It’s that time of year when… oh, wait, by the time you read this, it’s probably not that time of year any more. Bummer for you. But this week our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box contained 24 zucchini flowers, which, as tempura fans will know, are absolutely divine deep-fried. Last year we did just that – battered them and deep-fried them tempura style. This year, we were up for something a tad more adventurous, and so tried bông bí dồn tôm, or zucchini flowers stuffed with shrimp, if you don’t speak Vietnamese.
It’s not hard to stuff a flower, but it takes a certain light-fingered touch. First off, you pry apart the petals and remove the stamen,which can be small or large, just as with people. You will probably rip a petal or two, but this is nothing to worry about, because the filling will hold the whole delicate apparatus together. Take a teaspoon-full or so of your mixture and gently insert it into the cavity. The petals, lightly squished inwards, adhere to the filling.
Next, briefly dip the flower in egg whites,
then lightly dust with cornflour or tempura flour. Lighter is definitely better- you don’t want a thick batter.
Heat up oil in a small saucepan. Here’s a trick taught to me by Luke Nguyen: take a wooden chopstick and poke the end into the oil. If, after a couple of seconds, tiny bubbles start to froth up around the end of the chopstick, the oil is hot enough. Now fry your blossoms a few at a time so the oil maintains its temperature, 1 1/2 minutes max. Eat right away with a sprinkling of lime juice.
We tried two different fillings: shrimp with fennel, and lamb with feta and rice, Greek style. Both were awesome but here’s the recipe for the shrimp stuffing:
Bông bí dồn tôm stuffing
6 large shrimp, finely chopped
sprig of fennel (not too much, it’s powerful)
salt and pepper to taste
two cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce
Mix up the above ingredients. If you have a mortar and pestle, pound them in that for a bit to combine.
On another note, I recently discovered a thoroughly addictive Egyptian nut-and-spice blend called duqqa. Duqqa is one of those fun products you try on every starch you can think of – pizza, pasta, bread, rice. My favourite way to eat it (so far) is on freshly baked bread with a bowl of olive oil on the side. Dip the bread in the oil, dip it in the duqqa, and enjoy.
handful of hazelnuts (I hear pistachios are also good)
about the same amount of sesame seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Heat the oven to 375 F (180 C) and roast the hazelnuts for about five minutes, or until they become fragrant. While still hot, wrap the nuts in a tea towel and rub vigourously so the skins come loose. Set aside to cool.
Dry-fry the sesame seeds in a frying pan until they are light golden brown. Put them in a bowl to cool down. In the same frying pan, fry the cumin and coriander seeds until they just start to pop. Put them in a spice grinder (I use my old coffee grinder) or food processor and whiz them into fine powder. Add to the sesame seeds.
Grind the cooled hazelnuts in the spice grinder/food processor. Add to the seeds, and season with salt and pepper. It’s important to use coarse sea salt, because that way you get an occasional burst of salt when you eat it, not a salt-saturated flavour. Mix well, and go nuts.