Pumpkin flowers are used mainly in central and southern Vietnamese cooking. They can be tossed into salads, stir-fried, put in a clear soup, or stuffed and flash-fried. Out of South-East Asia, you may find it difficult to obtain pumpkin flowers, in which case you can use zucchini (courgette) flowers instead. Dill in Vietnam seems more mild in flavour than in Western countries, so you may like to use a little less here if you find your dill tastes a bit strong.
- 150 g (5½ oz) peeled and deveined raw prawns (shrimp)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 garlic clove, finely diced
- 1½ tbsp picked dill
- 12 pumpkin (winter squash) or zucchini (courgette) flowers, stems intact, stamens removed
- 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 175 g (6 oz/1 cup) potato starch or cornflour (cornstarch)
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 1 lime, halved
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Pound the prawns to a fine paste using a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the fish sauce, garlic and half the dill, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Knead with your hands for 2 minutes to bring the ingredients together and make a homogenous mix.
Carefully stuff each pumpkin flower with a teaspoon of the prawn paste. Holding them by the stems, coat each flower with the egg white, then dust each flower with potato starch until dry, shaking the excess starch off.
Add enough oil to one-third fill a large wok or deep saucepan and heat to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns brown in 15 seconds. Working in three batches, fry the flowers for 1-2 minutes, or until crisp, without allowing them to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Arrange the flowers on a long platter or in individual serving bowls and garnish with the remaining dill. Serve as a shared starter, with lime halves for squeezing over.
Image and recipe from The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen, published by SBS ($69.95, hbk). On sale now.