WHAT IS IT?
Here’s a trivia moment for your next big food geek night: Lavender isn’t really lavender: It’s actually Lavandula, a flowering plant in the mint family. People decorate all the time with these pretty pastel purple flowers, but, cook with them?!
You betcha! Lavender has a legendary aroma that lends itself beautifully to both sweet and savory dishes, and rocks the house incorporated into pasta.
Lavender is definitely a “less is more” ingredient, unless you want your dish to taste more like a soap than a lightly lavender-scented sopapilla, for example. It adds aroma, visually, and tactilely, the buds, sprinkled over a steamed fish with a tarragon butter drizzle is off-the-charts good. You’ll find it also adds aroma and flavor to anything sweet, so cakes, icings, etc. can seem a bit more extravagant with a lavender finish.
Lavender grows in temperate climates from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, Europe across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia to southeast India. Culinary lavender is largely the English species of Lavender (l. angustifolia and munstead), although it is grown outside of the United Kingdom in Europe and North America as a commercial culinary product.
- Cakes and icings
- Lavender fettucine
- Herbs de Provence blend
- Sorbet and ice creams
- A garnish for all kinds of savory dishes
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Grilled shrimp salad with my lavender fennel pollen dressing.
- Peach and lavender ice cream
- Roasted potatoes with lavender and thyme
- Steamed fish with tarragon oil, sprinkled with lavender
Culinary lavender has been in use at least as far back as the 15th century in Europe. Queen Elizabeth I was partial to both a preserve (conserve) and a tea made from lavender.
Lavender species are not toxic, BUT please do not harvest fresh lavender from your garden unless you are:
- Well trained enough to identify English lavender (l. angustifolia and munstead). Other non-culinary, decorative species may be more bitter.
- Are certain that your lavender has not been sprayed with common yard pesticides or is in range of a lawn being maintained with chemical fertilizers and/or pesticides. You can ingest poisons from the yard in the lavender.
Always use lavender sparingly. The essential oils in the buds are quite potent and can turn your food bitter or more unpleasantly soapy if you use too much.
Dried lavender should be used at 1/3 the level of a recipe calling for fresh.