Tempura Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Chile, Mint, and Lemon Zest

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From Memorial Day to Labor Day, my company offers us “summer Fridays” where I get to leave work at 1pm every single Friday. These half days are such a gift. In past years, I would take advantage of this early start to the weekend by making as many plans as possible. Take a trip one weekend, go on a jam-packed adventure with friends another week. If I didn’t have something to do, I felt uncool, almost as if I were less worthy as a person.

Why does society perpetuate the stigma of being alone? There’s a general pressure, especially for women, to avoid being alone. Loneliness isn’t “becoming.” Blah, blah, blah. This negative view towards being alone and spending time by yourself, with yourself, does nothing but increase feelings of shame and cause an obsession with being busy, occupied.

This year has taught me many lessons. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that it is not only okay, but necessary to spend time with yourself. This is an act of self care. The act of being with yourself, taking yourself out on a date, puts into practice the idea that you can be alone and also be okay.

I’ve been listening to the Dear Sugars podcast lately, and I listened to an episode about loneliness and women who worry they will never find “the one.” They spoke with writer Kate Bolick, who referenced this beautiful line from Edith Wharton:

“I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity—to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.”

YAS, Edith Wharton!

Spending time alone is not an easy task for me, so I challenged myself this year to use my summer Fridays as my “me” time. The farmers market is open down the street on Friday afternoons, so I like to take my time, walk around to all the booths, and compare the quality and pricing of the produce offered. Then, I start to plan potential meal options in my head for the weekend based on the fruits and vegetables that look best. I’ll have conversations with the farmers, who give me their recommendations. It’s really quite thrilling for me to do this! The produce is so incredibly, achingly beautiful to me. I’m passionate about home grown fruits and veggies, okay?!

A few weeks ago I spotted a gorgeous pint of baby heirloom tomatoes from Atlas Farms. I knew that baby tomatoes were the way to go because this year larger heirloom tomatoes are late (we’ve had a colder August here in New England). I then grabbed a luscious bunch of basil from MacArthur Farm, and I had the makings of the most bomb caprese salad:

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I made garlic toast with whole wheat sourdough bread I bought from the Iggy’s stand, and I enjoyed this dinner by myself, for myself. My heart felt happy and free.

I also stopped by the Siena Farms stand in hopes that I would find squash blossoms. At first, I didn’t see any. Then, in a moment of pure serendipity, one of the farmers pulled out a bucket of them. I had my squee moment, then eagerly went up to him and asked for six.

squash blossoms
Aren’t they gorgeous?

He asked me how I like to cook them. I told him, the whole reason why I knew you could eat squash blooms is because I watched an episode of Jamie at Home one day, and he was making Crispy Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta and Mint. The light crispiness of the tempura batter and the warm, bright, yet rich filling within the delicate flower seemed like heaven to me. I wanted to learn how to adapt this recipe and make it for myself. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Tempura Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Chile, Mint, and Lemon Zest

  • 6 squash (or zucchini) blossoms

Filling

  • 2/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper OR 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh red chile pepper
  • 6 mint leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste (I would start with 1/4 teaspoon each)

Tempura Batter

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup seltzer water (if you don’t have seltzer water on hand, you can use beer or white wine, something with fizz!)
  • a pinch of salt
  1. First, you’ll need to remove the pistil from the blossom (this is the part of the flower that gathers all the pollen). Gently open the blossom with you fingers and, with a pair of slender scissors or kitchen shears, snip off the pistil.
  2. Squash blossoms are delicate, so do not run them under the faucet! My suggestion is to fill a bowl with water and then place the squash blossoms in the bowl. This process gently washes them and helps get rid of excess pollen and dirt. Once washed, place the blossoms on a paper towel to dry.
  3. For the filling, place the ricotta, lemon zest, mint, and chili in a bowl. Mix together, then add salt and pepper to your taste.
  4. Fill a plastic bag with the ricotta filling. With kitchen shears, snip off a corner of the plastic bag. This will serve as your piping bag to fill the squash blossoms.
  5. Gently open your squash blooms and pipe the filling in. Don’t worry if filling overflows, it will get covered with tempura batter anyways!
  6. Then, in a separate bowl, add your flour, salt, and seltzer water. Mix together so the batter is thick (it should stick to your spoon). If the batter is too thin, add more flour. If too thick, add more seltzer. It’s quite simple!
  7. Before you do anything else, add canola oil (or the oil of your choosing, coconut oil/flaxseed oil/grapeseed oil will work, too) to your skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. You want the blossoms to sizzle when they hit the oil.
  8. Dip your squash blossoms into the tempura batter, coating all surfaces (but not too thickly).
  9. Once your oil is heated, place your squash blossoms in the oil. You’ll need to turn the blossoms a few times so that all sides are properly fried.
  10. Once the blossoms turn golden brown, take them out of the pan and place them onto a plate with a paper towel so any excess oil can drain.

