the florets (remove the stamens first).

Some of the edible blooms listed in (aside from those at the start of this column) are garlic and fennel flowers, sorrel, borage, chamomile, chrysanthemums, jasmine and lavender.

Nutritionally flowers can’t compare with fruits and vegetables, but they do add eye appeal. Fruit jellies with rose petals (Rosa rugosa or R. gallica officinalis) look prettier than their plain sisters.

Talk about roses some people believe that different colors offer different flavors. A rose may be a rose, but the truth is that the most fragrant one is the most delicious, too.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 05, 2012.


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