One of the many wonders of Spring in the Southwest is the annual blooming of the banana yuccas. These amazing plants have stiff stiletto shaped green leaves and tall stalks that bear pale bell-shaped flowers throughout May. The creamy blossoms are pollinated by one species of moth that has specially evolved alongside the banana yucca. These yucca moths often rest within the blooms during daylight hours, so Rhiannon and I gently blow them out of the flowers as we pick them.
The taste of Yucca petals is extremely mild, reminding one of artichoke hearts. They have a lovely texture, smooth and slippery on the tongue. While some prefer to eat the petals raw in salads, I find that their flavor is better accentuated by sautéing them for just a few minutes with butter, garlic, lemon and onions.
(Serves 2 or 3)
30 -50 yucca blossoms
1 or 2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
Toasted sunflower seeds, at least 1/4 cup
1 bunch arugula (or watercress)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
First, remove the petals from the central part of the flower. Rinse the petals in a large bowl of water and then drain. Slice the onion and melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, cook the onion until it’s tender without being totally limp. Add the garlic and yucca petals and cook, stirring every 20 seconds for about 2 minutes (or until the petals are nearly translucent but haven’t begun to shrink). If using artichoke hearts instead, slice them into quarters and cook with onion until very hot. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and grated rind, cover the pan and set aside while you cook the pasta. If you’re using dried pasta rather than fresh, be sure and get it in the water well before you start the stir-fry. When the pasta is done, toss with a little butter or oil. Add the stir-fry, arugula and sunflower seeds and toss again. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve in warm bowls topped with the oil of your choice. Offer fresh Parmesan or Romano at the table alongside your favorite black olives.
•This stir fry can also be served as an appetizer, minus the pasta. Simply arrange the stir fry on a plate with a few pieces of arugula, sliced organic carrot, a chunk of fresh Parmesan and several Calamata olives. Homemade sesame crackers and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds and/or grated lemon peel are a nice touch too.