How to use lavender in your kitchen like a pro.
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Everybody knows lavender for its signature purple beauty and relaxing aroma and I’ll bet almost all of us have owned a piece of lavender soap at least once in our lives. It’s also an edible herb and you’ve probably seen it used in restaurants or ice cream shops, but when it comes to cooking with lavender at home, most people are quite intimidated by it. That’s partly because culinary lavender is not widely available if you don’t live in France, which is famous for its gorgeous lavender fields, so we don’t get much cooking practice with it.
I’ve been trying to source it locally for a reasonable price and found a small Slovenian business named Blue Hill Slovenia, which grows their lavender on a hill in northern Slovenia. Since they are eco certified and share my core sustainability values, I reached out and made a deal with Viktorija, one half of the lavender couple, to bring you some lavender posts and try out their products.
Lavender goes great with lemon and herbs and you can use it in both sweet and savoury dishes, so you definitely need some dried flower buds in your kitchen, but there are also a lot of lavender products like the lavender syrup, hydrosol and honey I tried from Blue Hill Slovenia (all super delicious!). However, not all lavenders are suitable for cooking and what we normally consider as culinary lavender is always a sort of true lavender (L. angustifolia) as opposed to similar plants like lavandin (L. x. intermedia). The main difference is in essential oil content, as lavenders with too much essential oil will make your food taste bitter, pungent and a bit like soap, because they contain a high amount of camphor.
All lavenders are technically edible, but the results will not always be as pleasant and ingesting too much camphor with your lavender can even be harmful, so only English and French varieties are commonly used for cooking with lavender. Blue Hill Slovenia grows English true lavender, so that’s the one I’m using as well. Also, wherever you buy your lavender, make sure they don’t use pesticides if you’re planning to cook with it. It’s best to get certified organic or eco lavender and in Blue Hill Slovenia they do everything by hand in limited quantities.
One of the simplest and most fool-proof ways to introduce lavender to your taste buds is to use it in drinks. You can add it in the form of syrup or by adding the flowers buds directly into your drink. If you are using flower buds, you’ll need to wait a few minutes for the lavender to infuse into your chosen liquid for maximum flavour.
Here are some drinks to try:
- Lavender lemonade
- Lavender mojito
- Earl grey tea with lemon juice and lavender syrup
Lavender lemonade is a classic and it will escalate your regular lemonade straight into fancy territory with minimal effort, so it’s something to impress your guests with. However, if you really want to impress them, you could try serving a lavender mojito. You can make it with sugar, white rum and club soda same as the usual one, but substitute the mint for lavender flower buds and the lime for lemon + an extra splash of lavender syrup. There’s also lavender martini, lavender gin sour, lavender margarita and so on, but lavender goes best with alcohols like gin and vodka.
If you like tea, you can brew some lavender tea or enhance a different tea with a teaspoon of lavender honey or lavender syrup. I find it goes great with earl grey or black tea in particular and you can make delicious ice teas. Otherwise you can also pair lavender with tonic water or club soda for a mild aftertaste and add it to your smoothies or fresh juices based on strawberries, blueberries, grapefruit, orange or lemon.
As a spice, lavender goes great with savoury dishes too, so you can use it to make your next meal more aromatic. I’ve found it works best with similar flavours as Mediterranean and French spices, so you can use it where you would use thyme, mint, oregano, sage, basil, rosemary, chives, marjoram and savory as a general guideline. It pairs deliciously with all of these, although preferably not all at once, as well as with garlic, lemon and olive oil.
Some inspiration from me:
- Endive salad with salmon, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, cashews, garlic, chives and lavender
- Oven-baked salmon fillets and potatoes with rosemary and lavender
- Lemon chicken skewers with broccoli, quinoa and lavender
- White bean soup with roasted tomatoes with herbs de Provence
Lavender goes really well with salmon, lamb and chicken and even with complex flavours like goat cheese and asparagus. Rice, potatoes, quinoa and wheat egg pasta will all work nicely as sides to something with lavender, as well as vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, white or borlotti beans, zucchini, leeks, green leaf lettuce etc.. Since it has a strong flavour, it’s best to pick one or two herbs to go with it and stick to low quantities to add just the right floral note to your dish. You can use it in dry rubs, salad dressings, soups and cream sauces or just sprinkled on top of baked goods.
Of course this post wouldn’t be complete without something sweet and desserts are probably where lavender is most commonly used. You’ll often find it macaroons, cakes, cookies, ice cream, tarts, cupcakes etc., and it makes everything taste like summer. It goes great with vanilla, blueberries, blackberries, peach, honey, apricots, oranges, almonds, white chocolate, anything creamy (cooking cream, cream cheese, mascarpone…) and obviously lemon.
Here are some ideas:
- Lavender butter cookies with lemon sugar glaze
- Lavender cheesecake
- Lavender honey cakes
You can also use lavender in a decadent chocolate cake or blueberry muffins like in the recipes on Blue Hill’s blog (in Slovenian) or in my recipe for a lavender white chocolate loaf cake I posted earlier.
There are several ways to add lavender to you desserts besides directly using lavender syrup, flower buds or honey. You can make lavender sugar by blending lavender buds with sugar in a food processor so that the oils and aroma are released, or you can do it the old fashioned way and leave the sugar and flower buds to seat in a sealed container for a few weeks until it’s fully infused with lavender. Similarly, you can infuse your cooking cream or milk with lavender by gently simmering it in a pan on medium heat for a few minutes. Strain out the lavender buds and you can use your lavender cream for cake icing or filling, while lavender milk on its own can also be a calming evening drink. This works with both milk and plant-based milks like almond, oat almond or soy.
Whatever you decide to cook, make sure you don’t use too much lavender, because it has a strong, aromatic flavour that can quickly become overwhelming. When cooking with lavender, less is usually more, so be conservative. Another word of advice: dried flower buds will have a stronger flavour than fresh ones, so pay attention and use only about 1/3 if the recipe calls for fresh flower buds and you have dry. Also, if you sprinkle some extra flower buds on top of your finished dish, it will look really pretty. 🙂
Hopefully this post has whetted your appetite and you’re now ready to start cooking with lavender! If you have any questions, you can always ask me in the comments and go check out Blue Hill Slovenia’s website for your culinary lavender supply. They also make lavender soap, body oil and essential oil if you need some aromatherapy + you can visit them in June during blooming season or try your hand at lavender harvesting, learn about the distillation process and sample their products. I did (see here)!
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