Brighten meals with a saut'eed blossom or two

It takes a certain kind of courage to eat a flower. To most of us it somehow seems a sacrilege to take a bite out of a blossom. A bowlful of orange and red nasturtiums or a salad tossed with a handful of violets is the kind of thing that usually makes only Japanese beetles drool.

Oriental and Eastern cooks have included flowers in their food for centuries. Chrysanthemum petals and dried tiger lilies are popular in China. Water flavored with orange blossoms or rose petals is a common flavoring in Persian, Greek, and Armenian cooking. Lotus pods and day lilies appear often in Japanese food.

The Italians have a tasty solution to the perennial abundance of zucchini blossoms. They dip them in a light batter, fry them in oil, sprinkle them with a little salt, and eat them. Often the blossoms are stuffed before saut'eing.

Flower cookery blossomed in Elizabethan times. In the Colonies, the Colonialists made various stews and brews incorporating freshly picked marigolds, dianthus, and calendula.

Through the years the fashion has withered in this country. But some creative cooks still add a blossom or two to the pot.

Martha Stewart, popular cookbook author and caterer, does. ``People love to see nasturtiums in a salad and usually react with `They're beautiful, but I never knew you could eat them!' '' she says. She does admit that, with some exceptions -- like the onion flavor of chive blossoms -- ``most of them don't have much flavor so I use them mostly for color.''

Zack Hanle, author of ``Cooking With Flowers'' (Irena Chalmers Cookbooks Inc.) doesn't completely agree. ``Dried marigolds are a poor man's saffron. They give a wonderful color as well as flavor when cooked with rice. And day lilies,'' she says, ``taste quite a bit like lima beans when saut'eed lightly in butter.''

Another favorite of Mrs. Hanle's is the blossoms of yucca plants. ``Just remove the pistils and serve the petals with a light vinaigrette. They taste much like Belgian endive.''

Of course, not every flower is edible. Some are poisonous and care must be taken that flowers that may have been sprayed with insecticides are washed thoroughly.

Some petals may be dried and stored in jars for later use. Marigold and calendula petals can be dried on a screen in the sun or spread on an ungreased cookie sheet and heated in a 200 degree F. oven for an hour or two until dried. They can then be tossed into omelettes and salads and pancake batter whenever the mood hits.

If you have a garden, put a bit of summer sunshine on your plate with these recipes.

The following recipe is from ``Cooking With Flowers.'' Marigold Rice 3 cups instant rice 1 medium onion, saut'eed in butter 3 cups chicken or beef bouillon 1/2 teaspoon rosemary 3 teaspoons dried marigold petals

Bring bouillon to a boil, add all other ingredients, turn off heat, and cover tightly. Allow to stand for 15 minutes. Stir with a fork and serve. Serves 6. Nasturtium Salad 10 to 15 nasturtium blossoms 1 head Boston, salad bowl, oak leaf, or other leaf lettuce 1 small Bermuda onion, thinly sliced Walnut, almond, or light olive oil Raspberry or red wine vinegar

Wash nasturtium blossoms lightly but thoroughly. Place on paper towels to dry.

Toss lettuce with onion. Make vinaigrette dressing with oil and vinegar, 1 part vinegar to 4 or 5 parts oil -- or to your liking. Toss salad. Add nasturtiums just before serving.

One of the most popular and flavorful flower dishes follows. Saut'eed Squash Blossoms 1 quart zucchini or summer squash buds partly opened, cleaned, and dried 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan until hot.

Add enough blossoms to cover bottom of pan. Turn buds as they begin to lightly brown. Some will open as they cook.

Remove blossoms when very lightly browned and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.

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