In Mexico, chef Hugo Ortega's home country, squash blossoms are an abundant treasure, their arrival at markets signaling the threshold between spring and summer has been crossed. The sunshine-yellow blossoms are called flores de calabaza in Spanish, flowers from the summer squash which will soon be harvested in equal abundance.
1600 Westheimer Rd.
Here in Houston, Ortega heralds the arrival of squash blossom season each year with a menu that celebrates the delicate flowers in a variety of dishes. These squash blossoms are grown just for Ortega by a local farmer, a method employed as much to support area producers as to support the large quantity that Hugo's goes through during squash blossom season—usually between 1500 and 2000 flowers a week.
June 1 marked the first day of the seasonsal squash blossom menu at Hugo's, which includes traditional favorites such as quesadillas de flor de calabaza and squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese. It's the latter that I enjoyed during a visit to Hugo's last Friday night with my mother, who makes a yearly pilgrimage to Hugo's just for that menu. (Though, to be fair, she makes other yearly pilgrimages to Hugo's as well: in the winter for the churros and hot chocolate; in the spring for the first margaritas of the year; et cetera.)
In addition, you can find other specials such as squash blossom soup; a fresh garden salad with butter lettuce, purslane, avocado, herbs, ribbons of summer squash, and squash blossoms dressed with olive oil and lime juice; a coctel de flor de calabaza that mingles the squash blossoms with other summer garden favorites like corn, tomatoes, and cucumber; and even enchiladas stuffed with squash blossoms, corn, poblano peppers, and calabacitas, topped with a tomatillo salsa and crema fresca.
I think Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan, describes the flavor of squash blossoms best—and what makes these little flowers as treasured here as ramps are along the eastern seaboard or fiddlehead ferns are in the northeast:
My first taste of squash blossoms was a surprise. I figured they would have a more sweetly floral flavor, much like rose petals. But instead they’re more savory, with a hint of the zucchini they would have become if not plucked from the ground. And when cooked, squash blossoms’ presence is more noted in its silky texture rather than an overpowering flavor—they are subtle, but delicious nonetheless.
Ever since then I’ve been intrigued by these fragile, fluffy flowers; at the farmer’s market here they are a true harbinger of summer—once they start arriving, corn, stone fruits and tomatoes can’t be too far behind.