Remember Rose Day in college? Celebrated on 7 February, it kicks off the Valentine’s Day week. I am not sure if college students these days are still celebrating Rose Day but in the 1990s, it was a big deal. Red roses meant love, which made it easy to express your feelings to a crush. Pink roses meant appreciation (meh!), white meant innocence and receiving a yellow rose (which was the only kind I got) meant you were permanently “friend-zoned”.
While all this seems rather laughable at a time when emojis and WhatsApp have simplified sending romantic signals to a large extent, in Victorian times, too, you said it with flowers. People sent flowers as a means of communication. Each flower and its colour conveyed a meaning that could be passed on as a secret message.
Whether you are a believer in roses and romance or not, there’s no denying the subtle fragrance and flavour that rose brings to beverages and foods such as rosewater, rose syrup, rose preserve (gulkand), rose petals as a garnish on desserts, and rose tea.
Rosewater, a common ingredient in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, is made by distilling rose petals. It is used to flavour desserts, drinks and savoury dishes. Infusing rose flavour into vinegar, sugar and honey can be a fun kitchen project. Rose-infused sugar and honey can be used to prepare rose-flavoured desserts such as cakes and shortbread. Candied rose petals make for pretty decoration on cakes and cupcakes. To prepare this, rose petals are painted with a thin layer of egg whites and coated with a layer of castor sugar. Petals are placed in a single layer on a parchment-lined tray, sprinkled with another layer of castor sugar, set aside to dry for 8-10 hours and stored in an airtight jar at room temperature.
Gulkand is a sweet preserve made from rose petals. Cleaned and dried rose petals, crushed with granulated sugar, are filled in a jar and kept in sunlight for three-seven days until the sugar dissolves to give a jammy consistency. In the north, paan is paired with sweet and fragrant gulkand, which complements the slightly bitter and spicy taste of betel leaf. While gulkand is paan’s best partner in crime, it can also be used in other dishes during summer for a refreshing flavour, such as porridge, smoothies, milkshakes, salad dressings, retro-style fruit custard, cupcake frosting, and so on.
I can’t omit mentioning Rooh Afza, one of the darlings of iftar, the evening meal used to break the fast during Ramzan. Rose petals are one of the 30-plus ingredients in the making of this concentrated herbal squash. Water or milk is mixed with Rooh Afza to make chilled beverages. Rooh Afza is different from rose syrup, which is mainly rose petals, sugar and water.
My travel writer friend Lakshmi told me about an intensely fragrant rose liqueur, Rozulin, she had tried in Dubrovnik, Croatia. This liqueur was made in spring to preserve the bounty of roses and used all year. Petals from the Centifolia rose species were used to make the liqueur.
A simple method to prepare rose liqueur is to soak the rose petals in vodka (four cups of petals in two cups of vodka). Make sure all the rose petals are completely immersed in the vodka and keep it in a cool dark place for two weeks. Prepare a sugar syrup with two cups sugar and water each and cool. Filter out the rose-vodka mixture and add the syrup to the infused vodka. Keep it aside for two-three months before using. Drink as is on ice or prepare refreshing summer cocktails.
Iftar special Rose Falooda
Makes 2 glasses
Half cup cooked falooda sev (noodles, cooked as per pack instructions)
2 tbsp basil seeds (sabja)
4 tbsp rose syrup
2 cups chilled milk
2 scoops vanilla ice cream
2-3 tbsp chopped nuts
For the garnish
Dried rose petals, or gulkand
2 tbsp rose syrup
Soak the basil seeds in quarter cup water and keep aside for 5-10 minutes. In a tall glass, spoon rose syrup at the bottom and the sides. Top with a couple of spoons of falooda sev and a spoon of plumped up basil seeds.
In a jug, combine the chilled milk with 4 tbsp rose syrup to get rose milk. Add half a cup of rose milk over the basil seeds. Top with nuts and repeat the layers once again.
Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream over this. Garnish with nuts, dried rose petals and a drizzle of rose syrup. Serve chilled.
Makes over half a cup
(Traditionally, gulkand is prepared by crushing rose petals with granulated sugar and leaving it in a closed bottle in the sun for three-six days. This method is adapted from Papa Mummy Kitchen’s YouTube video. It is useful for those without access to fresh roses or a sunny spot in the house.)
1 cup dried rose petals
Half cup sugar
Half cup water
Wash the rose petals in a colander to get rid of any dust. Discard any stems. Take the washed and drained rose petals in a pan along with the sugar and cook on a low-medium flame until the mixture comes to a simmer. Cover and keep aside for 20 minutes so that the petals get rehydrated. Start the cooking process again over a low flame until most of the liquid evaporates. Allow some liquid to remain as it will thicken once it cools. Refrigerate and use in paan, beverages and desserts.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.