Cooking with lavender is a delightful way to expand your culinary horizons.
Tips for Cooking with Lavender
1. Select the best variety for cooking. Lavender varies in the potency and flavor of the oils, so selecting the best variety when cooking with lavender is an important first step. English Lavender (L. Angustifolia) has the sweetest fragrance of all lavenders, and is the most commonly used. Within the varieties of English Lavender the flavors will vary…some sweeter, some more lemon like.
Our favorite English lavender for cooking is the pink lavender Melissa. A bolder lavender flavor is found in the Lavandins (L. Intermedia). Their oils are more astringent and camphorous. If English lavender is not available, we will cook with the Lavandin Provence because of its milder fragrance.
2. Use the proper amount. Lavender is a strong herb that can “overdose” a recipe unless used sparingly. When beginning to experiment in cooking with lavender you should use it as a background flavor…like vanilla; you know it is there, but it is not the main player. It’s important to note that the potency of the flowers increases with drying. In cooking, we like to use 1/3 the quantity of dried flowers to fresh. So, if a recipe calls for 3 teaspoon fresh lavender, try substituting 1 teaspoon of dried.
3. The best lavender comes from drying your own each year. Place dried lavender in an air tight, dark container, or freeze in zip lock bags. Use within a year.
4. Starting by experimenting. Lavender flowers are most commonly used in dessert recipes, but as you progress in cooking with lavender, you will discover it is also an outstanding addition to savory recipes. Like rosemary, lavender can add a robust flavor to roasted meats and is especially good with lamb. In France, it is used in combination with other Mediterranean herbs in a savory blend called Herbs de Provence. At Purple Haze, our Herbs de Provence blend includes basil, oregano, lavender, sage, and fennel.
A most appealing and easy way to cook with lavender is to create a lavender sugar. In a clean coffee mill, place the buds of two lavender flowers, with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar. Grind these together until a fine sugar is created. This breaks apart the lavender buds and releases their essential oils into the sugar. Store this fragrant sugar in an air tight container in the freezer to use through out the year. Once you have this in your pantry, you can experiment with adding this flavored sugar to your baking. Other methods of introducing the flavor are to steep lavender flowers in warm milk, cream or sugar syrups. Consider using these infused liquids and sugar to flavor whipping cream, homemade ice cream, jams and jellies, fruit syrups, iced tea, shortbread cookies, scones, glazes on pound cakes, biscotti, sorbets, granitas, custards, and cheesecakes. A recent survey indicated that the two favorite smells for most men were lavender and pumpkin pie. Start with Thanksgiving dinner!
5. Use good companions when cooking with lavender. Lemon is an outstanding companion to lavender. You can add even more zest to recipes with lemon by adding the mystery of lavender…everything from lemonade and pound cake to lemon chicken. Honey is another wonderful companion to lavender. Warm honey gently with lavender in a teaball or cheesecloth bag to infuse a subtle and intriguing flavor into the honey.
In Jerry Traunfeld’s book, The Herbfarm Cookbook, he recommends using lavender syrups or lavender creams with berries, black currents, cherries, figs, ginger, lemon, orange, plum and vanilla.
6. Use established recipes when cooking with lavender. Our friend and chef Hope Borsato has developed several recipes using lavender: Medjool dates with lavender pistachio mascarpone, Herbed chevre with crostini, Mixed provencal olives with lavender and herbs de provence, Lavender, honey and pistachio crusted lamb chops and many more. Many of these recipes are on our recipe page. Try some of the recipes from The Herbfarm Cookbook that contain lavender: apple jelly, ginger creme brulee, ginger panna cotta, pistachio pavlova, plum chutney, potatoes with rosemary and lavender, rhubarb pie, leg of lamb, shortbread and a walnut and honey slipper bread. Prepare an entire meal around this provocative herb.
Begin this summer by preparing a Clafoutis. This classic French recipe was developed by our friend Hope Borsato. It is a delicious country dessert or a simple but elegant breakfast. Hope also recommends using black cherries, and Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for clafoutis includes fresh apricots. He “kicks it up a notch” by serving it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a garnish of sliced, toasted almonds.
7. Using lavender to flavor alcohol. Lavender is not only a stranger to most kitchens, it is also rare in the bar. When lavender flowers are steeped in alcohol, the essential oils are extracted from the buds and infused into the alcohol. A visitor to our farm last year said that he placed sprigs of lavender into a gin bottle and then puts the bottle in the freezer for summer drinks. He swears that the combination of gin and lavender make an absolutely fabulous gin and tonic! A sprig of lavender in a martini with a twist of lemon is another intriguing synergy.
At our yearly Lavender Festival we serve Lavender Margaritas taken from the Sunset Magazine recipe. Sante!