Stop and taste the roses

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Roses belong to the rosaceae family, which gives us apples, plums, cherries, strawberries and more. In this part of the world, we rarely think of eating roses or using them in a recipe. A few petals sprinkled across the plate or added to a salad is about as adventurous as we get.

So the four recipes offered today are meant to inspire you to give the sublime floral flavor of roses a try. It’s a welcome surprise to the taste buds and will never fail to give your spirit a little lift. When you incorporate rose water and syrup into your cooking, and even take a morning to make jam, you may be hooked, as I am, on the delicate deliciousness of the rose.

I most often use the deep pink rosa rugosa or sea rose because they’re so abundant in my yard this time of year, but you may want to experiment with what you have available, or order dried rose petals online. You don’t want to eat roses treated with pesticides, so be sure they are labeled “organic and culinary.” When cooking with rose petals, always rinse and dry them like you would greens, and cut off the white edges, as they tend to be bitter.

To make your own rose water, simply fill a pot with organic rose petals, cover them with water and simmer gently until the color and fragrance of the petals has infused the liquid. Remove from heat and let stand for several hours, allowing it all to cool to room temperature. Strain and refrigerate if you aren’t going to use it right away as it has a fairly short shelf life. Rose water is delicious in icing, whipped cream, over berries and stirred into tea.

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For rose syrup, bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil then simmer until sugar is dissolved. Add 2 cups fresh rose petals and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it steep for 10 more minutes. Strain and refrigerate if not using immediately.

Rose water and rose syrup made locally are available if you don’t want to take the time to make your own. Rose water can be purchased from The Society of Shakers at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester or ordered from them online at maineshakers.com. Established in 1783, this is home to the only active Shaker community in the world.

Organic rose syrup, as well as other yummy syrup flavors, can be ordered through Royal Rose at royalrosesyrups.com or through Amazon. It can also be found at Bow Street Market in Freeport, The Local on Maine Street in Brunswick and at Leroux Kitchen and Vena’s Fizz House in Portland.

One of my favorite ways to taste the roses is in the yogurt-based Eastern Indian beverage known as lassi. Here, rose water, rose syrup and petals are combined to transport you to the realm of the divine. The first time I experienced this lusciousness was at Mother India in Lewiston. I had happened by for their popular lunch buffet and server Anjali Sharma offered to make me a “pink drink.” At first sip, I felt as if I was under a magical spell. Refreshing. Soothing. Intoxicating. A rose lassi is also the perfect accompaniment for spicy food.

Kheer is a rose-flavored Indian dish meant to cool the palate. My favorite recipe, made with coconut milk and a touch of rose water, can be embellished with crunchy, salty pistachios and a coquettish drizzle of rose syrup. This is comfort food with added elan.

Today’s recipe for rose julep is provided by my friends at Royal Rose Syrups. Their simple syrups are made in small batches right at Fort Andross in Topsham. This rosy “mocktail” can be enjoyed any time of day, but is a wonderful addition to a high summer brunch. Of course, if you want to add a jigger of gin or vodka, it’s totally up to you.

Lastly, if you want to take eating roses to another level, rose petal jam is the way to go. My first taste occurred on a mini-vacation to Peaks Island and I’m here to tell you that making a batch of this blissful concoction is well worth it. Everyone should spend time massaging rose petals once in their life . . . and spreading the essence of roses over a warm buttered scone or spooning it onto a piece of crisp white toast and taking that first bite. It is my definition of a.m. nirvana. A jar of this pink-hued confection makes a lovely, unique gift, too, if you can stand to part with it.

Here’s to not just smelling the roses, but tasting them, too!

Rose petal jam, paired here with fruit and a scone, tastes like it’s concocted by garden sprites. Delicately delicious.
Anjali Sharma of Mother India in Lewiston toasts a fine summer’s day with a rose lassi. This refreshing beverage cools the palate after a spicy meal.

Rosebuds for the taste buds

Rose lassi

Serves 2

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

2 tablespoons water and 7-8 ice cubes

3 tablespoons rose syrup

7-8 fresh or dried rose petals (optional: save a few for garnish)

1 tablespoon rose water

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch of ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon lightly chopped pistachios (optional)

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Chill. Pour into tall glasses, garnish with pistachios and extra rose petals.

Rose kheer

Serves 4

2 cups coconut milk

2 cups milk

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup basmati rice

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon rose water

1/4 cup each chopped roasted almonds and pistachios

Rose syrup

Rose petals for garnish

Bring coconut milk, milk and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan. Add basmati rice and simmer over low heat until mixture thickens and rice is tender — about 20 minutes. Stir in cardamom and rose water; cook for a few more minutes. Ladle into serving bowls and stir in nuts. Drizzle rose syrup on top and garnish with petals. Can be served warm or chilled.

Rose julep

Serves 1

2-3 mint sprigs, chopped, with one sprig set aside for garnish

1 ounce rose syrup

1 ounce ruby grapefruit juice, fresh

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Splash of soda/seltzer water

Shake first 4 ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with more ice. Top off with soda water. Garnish with mint sprig.

Rose petal jam

4-5 small jars

1/2 pound pink or red organic rose petals

2 cups granulated sugar, divided

4 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2 lemons)

Rinse petals thoroughly and drain. Place rose petals in a bowl and sprinkle with just enough sugar to coat each petal. Add lemon juice and gently stir. Let stand overnight.

Before cooking, massage this mixture with your hands until it becomes a paste. In a saucepan over low heat, combine remaining sugar and water, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add rose petal paste and stir. Allow to simmer 20 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for approximately 5 minutes until mixture thickens and temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 221 degrees or until a spoonful dropped onto a cold plate jells and holds its shape. Remove from heat. Transfer jam into hot, sterilized jars, filling to within 1/4-inch of the top. Wipe away any spilled jam. Cover with lid and ring. Store in a cool place.

Kheer, a rice pudding laced with rose water, is a traditional Indian comfort food that can easily be made at home.
Rosa rugosa, known as sea rose or beach rose, is perfect for making rose petal jam.
This rose lassi, which offers a hint of rose flavor, can be blended together in your own kitchen. Locally made rose water and rose syrup make it all easy and doable.

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