Soak or steep lavender buds in hot water, then remove the buds; the water or liquid will retain a hint of the flavor. Honey, applesauce or even vodka can be infused with the flavor of lavender in this way.
Photo by Brian Smale, courtesy Florentia Press (c) 2010
Lavender opens the door to intoxicating aromas and exotic flavors in your favorite dishes. Invite the enticing fragrance that enchants you in the garden into the kitchen with Discover Cooking with Lavender (Florentia Press, 2010) by Kathy Gehrt. From garden to table, explore the creative ways to use lavender in your recipes such as lavender infusions, roasts, blends and other baking techniques. Your cooking will never be the same.
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Lavender’s vivid color and enticing fragrance tantalize us from gardens around the globe. Hardy and evergreen, this plant flowers in summer. Easy to grow, it has only two essential requirements—full sun and well-drained soil. In return, it offers showy buds, intoxicating aroma and exotic flavor. Bees buzz around its blossoms and gather its sweet nectar and white butterflies flutter from flower to flower. As if being beautiful, fragrant and easy-to-grow weren’t enough, lavender also delivers fresh vibrant flavor when used in cooking.
Cooking with Lavender
The pungent flavor of herbs has inspired cooks for centuries. Medieval monks were among the first to embrace herbs, and they turned cooking with them into a culinary art. Apothecary gardens within the monasteries provided herbs for cooking and also for natural medicine. Lavender, once used almost exclusively for healing and cleansing, also became popular in teas, jellies and candies. In France, lavender is a popular culinary herb, but it is less well known in America. However, our consumption of herbs and spices has reached an all-time high, reflecting our enjoyment of varied flavors, appreciation of Asian and Latin American foods, and our interest in experimenting with new herbal fusions.
Use Lavender Judiciously
Lavender offers a zesty flavor, so a little goes a long way. Start with a small amount, then add more until you are satisfied with the taste. Use lavender as an accent. It should enhance the other flavors in the dish, not overpower them. Lavender may be the star in the garden, but in the kitchen, this herb’s job is to bring out the best in others.
How to Cook with Lavender
Flavoring food with lavender is easy. Three techniques and several basic recipes will get you started.
1. Infusions. Soak or steep lavender buds in hot water, then remove the buds; the water or liquid will retain a hint of the flavor. This lavender liquid can serve as the basis for herbal tea (by adding mint and chamomile), lavender syrup or lavender lemonade. Milk or cream infused with lavender adds an exotic taste to ice cream or whipped cream. Honey, applesauce or even vodka can be infused with the flavor of lavender.
2. Baking. For baking, add lavender to dry ingredients. An easy way to add the taste of lavender to pastries is to grind the buds in a food processor. Add a pinch of the ground buds to your cookie dough, cake batter or coffee cake mix. Lavender pairs well with chocolate, ginger, lemon or blueberries. I like to substitute lavender for cinnamon in some recipes. In the next chapter, you will find recipes for several lavender sugars and savory seasonings.
3. Dry Roast to Create Herbal Blends. Roasting dried lavender buds transforms the taste of lavender from slightly floral to rustic and earthy, making it perfect for savory dishes. These seasoning blends may be prepared and kept on hand in your pantry for up to a year. Be sure to label and date the container and keep in a cool, dark place.
To roast lavender, you will need 2 cups of dried culinary lavender buds and a 12-inch skillet. Put lavender buds in the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Set aside to cool.
Many cooks like to use herb blends to create unique tastes. The French are particularly expert at this technique. Herbes de Provence, a blend of dried herbs that originated in Southern France, traditionally includes thyme, rosemary, bay and fennel. This combination provides a starting point for creative cooks to add or substitute other herbs to suit their palates. The addition of lavender, mint or citrus zest can create an entirely new taste sensation.
Bouquet garni is a small bundle of fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay leaf and the like that can be tied in a cheesecloth bag and used for flavoring soups and stews. Once again, the French deserve the credit for this culinary technique. I sometimes add a sprig of lavender to my bouquet garni when poaching chicken to create a subtle zesty taste.
Fines herbes—freshly harvested and finely chopped herbs—is another way to enjoy a blend of flavors. This classic combination includes tarragon, chives, parsley and chervil. Because these herbs quickly lose their flavor, they are added just before serving. A pinch of chopped lavender blossoms added to fines herbes and blended with the other herbs gives sauces, meat and fish a fresh, bright taste.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Discover Cooking with Lavender: Fresh & Flavorful Recipes, published by Florentia Press, 2010.