When it comes to cooking with exotic herbs, lavender is an unsung culinary hero – adding a delicious and unexpected twist to your favourite dishes. These are our top tips on bringing a touch of Provence to your kitchen
Get it right
First of all, make sure you buy culinary lavender rather than a standard bunch from your local garden centre. It won’t cause you any harm, but there is a difference between culinary and ornamental lavender. You can pick it up online and in Waitrose.
Less is more
The golden rule with lavender is to use it sparingly. When done right it adds a distinctive flavour (akin to rosemary or thyme), but too much can be overpowering.
Perhaps the most popular way to use culinary lavender is in desserts. Add a fragrant twist to dishes such as crème brûlée (Jamie Oliver shares his recipe here) and panna cotta by infusing lavender buds into the milk. Bring to the boil and leave to infuse for around five minutes, then strain to avoid ‘bits’ in your pudding. You could even try infusing it in treats such as ice cream, butter, cream and chocolate. Fancy the cheat’s option? Pop into Peggy Porschen to try their delicious lemon & lavender shortbread or almost too-pretty-to-eat floral biscuits, made with French lavender honey and decorated with edible blooms.
Use in booze
As well as desserts, lavender works a treat in fruity cocktails. World-famous syrup brand Monin stocks a pure lavender bottle which can be used in several alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The company’s ‘beverage innovation director’ recommends using it in a simple peach tea (recipe here) or spray over a gin martini for a surprise floral flavour. Alternatively, pull up a pew at the Drunken Oyster above Hai Cenato to try this month’s guest Negroni, the Pax Rata Fiat Negroni; mixed with sweet Evangelista's Ratafia wine, gin, Galliano L'Aperitivo and lavender bitters.
Time for tea
Lavender is known for its sleep-assisting properties, so it makes sense to pop a few sprigs in your late-night herbal brew. Next time you find yourself counting sheep, try a cup of Pukka Night Time Tea from Holland & Barrett. This unique blend of oat flower, lavender and lime flower will have you in the land of nod in no time. If you need something a little stronger, loose-leaf tea specialist T2 sells a pure lavender blend to instantly transport you to the fields of Provence. Experiment by mixing with other T2 blends such as Liquorice Legs or French Earl Grey.
Roast with the most
Jazz up your Sunday roast with fresh lavender. It goes particularly well with roast lamb or beef, either mixed in a glaze with honey and garlic or as a rub with other spices such as thyme, sage and rosemary. Alternatively, create your own lavender-flavoured salt with Jamie Oliver’s simple DIY trick. Add a few lavender sprigs to salt, fennel seeds, chilli, paprika and lemon zest; ‘whiz it all up and you have a low-salt seasoning to be used on veg, meat, whatever you like – it’s not overpowering, it just lifts everything.’
Can’t get enough of the purple stuff? Discover more about your favourite herbs at The Kitchen Garden at Nova Food