“Whose garden are these from, mum?” I ask as I look over to my mother’s kitchen bench blossoming with an abundance of beautiful bright yellow Kolokithi (gourd) flowers. “Your Aunty Sofia’s” Mum replies, “She just picked them from the garden and had too many to know what to do with”. This is one of the things I love about coming from a large extended family who have always enjoyed and taken great pride in growing their own vegetables. I love that people put so much effort into growing their own vegetables, and then enjoy sharing their produce with everyone around them. For as long as I can remember, whenever my aunts and uncles would come to visit, it would always be with a basket in hand full of tomatoes, lemons, zucchinis, pumpkins, or whatever other seasonal produce they had harvested from their gardens.

It may seem like a simple notion – the exchange of your garden’s seasonal produce with the people around you, but have you ever tried growing your own vegetables? It takes time, care and patience. To tend the soil, plant the seeds, water everyday, ensure the stakes are in place and adjusted regularly as the plants grow… only to find a few weeks later that your tomatoes have been attacked by caterpillars, your cucumbers have been feasted on by snails, and your figs have been devoured by birds. Caterina and I have both given the art of growing fruits and vegetables in our gardens a decent crack, however I think I speak for us both when I say that sometimes things are best left to the experts. And between our parents, in-laws, siblings, aunts and uncles, there are plenty of experts around. We have great respect for people who grow their own vegetables, and an even greater respect for those that lovingly share their produce. We are truly blessed that our fruit bowls are always overflowing with the jewels of our family’s abundant gardens.

I love that Aunty Sofia shared these gourd flowers with my mother. It means that I get to eat one of my favourite little delicacies – ‘Louloudakia Yemista’ (stuffed flowers). And Caterina will be thrilled when I deliver a plate of these to her doorstep, because they are also one of her favourites. These beautiful blooms came from a gourd plant, however you could just as easily use zucchini or pumpkin flowers. There are many fillings you could stuff these with, this recipe is how my mother has always made them. They are lovely as an appetizer, or as a complete meal, and can be eaten warm or cold.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup 0live oil
  • 1 large white onion, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (optional)
  • 200g tin chopped tomatoes
  • Half cup parsley, finely chopped
  • Half cup mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dill, finely chopped
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil for basting the pan and sprinkling over the flowers before baking
  • 45 gourd, pumpkin or zucchini flowers

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan. Add the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the garlic. Cook for a further 30 seconds, making sure not to burn
  4. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, paprika, chilli, tomato and herbs, and stir until well combined.
  5. Add the rice to the pan, and stir until all the grains are well coated with the ingredients.
  6. Add 3 cups of boiling water to the pan, and allow the rice to cook through and the liquid to evaporate completely.
  7. Set the rice aside and allow the mixture to cool completely. It is important that the rice cools completely, otherwise when you try and fill the flowers they will wilt.
  8. Prepare a large pan for baking the flowers. We used an aluminium pan that was 45cm in diameter and 1.5cm in height. Brush the pan with enough olive oil to cover the base (or spray with oil spray)
  9. Wipe the flowers with a dry cloth, brushing off any dirt. It is best not to wet them as they will wilt and soften.
  10. Gently open the petals of the flowers, remove the stamen from each one (if there is one to remove)
  11. Holding the flower in your hand, with the petals open, fill the flower 3/4 of the way full. Bring the tops of the petals together, and twist them around so that they seal the flower, which will prevent any of the rice mixture from falling out. Tuck the twisted flower top behind the flower, and lay it into the baking pan with the tucked edge down (this will ensure they don’t explode open while baking). Repeat with all flowers.
  12. Sprinkle the flowers with a drizzle of olive oil. Cover the pan with foil.
  13. Bake the flowers for 35 minutes. Remove the foil from the pan, and bake for a further 7 minutes, or until slightly golden

Food photography, story and recipe creation by Effi Tsoukatos & Caterina Sterrantino for the Sydney Food Sisters