Cooking with Lavender

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but at Riverside Lifestyle we have a little bit of a thing for lavender. And we’re not just talking about the smell of it either; we’re also big fans of the taste. If you’ve never been fortunate enough to try a smidgeon for yourself, think of a floral, spicy, distinctly herbal flavour similar to rosemary, though not quite as savoury, and that’s the kind of thing you can expect.

But don’t just take it from us: we spoke to food writer and food stylist Karen S Burns-Booth about what makes the purple stuff a must-try twist to your signature party dishes. And, yes, we even got her to share some of her favourite recipes just in time for your summer gatherings. No excuses…

Riverside: What’s the best thing about cooking with lavender?

Karen: I love the originality that cooking and baking with lavender brings to my dishes. It imparts a subtle fragrance and brings a bit of pizzazz to chicken and lamb; especially when it’s cooked with honey. When you use whole buds, it even adds some colour to your dish as well its own unique taste.

RL: What kind of foods does lavender pair well with?

KB: Lamb, cheese, chicken, cakes, biscuits and salads.

RL: Can you use lavender as an edible garnish for cakes and bakes?

KB: I use dried lavender as an edible floral garnish for my cakes and bakes all the time, and no special preparation is needed. I also add lavender flowers to large jars of sugar to make lavender sugar for baking, as well as making my own lavender honey.

RL: What’s your top tip for readers who are new to cooking with lavender?

KB: Be very sparing with it, as it’s quite strong, so it can overpower a dish. Add a little at a time, tasting as you go, and as a rule of thumb, if a recipe states 1 teaspoon of a normal everyday herb, halve that for lavender.

RL: What’s your favourite recipe for summer garden and dinner parties?

KB: Lavender- and lemon-poached chicken breasts make an easy, romantic and elegant dish, in which the chicken is gently poached in a lavender-infused broth, then served with a creamy shallot and lemon sauce.

Lavender- and Lemon-Poached Chicken Breasts

Ingredients for two

  • 2 x boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 300ml good chicken stock
  • 10 drops lavender, cooking essence or 1 teaspoon culinary lavender flowers
  • 15g butter
  • 1 x shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 x teaspoons cornflour
  • 3 x tablespoons crème fraîche
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 x tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh lavender flowers (to garnish)

Directions

Place the stock and lavender essence in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the chicken breasts, return to the boil and poach for 10 – 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a dish and keep warm while making the sauce. Pour the stock into a jug.

Melt the butter in the pan and soften the shallot gently for 3 – 5 minutes. Sprinkle on the cornflour and stir to mix.

Gradually add the stock and stir while bringing to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then add the crème fraîche, salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes. Add lemon juice and season to taste.

RL: How about a refreshing summer drink?

KB: My delicately flavoured Wolds Way lavender and strawberry fruit cup is the perfect way to unwind after a long, hard day. It’s almost better than Pimm’s; and since Pimm’s is my favourite summertime tipple, that’s saying something!

Wolds Way Lavender and Strawberry Fruit Cup

Ingredients for two

  • 20g (handful) culinary lavender flowers
  • 400ml fresh orange juice
  • 400ml ginger ale
  • 200ml dry vermouth
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Fresh strawberries (a small punnet, about 150g to 200g)
  • Lemon verbena or lemon balm

Directions

Rub the base of a punch bowl with the lavender flowers (crushing them gently to release the oils), before adding the orange juice, ginger ale, vermouth and lemon juice. After rubbing the lavender flowers over the base of the bowl, discard them.

Add the hulled strawberries, halved or sliced, and then garnish with sprigs of lemon verbena or lemon balm. Chill for 30 minutes before serving in tall glasses with or without ice.

RL: Would lavender be out of place at a casual summer barbecue, or do you have a recipe that would work well at an informal gathering?

KB: That would be my English lavender marinade for beef, lamb or chicken. Allow the meat to marinate all day or overnight and you’ll find it’s extra moist and juicy, and has a more pronounced lavender flavour.

English Lavender Marinade for Beef, Lamb or Chicken

Ingredients for two

  • 4 x tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 x tablespoons lavender honey
  • 2 – 3 drops lavender, cooking essence (or handful of lavender flowers, lightly crushed)
  • One crushed garlic clove
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper
    • Directions

      Mix all the marinade ingredients together and brush over beef, lamb or chicken. Allow the meat to marinate for 2 hours minimum and then cook as required. This marinade is great for a barbecue. If making ahead, store in a covered bottle or jar and keep in the fridge until required.

      RL: I love elderflower cordial; can lavender be used to make a cordial or a chic summer-evening cocktail?

      KB: My lavender cordial is pleasantly refreshing, calming and restorative with an exquisite flavour. It’s ideal on a hot summer’s day, and it’s delicious when mixed with sparkling water, or even champagne or sparkling wine! Alternatively, you can freeze lavender flowers into ice cubes to add to your drink; I’d recommend them served with Pimm’s or a wine spritzer, as well as any glass of fizz.

      Refreshing Lavender Cordial

      Ingredients for two

      • 110g golden granulated sugar
      • 50 lavender flowers
      • 300ml water

      Directions

      Put the water and sugar into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved completely.

      Add the lavender flowers and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and leave to infuse for 30 – 45 minutes.

      Strain the liquid into a pan and reheat, stirring all the time, until the mixture is syrupy.

      Cool completely. Pour into a sterilised bottle, seal tightly and leave to cool. Store in the refrigerator.

      Dilute with chilled sparkling mineral water to serve; or champagne or sparkling wine for a special occasion!

      Want more luscious lavender recipes? Check out Karen S Burns-Booth’s blog, www.lavenderandlovage.com