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« Salad Days | Main | Living the Life of Pie »

In Love with Lavender

By Katie Barreira

Your immediate associations with lavender may include eye pillows, scented dresser drawers and massage oil. But the fragrant buds are also a standard culinary herb most commonly known for its starring role in the classic French spice blend, herbes de Provence.

It dawned on me during a recent visit to the Lavender by the Bay farm in Long Island, NY, where the violet stalks are in bloom, that lavender buds are a versatile and underutilized ingredient. So I picked up a sack of dried culinary lavender to tinker with at home…my suitcase still smells fabulous, but that’s nothing compared to the warm, sweet scent wafting from the oven.

Now, no matter how inspired you might be to cook with these fragrant florets, don’t run to your dresser drawer and rip open the sachet perfuming your skivvies. There are specific varieties of lavender that are good for cooking, sold as “culinary lavender.”

Lavendar Tea
At VINe wine bar and restaurant in Greenport, Long Island, you can finish a decedent meal with a cup of lavender tea; a stunningly simple cup of hot water steeped with a fresh sprig of lavender.

For a home version, add a pinch of dried lavender to the pot when brewing your favorite tea; strain before serving. Flowery lavender blends particularly well with the following teas: Earl Grey, Chamomile, Mint and Green.

Rosemary Lavender Shortbread
I’ve found that for my taste, lavender in strictly sweet preparations comes across a bit soapy. The savory addition of rosemary to these cookies both shows off and balances lavender’s floral flavor.

2 teaspoons culinary lavender buds
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, firm but not cold
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. In a spice grinder, pulse lavender with 1 tablespoon of the sugar until finely ground.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, remaining sugar, lavender sugar (that you just made in the spice grinder), lemon peel, rosemary, flour, cornstarch and salt just until the dough just comes together.
  3. Transfer dough to a flour-dusted cookie sheet or cutting board. Press into an 8-inch square about ½-inch thick (use that ever-handy bench scraper to square the edges.) Refrigerate on pan until firm, about 30 minutes. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Cut into rectangles or squares and refrigerate until cold, about 15 minutes.
  4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 275°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment, transfer half of the cookies to prepared pan, keeping the other half refrigerated, and bake until the bottoms of the cookies are golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Makes about 32 cookies.

Moroccan Spice-Rubbed Lamb Chops

1 teaspoon culinary lavender buds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 lamb chops
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  1. Finely grind lavender and thyme leaves in spice grinder. Mix with remaining spices, salt and pepper.
  2. Rub both sides of lamb chops with spice blend and let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. Drizzle oil over chops and massage on both sides to create thin paste. Grill over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes per side, or until a meat thermometer reads 135 degrees F, for medium rare.

Makes 8 servings.

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