Lavender is lovely – beautiful blooms, heavenly hue, amazing aroma. But eat it? Well, yes. The Herb Farm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld introduced me to the idea. This outstanding book of inspired recipes (everyone of which works) fully portrays the herb’s uses in both sweet and savory preparations. It is easy to imagine lavender in desserts but as flavoring for meats and vegetables, grains and starches? Mr. Traunfeld convinces with recipes such as leg of lamb marinated in a mixed-herb paste featuring lavender, potatoes cooked with lavender and rosemary, a lavender/plum chutney, lavender shortbread as well as a variety of sweets from lavender lemonade to lavender/apple jelly to lavender/ginger crème brûlée.
If this list surprised you, you will appreciate how underappreciated this versatile herb is in the U.S. But not in Europe. There, it is a component of herbes d’ Provence, used in so many savory preparations, and often appearing in desserts. Whatever the dish, lavender reveals its presence with its lovely fragrance that guests find easy to connect to its unique flavor.
Lavender pairs well with tough-leaf herbs such as sage, thyme or rosemary and will not lose flavor with long cooking times. Add lavender and one of these herbs to the water used to steam root vegetables, to cook lentils or white beans or to flavor a marinade for roasted meats. Put lavender in virtually any dessert. Don’t hesitate to combine it with other flavoring ingredients, especially vanilla, chocolate, or ginger.
Please note: Use only edible lavender. Lavender used for fragrance may contain toxic substances. Use dried buds or the buds and leaves of fresh lavender. Grow your own or buy in farmers’ markets, some specialty groceries, or online. The dried buds have a long freezer life.
Here are recipes that suggest the versatility of lavender, an appetizer to start a dinner and a combination of chocolate cake and panna cotta (cold cooked cream) to end the dinner.
Next week’s post will feature an entrée starring lavender - a pork roast, root vegetables and potatoes.
FIGS STUFFED WITH LAVENDER/THYME GOAT CHEESE
Can you think of a dish more evocative of southern France? Like the lavender plant, this dish is colorful, pretty, fragrant and has great taste. The lushly sweet fig is fused with tangy, savory goat cheese embellished with aromatic lavender and earthy thyme. Your taste buds will burst into song.
4 ounces young goat cheese
1½ teaspoons fresh lavender buds or1 teaspoon dried buds, ground fine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
20 small or 12 large figs (your choice of black or green)
Mix cheese and herbs together.
Cut stems from top of figs. Slice each fig into quarters, leaving the bottom intact.
Stuff enough cheese mixture into the cavity to display the goat cheese.
The finishing touch – a few purple lavender buds in the center of the white cheese surrounded by the dark fig. Gorgeous!
May be prepared several hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH LAVENDER AND THYME
Chocolate cake is a common dessert but this one is decidedly different with inventive, contemporary flavor. Lavender adds complexity to the cake with sweet and astringent notes; thyme introduces an unexpected herbal note to the frosting. With pleasing contrasts in color and texture, cake and frosting compose a symphonic taste treat. Guests will cry “ENCORE!”
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup hot water
1½ sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups dark brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
3 teaspoons dried lavender buds
2 cups whipping cream
6 sprigs fresh thyme, rubbed just before use
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans.
In a small bowl, add hot water to the cocoa. Mix well and set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add cocoa mixture and mix well.
In a medium bowl sift flour with baking soda and baking powder. Fold in 1/3 of the cocoa mixture, then 1/3 of the yogurt. Repeat twice.
Pour in prepared pans and bake approximately 40 minutes. Cool.
Infuse the cream. Over medium high heat, bring cream to boil, stir in the rubbed thyme sprigs, take off heat, cover tightly and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Strain cream through sieve, pressing down hard on thyme leaves until no more liquid is expressed. Refrigerate until very cold.
Whip cream until it begins to stiffen; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
Remove cake from pans. Place on serving plate and frost both layers and the sides.
LAVENDER PANNA COTTA
Panna cotta is an impressive and delicious dessert that’s quick and easy to make. You can halve this recipe. As is, it serves 12.
1½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
3 cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons dried lavender buds, crushed or ground to tiny bits
1 cup sour cream
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let stand for 5 minutes.
In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the cream with the sugar, vanilla and lavender. Do not let it boil. Stir in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Take the mixture off the heat and cool about 5 minutes.
Put the sour cream in a medium-size bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream a little at a time until smooth. Taste and add some sugar if it is not sweet enough for your taste.
Rinse in cold water 8 ramekins (2/3 cup size) or custard cups or coffee cups or plastic dessert cups. Fill each one about ¾ full. Chill for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. Serve in cups or unmold onto plate.
May be prepared as much as two days in advance or frozen.