RECIPE AND PHOTOS BY PAOLA THOMAS
Lavender. It grows splendidly here in the Pacific Northwest, and we’ve all probably got a bush or two out in the yard — or know of friends who do. And yet we rarely, if ever, cook with it, which is a huge pity, as it is one of the most versatile of culinary herbs, with a slightly sweet taste and a distinctive fragrance that marries equally well with sweet and savory dishes. It can be used in many recipes as a less pungent substitute for its close cousin rosemary, and like rosemary, it pairs extremely well with citrus fruits of all kinds.
People, me included, are wary of using lavender, because it can often taste soapy. But use culinary lavender judiciously, and it will add an indefinable oral je ne sais quoi to your dish. Culinary lavender is not a specific variety; it’s just lavender that has been harvested before the flowers are fully opened on the flower head and too much of the bitter lavender oil has developed. The tender young leaves can also be used, in much the same way that you would use rosemary. If you’re wary of cutting lavender yourself, many of our local lavender farms, such as Lavender Wind on Whidbey Island, sell dried culinary lavender.
LAVENDER, ELDERFLOWER, AND GRAPEFRUIT GIN FIZZ
When I started mulling over a lavender cocktail, I knew immediately that lavender’s flowery tones would pair well with an elderflower liqueur such as St-Germain and the botanical flavors of gin. From there, my mind jumped to a refreshing and summery gin fizz made with a lavender simple syrup and a dash of St-Germain.
A gin fizz is traditionally made with lemon, but this can overpower the delicate lavender syrup a little too much. A substitution of pink grapefruit juice brings out the lavender’s sweet aromatics perfectly. If you can find Lavender DRY Soda, do use that to top up the fizz. Otherwise, club soda or even sparkling water will work just fine. If you don’t want to use a raw egg white, your resulting fizz will still be delicious — just less light and frothy — and it will require less work with the shaker. We suggest omitting the egg white if you’re making a big batch of these, unless you fancy a workout.
Makes one 8-ounce cocktail | active time 5 minutes
2 ounces gin (a local artisanal gin, full of fresh botanicals, is perfect for this)
3 ounces unsweetened pink grapefruit juice
1⁄2 ounce elderflower liqueur (such as St-Germain)
1 ounce lavender simple syrup* (see recipe at right)
1 egg white (optional)
Top up to taste with Lavender DRY soda, club soda, or sparkling water
Combine the gin, pink grapefruit juice, elderflower liqueur, lavender simple syrup, and egg white in a cocktail shaker. If you have a cocktail strainer with a metal spring, remove the spring and place it in the shaker. This will help whip up the egg white. Shake vigorously until very foamy, about two minutes, and then strain into a Collins class or similar, filled with ice. Top up with soda or sparkling water to taste. Garnish with fresh lavender.
*Lavender Simple Syrup
It’s possible to buy lavender simple syrup, but it’s also extremely easy to make your own.
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3-4 tender sprigs of lavender with flowers and leaves or 1 tablespoon dried lavender
In a small pan combine sugar, water, and lavender. Bring to the boil and simmer it gently until the sugar fully dissolves. Set aside to cool and so the lavender can infuse. When it is completely cool, strain to remove the lavender.
Extra syrup may be stored in a glass container in the fridge for up to a week.
GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH LAVENDER CHIMICHURRI
This herby, garlicky sauce from Argentina is most traditionally served with a grilled steak, but I always think its vinegary tang is a wonderful complement to the sweetness of lamb. When I experimented with adding fresh lavender to the more usual herbs, I wondered whether it would stand up to the more robust flavors of garlic, vinegar, and mint. I needn’t have worried: There it was, adding a bright floral note and a subtle complexity to the mix.
Serves 4 | active time 20 minutes including grilling
3 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh Italian parsley
3 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon tender fresh lavender leaves
1/2 tablespoon lavender flower heads, picked before they have fully opened
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
4 large lamb chops or lamb steaks, about 1 inch thick salt and pepper to season
To prepare the chimichurri, remove the leaves of the parsley, oregano, mint, and lavender from their stems. Finely chop the leaves, together with the garlic and the lavender flowers. You can use a food processor, but be careful not to turn the herbs into a puree.
Place the chopped herb mix in a bowl, stir in the crushed red peppers, and add the vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Preheat your grill or broiler to high and grill the chops 3–5 minutes on each side until cooked but still pink on the inside. Serve topped with the chimichurri.
LAVENDER LEMON POSSET WITH A LAVENDER HAZELNUT CRUMB
Until the First World War, when rising land prices and lack of manpower ravaged the industry, South West London was famous for its vast fields of lavender. Lavender had been used for centuries in England as a perfume, a medicinal herb, and in cooking, and both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria were fans. So it seemed appropriate to include lavender in a posset, an old English dessert in which cream is heated and then slightly curdled with acid, in the form of citrus juice or wine, so that it sets.
While a lavender shortbread would pair perfectly with this decadently creamy dessert, I took that idea in a slightly different direction by topping the possets with a lavender hazelnut shortbread crumb.
Serves: 4 | Active time: 25 minutes (start to finish: 5 hours, including baking and chilling time)
For the lavender hazelnut shortbread crumb
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup hazelnut flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried lavender or fresh lavender heads, picked when the flowers are just opening
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Stir in the hazelnut flour, all-purpose flour, lavender, and salt to create a crumbly mixture. Don’t work it into a dough. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and spoon the crumbles onto the paper in a thin layer. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and crunchy. Cool completely, then crumble into even smaller crumbs with your fingers. Store the crumbs in an airtight container for up to a week.
For the posset:
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tender sprigs fresh lavender, with flowers and leaves
5 tablespoons lemon juice
Bring the cream and sugar to boiling point in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the lavender. Remember that the boiling point of cream is much lower than that of water, so take care that it doesn’t boil over.
The moment it starts to bubble vigorously, remove the saucepan from the heat, add the lemon juice, and stir thoroughly. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan for around 15 minutes. Strain to remove the lavender. Pour into 4 ramekins or glasses. Chill until set, about 4 hours, and decorate with the lavender hazelnut shortbread crumbs and some fresh sprigs of lavender.