Learning About Culinary Lavender
The resurgence of lavender as a culinary herb comes as no surprise to those of us enamored with this extraordinary plant. A recent visit to Pinterest provides convincing evidence that others are just as fascinated by lavender and the many ways in which it can be used in the kitchen.
A great deal of time has been spent reading cookbooks, researching lavender recipes, testing and finally tasting our endeavors in an effort to bring tantalizing new tastes to Le Petit Bistro this coming season. Our culinary lavender buds have been pulverized, steeped and roasted. They have been mixed in, sprinkled on top, and be it sweet or savory, those beautiful blue, lavender buds have produced all kinds of mouthwatering new bites!
While we encourage everyone to experiment and give culinary lavender a try, there are a few facts one should know about this delightful herb. There are over two-hundred varieties of lavender and though they all look and smell wonderful, it is important to note that not all lavender plants are best suited for consumption.
Most varieties of lavender can be used in cooking; however, those in the Lavandula angustifolia, commonly referred to as “English Lavender,” are the best choice for culinary use. English lavenders are a smaller, more compact plant with narrow leaves and they produce the sweetest, most intense fragrance among all species of lavender. As a rule of thumb, the darkest blooms will typically produce the most intense flavor and fragrance. For those who live in colder climates English lavender is the variety of choice for its ability to survive cold winters.
“French,” Lavandula x intermedia and “Spanish,” Lavandula stoechas varieties are best planted in warmer climate zones. These two lavender varieties are renowned for their aromatic properties and will produce an intense flowery perfume. They are prized above all, for the oil they produce. French and Spanish lavenders are larger plants with broader leaves and make for a showy landscape. If used in cooking the end result will be a bitter, soapy, almost medicinal taste.
It is always best to check with your local nursery to determine which variety of lavender is best suited to your climate zone. Most importantly, make certain that any lavender plants you intend to use for culinary purposes have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides.
Now, how best to use this culinary marvel? A particular favorite is Herbs de Provence, a savory blend of parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme and lavender. Whether it is used as a rub for meats, fish and fowl or tossed into vinaigrette, it is always delicious. A handful of lavender buds, dry roasted in a skillet not only fragrance the kitchen, but as the oils evaporate the lavender buds become less floral in taste. Toss them with garlic, rosemary, olive oil and fingerling potatoes. Sprinkle lavender buds, olive oil and balsamic vinegar over tomatoes then slow roast in the oven….perfection! The possibilities are endless.
For those with a sweet tooth there is nothing more delicious than chocolate infused with lavender. A Le Petit Bistro favorite is Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding with lavender custard. When you marry lavender and vanilla in custard your taste buds will thank you. Lavender also pairs beautifully with lemon, anything! Lavender lemonade is a refreshing, summer favorite at Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm. Lemon Drop Martinis are also a favorite when infused with lavender simple syrup, after a hard day’s work of course! An afternoon cup of Earl Grey Lavender tea or the Amoré for those who are caffeine sensitive is always a great treat. Lavender honey drizzled on brie, or anything else for that matter is indescribably delicious. We are limited only by our own imaginations when it comes to the use of culinary lavender. If, a bit of inspiration is required borrow a recipe. Countless numbers of cookbooks have been written, devoted exclusively to the use of culinary lavender. A good place to start is Sharon Shipley’s, the Lavender Cookbook. From first course to last, Ms. Shipley gives you step by step instruction on the use of culinary lavender. Her recipes are “spot on!”
As you embark on your own adventures cooking with culinary lavender remember that, “all things in moderation” is a good idea. Like any other herb, strive for nuance in flavor. If you want to learn more about cooking with lavender, join us this summer at our first, annual Lavender Festival 2015. We will be celebrating ALL things lavender July 24, 25, and 26. Professional chefs will be offering demonstrations and instruction in the use of culinary lavender. There will of course, be many delicious foods featuring lavender and plenty of drink to quench your thirst. We hope to see you then!