It’s the height of summer produce here in southern Tennessee which means gardens and markets are full of tomatoes, okra, peppers, melons, beans…and summer squash. Although summer squash (which includes zucchini) is abundant and relatively cheap it isn’t very exciting to cook. There are endless ways to prepare it – pasta, fritters, soup, pickles, the list goes on (and on) – but it is still the last thing left in the produce drawer at the end of the week.
In an effort to use up my summer-squash-produce-drawer-stragglers, I went looking for an easy, relatively healthy zucchini bread recipe. I found this one from Cookie + Kate and loved the her ample use of zucchini and straightforward technique. I have since made three versions but have adapted it in a handful of ways using various oils, flours, sweeteners and nuts (more on that in the recipe notes).
The easiest way to transform this quick bread, however, is with the use of different spices. One spice (or spice blend) can completely change the profile – add garam masala and it’s Indian, cinnamon, star anise and clove and it’s Southeast Asian, or chile powder for a savory Mexican version. But what about the addition of dried rose petals or rose water? While it may not be the first thing to come to mind, it is a flavor worth exploring.
Cooking with Roses
As a Midwestern kid growing up, roses were nothing more than pretty flowers growing in my neighbor’s yard (that I may or may not have picked without asking and given to my mom). While our culture simply enjoys the beauty and scent of roses, Persians have been enjoying their culinary delights for centuries. Fresh petals are used in salads, tea, wine, jams and to flavor sugar while dried petals are most importantly used in spice blends. Rose water, yet another way to enjoy the rose’s fragrance, is not only used in cooking but is also offered to guests to dip their fingers in before and after meals, as an air freshener, in women’s makeup, and to clean men’s beards and mustaches.
If you are in the market for dried rose petals, this is the product I purchased. I have yet to try another brand but it has good reviews and I am happy with it. If you would like to purchase rose water, here is a brand that has been recommended by a number of sources. I have a cheaper brand and have read that the difference in the mediocre and high end brands is pretty significant (a bottle of rose water lasts about 1-1/2 lifetimes so buy a good one).
Advieh (Persian Spice Blend)
One simple and delicious way to incorporate dried rose petals into your food is through the use of the Persian spice blend advieh. I have been experimenting with the most basic version – advieh for rice – which typically contains dried rose petals, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. The more complex versions for stews and pickles can contain coriander, nutmeg, turmeric, angelica and more.
The first version I tried, from Food of Life, calls for 2 tablespoons each ground dried rose petals, ground cinnamon, and ground cardamom and 1 tablespoon ground cumin. While I liked it, I wanted the rose to stand out a bit more while reducing the cardamom. After a few more trials, I landed on the mix in the recipe below.
Obviously, I am not using this in the traditional way (which would be to add it to cooked rice). I have used it in this baked oatmeal recipe (which really highlighted the rose flavor) but I can imagine it would be great in other sweet applications like pastries, cookies or pancakes (try the cookies and then drop some off to me, pretty please). If you want to go the savory route, add it to chicken, lamb, roasted sweet potatoes or other grains, like couscous.
So while summer squash will never have the appeal of an heirloom tomato or the thrill of breaking open a fresh watermelon, it’s versatility shouldn’t be overlooked.