Lavender is one of the most versatile culinary herbs — used correctly, you can take many of the foods you use regularly anyway and perfume them lightly with the herby, floral, slightly astringent smell of one of the world’s most alluring scents.
But be careful. A little lavender goes a long way. Use it too much and it will completely overpower the other flavors in your dishes. The goal is to add subtle lavender fragrance, not a perfume bomb you can smell half a mile away.
If you are using the lavender from your own garden, here are some steps to preparing the flowers for use in cooking:
- Harvest the lavender. The blossoms are ready when the brilliant purple flowers have emerged and have not yet begun to wilt. If you are cutting lavender yourself, cut the stalks a few inches above the plant’s woody growth and gather the lavender into a bunch. Tie it together.
- Dry the lavender. You can always use lavender fresh, or you can hang it up or lay it flat to dry it. Note: If you are cooking with fresh lavender, use three times the number of flowers as in a dried lavender recipe.
- De-stem the lavender. You can use the whole stalk in cooking, but many people prefer to remove the flowers from the stalk and store them separately.
- Store it well. Store lavender in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. A Mason jar is a good choice.
If you don’t know exactly what has been sprayed on your lavender or on the lavender in the field near you, it is a good idea to buy from a reputable lavender farm or from an online lavender dealer. Byrne and Perry’s Chef Products carries a great Culinary French Lavender, harvested in the Provence.
Cooking with lavender
Here are some ideas for perfuming your food with lavender.
Smeared on fresh baked goods, there is nothing that feels more special than a specialty butter like lavender butter. Take (½ pound) of room-temperature butter and top it with a tablespoon of dried, ground (if desired) lavender. Mix the lavender and butter together in a mixing bowl. Chill it for two days to let the lavender flavor develop. Use it directly atop your favorite bread, scone or muffin.
Lavender sugar can be used in any recipe calling for cane sugar, so the opportunities are limitless! Use about 1 tablespoon dried lavender for every 2 cups of Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Fair Trade Cane Sugar. If you have an Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, or food processor, grind the lavender for about 15 seconds to develop the lavender flavor. Add a cup of granulated sugar to the process and blend well, about three or four quick presses on a Cuisinart. Store the lavender sugar in an airtight container such as a Ball Jar and use it in all of your favorite sweet baking recipes that call for sugar.
Using a funnel, drop about a ¼ cup lavender flowers into a bottle of your favorite vodka. Take out the funnel and close the bottle. Shake, so the flowers mix throughout. Store in the freezer for three days. Strain the vodka into a separate container, using a fine-mesh sieve, a cheesecloth or a paper towel. Squeeze the bundle with the flowers in it to extract as much lavender flavor as possible. Pour the vodka back in the bottle and store in your freezer for use in a lavender vodka tonic with a splash of lime. If you’re inspired to try more botanicals in your cocktails, check out The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks.
Lavender balsamic vinaigrette
Lavender can add a quick, floral kick to any basic vinaigrette recipe. In vinaigrette recipes calling for a combination of balsamic vinegar, oil, honey and ground pepper, add 1 tablespoon of fresh lavender (or a third of that of dried) for every 1½ cups of vinaigrette.
Poultry invites new herb combinations, and lavender will be a real surprise to your guests. Create a rub for roasted chicken using about a tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1½ tablespoons dried lavender, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon honey.
Lavender and blueberry anything
Of all the fruits you can perfume with lavender, blueberry is my favorite. And lucky for us, they usually are in season at the same time. Try putting lavender sugar into your favorite blueberry cobbler at the height of the season, bake some lavender directly into blueberry lavender scones, or infuse some milk with lavender and pour it atop fresh blueberries. About half a teaspoon of lavender is usually a good fit with a pint of fruit.
Salmon and lavender
Create a rub of lime zest and lime juice from two limes, ½ teaspoon thyme, ½ teaspoon dried lavender, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub the seasoning mix on salmon fillets and bake as you would in your favorite salmon recipe.
How do you use lavender? If you are inspired to try more recipes with lavender, I highly recommend Sharon Shipley’s The Lavender Cookbook.