Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Rainbows for Dinner

Nasturtiums and garlic chives add flavor and beauty to any ordinary meal.
The best thing about July through September is the wide variety off foods available fresh from the garden.

The Solonacea family -- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillas, and probably others I'm not thinking about -- really come into their own by late July. Cucumbers flow off the vines in a veritable torrent. It's pickle season! If I've manage to hold back the tide of squash bugs, summer squash is on the menu. Green beans, long beans, red raspberries, the second wave of blackberries, pears, early apples, peaches, melons... along with summer arrives a rainbow of luscious foods.

Rainbows -- pots of gold and leprechauns, unicorns, fairy tales, the end of the storm and hope for calm weather, and your diet. When you go looking for information on a healthful diet, a common theme is "eat a rainbow." Choose foods or a wide variety of color -- yellows, oranges, reds, greens, blue/black -- every day to obtain a wide variety of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. That means eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day, not just the same thing.

Pea and bean blossoms add a pea-like flavor to meals. Or when the arugula
or kale flowers, toss them into the salad, too.
We do eat "the same thing" for lunch pretty much every day. The meal consists of a colorful array of fresh, in-season vegetables. And flowers. Many flowers are not just edible (meaning, non-toxic), but add a bit of flavor along with the color. While adding a few colorful flowers to our salads might not add lots of phytonutrients (which are tied to the substances that create the colors in plants), but our thought is that every little bit counts.

And what else can make an ordinary salad extraordinary and exotic than a few flowers tossed among the veggies or scattered across the top.

At this time of year nasturtiums rule the garden. I planted them among the vegetables to make use of otherwise bare space and so I can have a plentiful variety of colors, from creamy white to deep red, with lots of yellow and orange in between. Nasturtiums are fairly easy to grow, especially in the richer soil of a vegetable garden, and beautiful. The leaves are edible, as well as the flowers and immature seed pods. They provide a spicy pop to salads, and have a deep enough flower to stuff with small amounts of guacamole, cream cheese, etc.
Tulips are on the edible list. Remove the pistil and
stamens found in the center.

During an herb study meeting I learned that you can eat many more garden flowers than I knew. Learning that you can eat gladiolus really excited me. They add such an exotic flair when laid across the top of a salad or used as an edible garnish for any dish. They "taste like lettuce" according to one publication, meaning they have a very mild flavor but crispy texture. Chives and garlic chives also make lovely additions to meals, adding oniony and garlicky flavors, when tossed into a salad or strewn across the top of another dish. Dandelion blossoms,  sunflower petals, immature sunflower buds (cooked like artichokes), rose petals, daylilies, redbud flowers, pansies and other violas including wild violets, and the flowers of virtually every culinary herb (sage, thyme, etc.) can be used, as well as many others.

The Colorado State University Extension Web site has a nice list of edible flowers. The Thompson and Morgan online catalog also has a good list with some descriptions of flavor how to use. Don't eat any flower that you can't find on an "edible" list. At best they taste nasty, at worst they could be toxic. Check out the edible lists and look at the flower garden with a new eye. Then make each meal a veritable rainbow -- without the unicorns, but with the pot of gold in beauty, flavor and nutrition.

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