Monday, June 10, 2013

No Fry, No Guilt. Baked Zucchini Flower Pakoras

zucchini blossoms
   One of the first signs of Spring up here in Sonoma are the blossoms. We've had a cold Spring this year marked by some sudden rain storms, last weekend the hottest weather of the year and last night a thunderstorm, dry lightning and heavy rain. As I write this today, the skies are dark, but last week I managed a taste of Spring even though it was already June. For me I always know Spring is officially here when I start eating flowers. Blossoms. Zucchini blossoms to be exact.
   Growing up, I'll never forget my first zucchini flower. They say you always remember your first. It was the last day of school, the year I finished 4th grade. It also was the day I first tasted Nestles Strawberry Quik.

Usually Summers in San Francisco are not exactly warm, but this happened to be a very warm June day and I went tearing out of the school yard in my Sailor Moon uniform and over to a friends house wild with the idea of no more school for 3 whole months. My friend was also of Italian  ancestry and unlike my family where Italian was spoken by the parents but it was English only for the kids, the whole family spoke Italian at home. They cooked Italian too (except for the Nestles Quik part). My friend's mom grew her own vegetables in the back yard and while we were running through sprinklers she was out picking flowers. Zucchini flowers.
   I started to get a little nervous when I figured out this was what we were having for lunch, but I was assured I'd love them. I watched the blossoms being cleaned, dipped in an egg batter, and fried. They smelled and looked good. Maybe it was partially the novelty of eating "flowers" and partially the fact that they were washed down with Quik ( I do not recommend this) but I loved them!!!

   Of course the next time I had them years later, I wasn't drinking Quik and I was cooking them for myself. Every time I'd see a big bunch at the Sonoma Farmers Market I couldn't resist picking them up. Of course I'd always fry them, dust them with a bit of sea salt and have at it. Of course there was the accompanying guilt of eating fried stuff. But that started me thinking. I wondered if there was another way. I wanted to see it it was true that anything fried could also be baked. I saw the zucchini flowers at the market last week and I just had to try them. About 2 years ago I experimented with baking one of my favorite Indian snack foods Pakoras I had to try the same experiment with zucchini flowers. So I did.

Baked Zucchini Pakoras

Here's What You Need:

2 bunches of zucchini flowers
1 cup Chickpea flour (aka besan)
1 Tbs black mustard seeds
1 Tbs ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Kashmiri chili or 1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp baking powder
7/8 cups of sparkling water
1 tsp peanut oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
 salt to taste

Here's What To Do:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl mix together the chickpea flour with 1 Tbs black mustard seeds.

Add in 1/2 tsp turmeric.

Add in the cayenne or Kashmiri chili, the baking powder, cumin and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl whip together the ricotta cheese and salt to taste. Set it aside.
Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper, set it aside.
Prepare the zucchini blossoms.

Remove the innards. Not to get too technical, I'm talking about your basic stamens here.

Pull the petals apart gently. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty with a little pollen.
Stuff the side of each flower with the whipped ricotta.

Seal the flower and its' filling by twisting the top closed.

Set the filled blossoms aside and get back to that bowl of chickpea flower and spices.
Add in the sparkling water. This gives the batter some added fizz and lightness.

Add in 1 Tbs of peanut or other vegetable oil.

Mix everything together well.
Check for proper consistency. It should be thick enough to coat your WASHED pinky finger.

Take the blossoms and dip them gently into the batter.

Lay each batter dipped blossom on the parchment paper-covered cookie sheet, and pop them into the oven.

Bake them for about 15 minutes or so until the batter starts to turn golden. Take them out and enjoy with the chutney or raita of your choice.

I served them with a mint cilantro chutney and a cooling yogurt raita.

baked pakoras

   So how did this work, exactly? They were not the light, crispy, zucchini blossoms one gets when one fries, but they were satisfying as a savory unfried snack, and had the added advantage of no guilt. Coming up next plunging into the full array of summer cooking here in Sonoma.

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