This flower’s distinct fragrance translates well to a variety of dishes.
In May and June, Reno-Tahoe is coming up roses. But this mainstay of wedding bouquets and Valentine’s Day has usefulness that goes beyond its luscious scent and poetic inspiration. For thousands of years, the delicate bloom has been used in cooking to make everything from confections to pickles.
According to Maryam Sinaiee, author of the book Nightingales and Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen, around 550 BC, ancient Persians concocted spice blends with saffron, cardamom, and rose petals that subtly yet effectively flavored both meat and vegetable dishes. Today, rose petals, rosewater, and distilled rose oils also are being used in swanky cocktails, granola mixes, and the traditional Arabic candy Turkish Delight.
Cooking with roses
Cynthia Ferris-Bennett, founder and owner of Sierra Chef in Genoa, regularly uses the fragrant ingredient in her cooking classes and store products. Her Sconelini line of mini scones includes Rose Vanilla Bean, and she teaches spice-blending classes that incorporate rose petals. She serves steeped rose-petal tea during special events and praises the beautiful pink hues of her rosewater panna cotta. Classroom attendees and customers instantly recognize the distinctive rose aroma and flavor.
Sierra Chef owner Cynthia Ferris-Bennett
“When you watch someone smelling a rose, there is something that comes over their face,” Ferris-Bennett says. “There is a peaceful look and a very happy memory. You can tell they are remembering something.”
One of those “somethings” might just come from phenylethylamine, or PEA, a chemical in roses that gives them their scent. It also stimulates humans’ central nervous systems and gives us feelings that translate to euphoria or being in love (chocolate also contains the chemical). Roses are ranked as a top aphrodisiac, a tantalizing reason why cooking with them provides a sensual experience.
If you quickly need to get your hands on some roses, it’s easy to find culinary rose petals and distilled rosewater online. Ferris-Bennett sells any amount you may need at Sierra Chef, but cautions to use rosewater and rose oil sparingly since the flavor can quickly become bitter.
“You can definitely overpower the food,” she says. “You want it to be subtle, and you want to smell the rose, but you don’t want to feel like you’re in a rose field.”
Any rose can be edible as long as it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. When buying rosewater, make sure the label says that it’s distilled, to avoid buying a synthetic product, and for recipes calling for rose oil, use only one or two drops. For summer recipes such as candied rose petals, Ferris-Bennett uses fresh David Austin roses grown in her neighbor’s prolific, English-style garden.
Vanilla sugar, crème fraîche, heavy cream, and Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract
While rosebuds and blooms get most of the adulation, one part of the flower that should not be forgotten is the rose hip. The hip is the bulbous part of the rose flower hidden beneath the petals. When the petals fall off, the hip shines like a little golden-pink jewel. Full of vitamin C, fresh or dried rose hips (with the fuzzy interior removed) can be made into tea to ward off the sniffles. The hips also make great jellies, syrups, and even soups.
After smelling a mango-colored, spicy honey perfume rose in Ireland, Washoe Valley-based writer Christina Nellemann knew the rose was a lot more than a pretty face.
Sierra Chef Culinary Center & Workshop
2292 Main St., Stes. 3 and 4, Genoa
775-671-2164 • Sierrachef.com
Sierra Chef offers culinary classes at its Genoa location and at The Urban Market in Reno
Rose Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
(courtesy of Cynthia Ferris-Bennett, founder/owner, Sierra Chef in Genoa. Serves 4)
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon Madagascar bourbon vanilla
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup plain, whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup crème fraîche
¼ cup vanilla rose syrup, plus 3 tablespoons (recipe below)
Canola oil, for brushing ramekins
Organic, unsprayed rose petals (for garnish)
Combine milk, cream, vanilla bean paste, and vanilla, and bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes.
In small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand until it begins to soften. Whisk gelatin into hot milk, then whisk in sugar, yogurt, crème fraîche, and ¼ cup of rose syrup.
Brush 4, ½-cup ramekins lightly with canola oil. Ladle panna cotta mixture into ramekins and refrigerate overnight until firm.
To remove from ramekin, run a knife around the inside edge of each ramekin, then gently dip the ramekin bottoms in hot water and dry the bottom of ramekins. Invert ramekins onto dessert plates. Holding ramekin and plate at the same time, give each plate a firm tap on a counter to release the panna cotta. Remove ramekin.
Drizzle remaining vanilla rose syrup over the top of each panna cotta. Decorate with rose petals.
Vanilla Rose Syrup (Falooda Syrup)
(courtesy of Cynthia Ferris-Bennett, founder and owner, Sierra Chef in Genoa. Serves 4)
2 cups white sugar
½ cup distilled water
1¼ cups good-quality rosewater, divided
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons Madagascar bourbon vanilla
2 to 3 dried hibiscus petals
Place white sugar, water, 1 cup rosewater, and salt in a saucepan. Stir to combine over medium heat to dissolve sugar. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes after sugar dissolves.
Add remaining ¼ cup rosewater to warm syrup and combine. Add vanilla and hibiscus petals until desired color is reached. Once cooled, bottle syrup.
Spring Greens with Queso Fresco and Rosewater and Citrus Dressing
(courtesy of Colin Smith, owner/chef, Roundabout Catering and Roundabout Grill in Reno. Serves 2)
6 ounces spring greens
2 ounces queso fresco
1 ounce toasted sunflower seeds
2 ounces whole wheat croutons
Rosewater and citrus dressing (recipe below), to taste
Mix salad ingredients in a bowl. Add all dressing ingredients to glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well until emulsified and pour over salad greens. Toss and serve immediately.
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons rosewater
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon, or more, to taste
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste