Wednesday, 12 June 2024

The Veggie Girl: The delicate, fragrant rose

Veggie Girl Esther Oertel shares ideas for cooking with roses.




When I was a girl, my mother, a chef, garnished plates in our family restaurant with nasturtiums from our garden. Seeing the bright orange blossoms leave the kitchen alongside the likes of Chicken Cordon Bleu or a nicely cooked steak piqued my curiosity about the culinary uses of flowers.

That fascination continues today.

The rose may be the most popular edible flower on our planet (other than lavender, which I’ll cover in a later column).

It imparts a subtle, aromatic flavor to a diversity of dishes, both sweet and savory, and is popular throughout the world, especially in the cuisines of Middle Eastern countries, parts of Asia and Western Europe.

My search for recipes with rose yielded an odd combination, including fresh tuna salad, pesto, rosewater rice, rose-basted chicken and a medieval bread with raisins. Rose is used to flavor sorbet, ice cream, jams and cookies.

It’s a frequent component in the cuisine of Iran, it flavors milk in India, Malaysia, Singapore and much of the Arab world, and gives the candy named “Turkish Delight” its distinctive flavor.

The ancient Romans cooked with it and it was a medieval Muslim chemist who first distilled roses to make rosewater.

All rose varieties are edible and there are differences in flavor depending on the type. Not surprisingly, those with darker colors have more pronounced flavors.

Rose petals may be harvested from your own garden, provided no pesticides have been used on them. (It should be noted that florist roses or those from roadside stands should not be considered edible because of pesticide use.)

Harvest your roses in the early morning when it’s cool and they’re freshly opened. Pick the petals gently, as they bruise easily.

Once you’ve got them in the house, remove the white area at the bottom of each petal as it’s got a bitter taste. Then rinse the petals well in a colander or bowl and spread them on a clean towel to air dry.

It’s best to use the petals immediately after you’ve picked them, but extras may be stored in the fridge in a zipper sealed bag.

The petals may be used in a variety of recipes, or the flavor may be extracted from them by making rose water or rose syrup, also ingredients in cooking.

If you’re not inclined to cook with them, use the petals to garnish vanilla ice cream or mix in a salad with baby greens. Whole petals can be floated in a punchbowl, and chopped petals can be frozen in ice cubes for an interesting drink accompaniment.

To make rosewater, fill a pot with clean rose petals. Pour boiling water over and cover with a lid. Allow it to stand and cool. Place the cooled mixture in the fridge overnight and then strain it. You’ll have a beautifully colored liquid for recipes or for aromatic purposes.

The scent of roses is often used to lift one’s spirits and I especially enjoy spritzing rosewater on myself before bed.

Rose syrup may be made by covering four cups of rose petals with four to six cups of water. For best flavor extraction, the petals should float freely in the pan. Simmer the petals until all the color has gone into the liquid, about 30 minutes. Strain and return to the pan.

Simmer gently until liquid has reduced to about 1½ cups, which will take an hour or longer. (Your house will smell wonderful!) Then add two cups sugar about a teaspoon of lemon juice and boil until just dissolved.

This makes about 12 ounces and should be stored in sterilized jars.

I love to use rose syrup to sweeten tangy, fruity iced tea. It can also be used to flavor lemonade. It’s wonderful in place of sugar in whipped cream, especially when topping strawberries or a bread pudding made with cinnamon.

Shakespeare famously said, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The sweetness and fragrance of the rose lingers long past its time on the bush to enhance many a dish.

Below are some practical and fun culinary uses for this sweet, subtlety flavored edible flower.

Rose petal butter

This pink and delicately flavored butter adds a touch of rose flavor to fresh biscuits, muffins or scones. It makes just under a cup of butter, which lasts for two weeks in the fridge. If frozen, it will last for a few months.

1 cup fresh rose petals

3/4 cup butter, allowed to soften by sitting at room temperature

Mix petals and butter in a food processor or, alternatively, finely chop petals and mix into the butter by hand. Cover and refrigerate. Allow it to sit for 24 hours so the rose flavor incorporates into the butter.

Rose petal tea

This light floral tea serves four.

2 cups fresh rose petals

3 cups water

Heat water and petals to a boil in a small saucepan and simmer for about five minutes. The petals will start to darken. Strain out the petals and serve while hot. Honey may be added for sweetness.

Rose sugar

A nice way to sweeten your rose tea! Try this sugar over berries.

1 cup rose petals

1 cup sugar

Rose petals may be blended with the sugar until fine in a food processor, or whole petals may be mixed by hand into the sugar. Either way, store for at least a week before using for the flavor to develop. If using whole petals, pick them out before using. This sugar may be stored in the freezer.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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