I encourage you to take time for yourself each day, and even schedule full days just for yourself. Recharge, honor yourself with a good meal sourced from the farmers market, read your favorite book, write, spend time outdoors. You’ll come to find that kind of solitude will leave you more open to the world, and the world will open itself up to you in return.

Chinese Cooking Experiment #1: Scallion Pancakes

Last night I delved into Chinese cooking experimentation (while Mrs. Chang’s advice is still fresh in my mind). First up – scallion pancakes!

True confession: I did not discover scallion pancakes until I went to Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston’s Chinatown last January. My boyfriend took me there on a date and ordered them for us. I sat there quite confused, imagining your typical Hungry Jack breakfast pancake with scallions. When the waiter brought the pancakes to our table, my eyes widened in surprise. With one bite you are immediately hit with fresh scallions warmed to perfection within the dough. I sometimes lose the flavor of scallions when I sauté them too much, and sometimes too many fresh scallions in a salad can make them too pungent. Scallions were just made to be put into a pancake like this (in my humble opinion). And the pancake magically has these doughy layers reminiscent of flaky biscuits, though it’s not exactly the same thing. Wondrous!

I know. It’s tragic how long I went without them.

So, if you have never had the immense pleasure of eating scallion pancakes, never fear! A recipe is here.

To remind you from my previous post, here is the picture of Mrs. Chang’s scallion pancake.

Mrs. Chang's version of scallion pancakes
Mrs. Chang’s Scallion Pancakes

Scallion Pancakes

  • 1 “loaf” of frozen bread dough
  • 1 bunch of scallions, washed and chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sesame oil
  • black or white sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1 large pan with a cover (for cooking)

1. Thaw frozen bread dough according to the package’s instructions.

2. Cut the bread dough into thirds. One loaf of bread dough makes about three good sized pancakes.

3. On a wooden board or cutting board, roll out the first piece of dough until it resembles a round pancake, about one-quarter to one-half inch thick. It will help if you flour the surface on which you are rolling and flour the bread dough itself so that nothing sticks!

4. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and sesame oil (about the size of a nickel will do) on the pancake’s surface. Spread that sesame oil around so it covers the entire pancake.

5. Take your chopped scallions and sprinkle them on top as well. You can add as much or as little as you’d like. In my opinion, the more the better!

6. Now, roll up the pancake long ways as if you were making cinnamon buns. It should look like a thin log at this step.

7. Take both ends of the rolled up pancake and join them together to make a circle. The pancake is now going to look like a bagel without the large hole in the middle. The dough is going to want to separate here and be that log again, but you want it to be a pancake! With your fingers, smoosh the separated parts of the dough together so that the pancake stays round with no gaping holes.

8. If you want to add sesame seeds to the pancake, you will sprinkle them on top of the pancake at this point. Then, take your rolling pin and roll the pancake out again so that it’s about one-half inch thick.

9. Repeat the previous steps for the next two pancakes.

10. Put some olive oil (or the oil of your choice – canola, coconut, etc.) in the pan and turn the heat on high. Place the scallion pancakes in the pan.

11. Add water to the pan so that the pancakes are submerged about halfway.

12. Cover the pan and let the pancakes cook until the boiling water evaporates. Then turn down the heat to medium-low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides. Watch them carefully here! Once the pancakes are browned, they are ready to eat.

My First Attempt at Making Scallion Pancakes
My First Attempt at Making Scallion Pancakes

That’s it!

Things I Learned

1. I would turn the heat down a little bit before the water evaporates (around 1-2 minutes before, perhaps). I had a few pancakes start to brown before all the water evaporated, making some of the bottoms burn too much for my liking.

2. Adding sesame seeds to the dough adds another level of flavor that I’d like to try next time. This recipe is still tasty without them, though!

Stay tuned for my next experiment in Chinese cooking: steamed pork buns!