Plate Lab: Squash blossoms are more than a snazzy garnish

Squash blossoms are a summertime favorite for chefs, some of whom prepare the delicate flowers stuffed and fried. Here's how the squash blossom taco dish gets constructed at Taqueria Nacional in Washington, D.C. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)
Lavanya Ramanathan
Reporter August 22

In Washington-area restaurants, squash blossoms are a sure sign of summer. With zucchini and other squash plentiful in local fields, chefs use the gourds’ delicate flowers to add a grassy note and a surprisingly chewy bite to their dishes. But unlike other edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, squash blossoms are more than a snazzy garnish. In Italian and Latin American cuisines, the green- and gold-colored blooms — which can grow to the size of hibiscus — are frequently the main course.

“With squash blossoms, you can still taste the squash. They have substance,” says Tony Ricci of Pennsylvania’s Green Heron Farm, a supplier of the blooms. Ricci says chefs ask for flowers that are still closed, which keeps bugs out and makes it easier to prepare them the way diners prefer: stuffed and, preferably, fried. Because squash blossoms open in the sunshine, farmers must set out long before dawn to carefully harvest the delicate, crepelike flowers.

Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan. View Archive

“It’s a tough ingredient not to mess up,” says executive chef Roberto Hernández of Mio in downtown Washington. Although the blossoms tear easily and don’t keep well, the chef is drawn to what he calls their “perfumey finish.” Hernández stuffs his with brie, dips them in a tempura batter that allows their color to show, and serves the fried blooms atop a smoky guajillo chili salsa.

Vegetarian squash blossom tacos (pictured) are such a hit at Taqueria Nacional off the 14th Street corridor that the 300 blooms that arrive twice weekly aren’t enough to keep up with demand, says manager Dot Steck. For your best chance to try them, go on Tuesdays or Fridays, when the blossoms are delivered and the staff starts stuffing them with kernels of corn and a cheese mixture before frying them to order. “It’s such a perfect casing to stuff,” Steck says.

You can also try Etto in Logan Circle, which uses the golden flowers to add color and flavor to a rustic burrata-topped pizza; Dino’s Grotto in Shaw, which stuffs blossoms with ricotta; or Boundary Road in the Atlas District, where squash blossoms top a summer-vegetable risotto. But wherever you go, don’t delay; cool weather will bring an end to blossom season in September or October.


Squash blossom taco at Taqueria Nacional in Washington. (Greg Powers/For The Washington Post)

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