Guest Post: Cooking With Hibiscus Flowers
April Cooking By Color – Red
When Sadie volunteered to do a guest post I was pretty excited. I first met her and her partner in Thailand when they were filming their Intrepid Herbivores pilot. Being a world traveler I knew she would have something unique and exotic for us to try and she does! I never thought to use hibiscus flowers in a savory dish. Well done! Hope you enjoy this fun and beautiful red taco.
Hibiscus and Onion Tacos by Sadie
Red is vivid. Red is vivacious. There is no such thing as half-red, or kind of red, or a little bit red. Red is bold and strong and vital. Eating the color red has always felt like eating pure energy and power. Evolutionarily, we are drawn to the color red because, in nature, you can’t miss it. It grabs your attention and forces your appetite take note!
Hibiscus (also known as jamaica flower) grows throughout the world and its infusion is a popular beverage in many cultures. I have always loved it for its distinctive tart flavor and stunning deep crimson color. It is really the most beautiful thing I ever get to drink. (image: driedhibiscus) Imagine my delight when I learned that hibiscus is not just pretty and tasty, but is also incredibly beneficial to your health! Many people know that regularly consuming black and green tea gives you powerful antioxidants that can fight free radicals and preserve your health for a long, long time. But get this–the antioxidant levels in hibiscus are EVEN HIGHER than green tea! And with no caffeine, the habit of sipping cold or hot hibiscus tea throughout the day is an addiction I embrace with all my heart.
But it still gets better. I had heard of blending the strained flowers from your tea into smoothies for even more antioxidant benefit, but it wasn’t until a recent visit to Mexico that I was given the idea to eat the flowers in a savory context. I heard the phrase “onion and hibiscus tacos” and being that “onion” and “hibiscus” were two words I had never put together before, it predictably stimulated my curiosity and imagination. I didn’t have the opportunity to try them on my travels, but as soon as I got home I started playing with this unexpected combination. I should have known you can never go wrong when you’re working with such fabulous ingredients! Hibiscus tacos have since become a staple in my kitchen. Steeping the flowers (ie, brewing tea) removes a good deal of their tartness, but enough remains to add intrigue to your plate. I find the texture not unlike that of many “meat” substitutes–it’s a little chewy and adds a satisfying bulky element while remaining very low in calories and, of course, really nutritious.
While frying a delicate flower with something so pungent as an onion can seem like a sacrilege, I think you will find this incredibly simple recipe awakens taste sensations you may not have known you possess!
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
36 ounces water, boiled (plus more for diluting, later)
1 medium to large yellow onion, sliced into strips
1 tablespoon sunflower or other cooking oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional; more to taste)
Sliced avocado and tortillas, for serving
Rehydrate hibiscus by making a large pot of tea! Allow it to steep in boiling water for approximately ten minutes. Drain, reserving tea in a glass jar or pitcher for later (this will be a very strong concentrate). Set aside the rehydrated flowers.
Slice your onion into 1/4 inch strips. Heat sunflower oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Gently saute onions until they begin to caramelize. Add hibiscus flowers and spices, sautee at medium heat for 3-5 minutes. The onions will take on the color of the hibiscus and the hibiscus will absorb the spices. If necessary, add back a little bit of the tea if you require additional moisture.
I typically eat these in a warm corn tortilla with nothing but some sliced avocado. However, it pairs exceptionally well with refried beans, rice, seasoned jackfruit, really any kind of taco filling you like. The tart flavor of hibiscus will add a piquant dimension to any dish.
This recipe creates approximately six tacos.
And while I love keeping straight up, unadulterated brewed hibiscus tea in my refrigerator for drinking any time, it’s fun to concoct variations to play upon and complement that bold, bracing tart flavor! And since hibiscus tea is so darn healthy to begin with, why not go over the top with the addition of cinnamon (which can help control control cholesterol and blood sugar among other benefits) and chia seeds (high in Omega-3s and all kinds of other nutrients).
The optional addition of a cinnamon stick adds a layer of warmth to this cool, bright and addictingly refreshing beverage. The addition of chia seeds boosts the nutritional value even higher, but can be omitted.
Reserved hibiscus tea concentrate
1 or 2 ceylon cinnamon sticks (optional)
Additional cold water, to almost fill half-gallon jar
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
3 tablespoons agave syrup (optional, more or less to taste–I like it tart so I tend to go lightly or skip this altogether, but a sweetener is a nice addition).
4 tablespoons chia seeds
Strain the hot tea from your rehydrated hibiscus flowers into a half-gallon jar or pitcher. WHILE STILL HOT add a 4-inch stick of cinnamon (or two). Close the jar and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Add more cold water to this concentrate, just enough to come up to about 3 inches below the top of the jar. Add citrus juice, agave and chia seeds. Close the lid tightly and shake well to mix. Let sit in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the chia seeds to bloom. Shake well before each pour.
Makes one half-gallon, keeps well in refrigerator.
Tip! Store this concoction into ice cube trays and add a cold boost of vibrant sunshine to ice tea, lemonade, cocktails, etc.
Have you ever cooked with tea before? Tell us about it in the comments!
Sadie Bowman is the host of “The Intrepid Herbivores,” the future #1 international TV travel guide to vegan food. Her goal is to travel the world, celebrating diverse plant-based cuisine and sharing the joy she finds in compassionate international tourism. After having filmed the pilot episode in Thailand, the show is currently being pitched to media outlets and sponsors. You can follow the adventures on Facebook.
While not voraciously exploring food cultures all over the planet, Sadie resides in Portland, Oregon where she gardens, cooks, eats and dances (in no particular order). Her background in comedy and performing arts coexists with a passion for cooking and empowering others to get excited about the food choices they make. She loves answering questions about travelling and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.