Eating Nature

My kids ate hibiscus flowers last night.  No joke.

Someone recently told me that my kids are adventurous eaters and I’m lucky and something like this would never work in their house.  I totally disagree; I think they’re more complacent than adventurous.  When the food on the table is dinner and they know it might contain weird stuff and they know they don’t have the option of complaining until after they’ve tried it and they know I’m not going to give in and start cooking macaroni and cheese from a box just because they demand it, I really think they sort of gave up, gave in, and just went along for the ride.  Somewhere along the way they secretly began to like “weird” food; but admitting it has been a very, very recent phenomenon.

Therefore, I was more surprised than anyone when they actually ate the hibiscus flowers last night.  Not only did they eat them, but my 18-year old Hamburger Helper Lover volunteered that they were “actually pretty good.”  Of course I didn’t tell them what they were before they tasted the flowers, or at least 50% of them would have freaked.  But by now, they know the rules — I don’t lie about what they’re eating, but they know they have to taste it before they decide it’s gross and before I’ll come clean.  I am totally using their own laziness against them, and why they haven’t figured this out yet is beyond me…if they stepped up and helped out in the kitchen before dinner, they could see what is going into their food.  But as long as they prefer napping/watching six-year old basketball game reruns on TV/playing with the dog, I have free and unfettered reign in the kitchen, able to throw into their dinners whatever the heck I choose.  The arrangement is working out for everyone, most of all for me.

So my husband and I had a very rare night alone this week, and I cooked a rather complicated hibiscus flower enchilada plate, preceeded by a new take on ham and eggs — an appetizer of a coddled egg, which is then rolled in herbs and panko and cooked in olive oil til browned; served aside a hash of pancetta, roasted piquillo peppers, garlic and herbs, with a topping of beurre blanc.  I got the idea from Chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco (no, we’ve never been there) and tweaked it to our tastes a bit, adding the beurre blanc and adjusting the herb mixtures.  Both were fabulous, so rather than throw the remaining gigantic bag of hibiscus flowers into our bottomless pit of a pantry where things go in but then get forgotten, I decided to try a very simplified version out on the kids last night.

Granted, hibiscus flowers look weird.  Weirdness isn’t necessarily something I worry about with these kids, since they’re used to us planting weird stuff in the yard and then making them eat it.  They’re used to eating (or being told that other people eat) various forms of nature that would make my mother cringe — flowers mostly, but also roots, stalks, stems, bark, seeds and leaves.  Of course we all eat this stuff all the time, but rarely do we really think about it.  Having it all growing in the yard (or pointing it out when we go camping) is a nice in-your-face sort of way of reminding them where their food comes from and that eating flowers and roots does not a caveman make.

The main issue with hibiscus flowers is their color.  When dried, they’re a nice, pinky-mauvey-brown, sort of tea-like.  But when reconstituted, they’re a shockingly bright burgundy, turning their soaking liquid nearly a neon pink color.  I think this is cool; my 13-year old thinks pink food is for sissies.  Getting him to eat this was a feat, but he did it, and he liked it.

The other issue you may face is the shape of a hibiscus flower.  My boys thought it was super cool, but not everyone (adults included) will find the pseudo-octopus-looking shape appetizing.  You can take a hibiscus flower and wrap it around your finger and suddenly it becomes a fairy skirt; but if you put a few on your hand then you look like you’re being eaten by alien leeches.  I guess you need to know your own kid to decide which approach would work the best.  When all else fails, you can chop them up and no one would ever know they used to resemble bloody raccoon toes.

Now, this enchilada recipe calls for lots of different vegetables and ingredients, including mushrooms.  I do still have one mushroom hater in the family, but I get around this by leaving shrooms large so that she can pick them out ahead of time.  If you have a non-beet-eater, then leave out the beets; if you have a non-zucchini-eater, then leave out the zucchini.  I happened to have one zucchini left from the summer’s garden bounty, so that’s why it’s in this recipe.  However, I have to admit that even I, a bona fide non-cooked-carrot-eater, love this dish.  All the vegetables meld together so nicely that except for the shrooms and hibiscus flowers, it’s difficult to pick out specific unloved tastes or textures.

The spiciness can be adjusted to suit your taste, too.  We prefer spicy food, so the chipotles don’t bother us.  The kids know they can always cut the spice with the sour cream, so this dish easily made it onto The List.  But if spicy food isn’t a staple at your house, skip the chipotles.

One more thing about this recipe — though I think it needs creme fraiche, and though we love creme fraiche, I’ve substituted sour cream.  Creme fraiche can be rather expensive, and unless I’ve got buttermilk laying around and the time and inclination to make it fresh, it’s a rarity in this house.  Also, whenever we do have it I have to listen to the entire recitation of the South Park episode where this dude decides he wants to be on Food Network and gets a job as the cafeteria guy at the elementary school, and his fake cooking show is called Creme Fraiche.  My kids adore that episode (no, they don’t get to watch South Park unless I’ve seen the episode first, so don’t write to me telling me what a horrible mother I am) because he gets all caught up in plating his food, just like mom.  And he makes one hell of a mess when he cooks and then leaves the mess for his wife to clean up.  No comment.  But I am getting better.

Get the recipe for #14: Hibiscus Flower Enchiladas on my site, here.

The list currently sits at 14…

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