Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Golden chicken soup (calendula fever)

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

I have lately spent a lot of my time in cafes pushing single viola flowers off poached eggs and choking on dried petals in my smoothies. The trend that started with nasturtium flowers has run deep into anything non-toxic. Flowers in food – or rather, flowers on food – have become photogenic enough to be commercially viable.

Don’t get me wrong – I love flowers, and because of this I actually want to do more than just look at them on my plate. My mother was a florist and I have been exposed to their wonderful use in cuisine for both their flavour and medicinal properties. It pains me to think they could be seen as just “garnish”, but this is the worrying trend among some of my preferred day dining spots.

Broad beans, borage, rocket, onion flowers and even crocus (saffron) can bring such complexity to dishes, and they also make use of the plant cycle in a wise way. These and many more flowers, usually in dried form, also have medicinal and broader uses. They can be steeped into warm teas or stocks and, in the case of artichoke flowers, can be used as a replacement for rennet in cheese production.

Calendula (described by herbalist Nicholas Culpepper in the mid-1600s as a “herb of the sun”) brings a brilliant golden hue to both savoury and sweet applications. Raid your local health food store for a great range of these herbs from our disappearing domestic commercial herb and flower producers. Drop them in your broths in quantity and celebrate the summer year round. Flowers are food and also a wonderful flavour when used with confidence.


Time: 1 hour preparation + 2 hours cooking

For the broth

  • 3kg chicken wings
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 7½cm fresh ginger
  • 2 white onions
  • 2½cm fresh turmeric
  • 500ml Shaoxing wine
  • 60ml light soy
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • ½ cup calendula flowers (fresh) or
  • 1 tbsp dried petals
  • 30g rock sugar

For the dumplings

  • 500g chicken thigh meat (preferably minced)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 15ml sesame oil
  • 1 tsp shredded Vietnamese mint
  • pinch salt
  • 30ml light soy

To finish

  • 80g dried jellyfish
  • ½ cup calendula flowers (fresh) or
  • 1 tbsp dried petals
  1. Roast the chicken wings, garlic, ginger, onions and turmeric in a shallow tray lined with greaseproof paper at 160°C for 40 minutes. Let cool, then use a meat cleaver to chop these ingredients, bones and all, finely into a mince.
  2. Put this into a stainless steel bowl with three litres of water and the rest of the broth ingredients. Cover with the greaseproof paper and then aluminium foil, and place over a pot of boiling water for two hours.
  3. Chop the chicken thigh very finely or put in a food processor with the rest of the dumpling ingredients until tightly combined. Form into dumplings of about 20 grams each and set aside.
  4. Soak the jellyfish for 30 minutes in cold water and bring to the boil. Repeat with fresh water three times before refreshing and shredding finely.
  5. Strain the broth and adjust the seasoning. Add the dumplings, then the calendula petals. Let this steep for 10 minutes before finishing with the shredded jellyfish. Finish with more flower petals.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 29, 2022 as "The golden bowl".

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