Lavender is a member of the mint family and closely related to rosemary, thyme and sage – and all four can be found in certain blends of Herbes de Provence – a culinary construct invented in the 1970s by herb and spice manufacturers. Lavender has a distinctive and pleasing bittersweet flavour with a hint of citrusy lemon. Just a pinch or sprinkle can transform a dish – a little does go a long way.
If you have never cooked with lavender, start by using it as a garnish or by making a cup of lavender tea. Once you’re hooked, you can then start adding it to dishes before they are cooked. One simple way of discovering lavender’s culinary possibilities is to use it as an alternative to rosemary. This also gives a clue to the fact that it goes deliciously well with lamb – indeed, spring lamb that has grazed in lavender fields is one of France’s best kept culinary secrets.
Fresh or dried, the flowers, leaves and stems are all edible. Drying concentrates the flavour, so use a 1/3 of the quantity you would for fresh.
- Sprinkle a few lavender flowers in salads…
…or on ice cream or trifle
- Relax with a cup of lavender tea – steep a teaspoon of dried lavender (or three of fresh) in a cup of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. This was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth 1 – and an excellent way of introducing yourself to the unique taste of lavender
- Serve a garnish of leaves and flowers with roast lamb
- Use the stems as skewers for kebabs
- Add sprigs of lavender to homemade lemonade
- If you’ve caught the bread baking bug, chop up a few flowers and add to the dough…
…or add the same to biscuits, scones and simple sponges before baking. (It will do wonders to a chocolate cake)
- Crystallise the flowers and use as edible cake decorations
- Mix 6-12 lavender flowers into sugar and leave in a tightly sealed container for a minimum of two weeks. Use your lavender sugar as you would ordinary in cakes, buns, custard – even meringues
- Milk puddings and custards can be transformed by infusing 2-3 flower heads in the milk or cream.
For a real treat, try a lavender panna cotta: follow the recipe, replacing the vanilla pod with a couple of lavender flower heads. Serve with a fresh sprig as decoration. Simple, but stunning
- Next time you are boiling new potatoes, add a teaspoon of fresh lavender flowers– this works just as well if you are sautéing them
- Pop a few flowers in a glass of sparkling wine – perhaps best not to do this with the ’88 Krug but it will certainly pep up a Prosecco or give a glass of Cava a kick
- Roast your leg or shoulder of lamb with lavender instead of rosemary
- Add a few sprigs to a stew – or chop up a few leaves and add to the dumpling mix
And after all that cooking, run a deep, hot bath with a good few handfuls of lavender, climb in …and relax.