A: There is a lot of emotion attached to a name. If I call this something like pumpkin flower fritters or crispy zucchini blossoms, it wouldn’t have the same effect on me emotionally. I see a lot of merit in preserving the name of the dishes. This is very similar to the name of places and roads that we knew at our formative years. There is a road in Kolkata which we refer to as Shakespeare Sarani but my father would always call it Theatre Road. Now I see the reason why. For me Bengaluru is completely an alien name, while Bangalore means so much to me emotionally. I would probably call the city Bangalore for as long as I can.
Similarly, I will stick to kumro phool bhaja. After all you wound not find the French calling their dish something other than boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin, would you?
The second most popular comfort food for Bengalis are the fries. This includes not just edible flowers, but thinly sliced vegetables or even small whole fish dipped in a batter and deep fried. The undisputed topper in comfort foods is definitely the sweets, that goes without saying!
Every Spring we make it a point to plant some seeds that will give us some edible flowers throughout the summer months. Courgettes and squash have become regular occupiers of our vegetable patch. The squash plants provide an excellent ground cover. Although we don’t grow pumpkins (kumro), we still call the courgette and squash flowers kumro phool as a generic name for these very similar yellow flowers. The delight of seeing the first flowers every year is something not to be missed!
Now I am not sure why we used to discard the green stack of the flowers as these are perfectly edible. In fact they are very sweet in taste when fried with the batter. So we don’t discard those anymore. Especially since we grow our own, we want to make use of as much as we can. The only part we discard is the stamen.
We usually fry the male flowers after their pollen has been used for pollinating the female ones and leave the females to develop into fruits. However, if you have too many of the female flowers and you don’t want all of them to develop into fruits, you can use the whole flowers with the tiny fruits underneath. This is a delicacy in France and the farmers’ markets are flooded with courgette flowers with fruits underneath them. I think I have seen these in Italy and Spain too, but not so much here in the UK.
We make a simple light batter which makes the flowers crispy but does not taste overpowering. We love the taste of the delicate flowers and don’t want to taste just the fried batter.
The batter mix here is for 6 flowers.
2 tbsp gram flour (available as besan from Indian stores)
2 tbsp rice flour
A pinch of salt
1 tsp Nigella seeds
Hint of turmeric
1/4 cup water
6 courgette (or squash or pumpkin or marrow) flowers
Mix everything except the flowers in a tall container, e.g. a glass. Make sure there are no lumps. The mixture should be a runny liquid, slightly yellow in colour with the Nigella seeds uniformly distributed. Leave the prepared batter mix for about and hour and then transfer to a shallow flat plate or flat bottom bowl.
Meanwhile heat some sunflower (or vegetable) oil in a frying pan. Dip one flower at a time in the batter mix so that it is uniformly covered. Fry the flowers in oil when the pan is hot enough such that the batter sizzles as soon as it touches the oil.
Rest the fried flowers on a kitchen towel for a couple of minutes so that the excess oil is absorbed in the paper. Enjoy warm.