Ingredient Introduction #50 – Lavender

Our dear friend Carla has this person-like pint-sized burst of energy that we adore.

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Her name is Emmy.

My partner in cuisine crime and I would usually babysit her when Carla went away.

Each time Carla came to pick her up she’d bring us a present.

One of the gracious gifts was a gorgeous lavender plant. I was so excited. I had thoughts of fragrant feasts that tasted like Spring.

The first thing I did was pull off a flower and chow down.

At first thought I felt as if I’d just chugged a gallon of something so potent only Elizabeth Taylor could hock it.

At second thought I realized that this probably wasn’t the kind of lavender you eat. I was right.

I believe I ate Spanish lavender. It looks like a purple pineapple with flowers coming out the top.

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It’s really beautiful. When it’s not blooming, the leaves are minty green that look great. This kind is mostly used for its scent- think potpourri.

The kind you’d typically eat is called English lavender.

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It looks like little tiny purple pods pointing off the stem. This version is not only used for cooking, it’s also big in teas and herbal medicine.

The biggest danger is eating lavender that’s been treated with pesticide. If you got it in a bouquet or in the landscaping section, beware. If it came from the herb section, in its dried form at the grocery store, or in a pouch labeled “culinary lavender” you’re good to go.

There’s just something light and fresh about lavender that makes you feel fancy.

We recently spent a night at the luxurious French Quarter Inn in Charleston, South Carolina.

In the lobby they have complimentary drinks, one of which was lavender lemonade. It was fantastic.

It was December, but one taste of this potion and you felt renewed, refreshed, and light.

Since we can’t go to the inn whenever we want, I figured I’d help us reminisce one sip at a time. So I picked up a small packet of dried lavender from The Fresh Market.

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The dried stuff isn’t as beautiful as the fresh plant. It loses the intense purple color. But it’s very potent. If you’re cooking with the dried lavender use half as much as you would if you were using fresh.

One of lavender’s best friends is thyme. Both are floral and fresh, and they both get along well with lemon. They bring out the sour citrus fruit’s flowery flavors.

I teamed them up to make lemonade.

Here’s what you need:
3 Tbsp. dried lavender
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1 cup of sugar
6 lemons
2 navel oranges
5 cups of water

In a small pot, combine the sugar, the lavender, the thyme, and ONE cup of water.

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Stir, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat once the sugar is melted and the mixture is clear. Let cool completely. Strain out the lavender and thyme.

You’re left with a pinkish looking syrup.

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Note: If you like your lemonade very sweet make your simple syrup with two cups of sugar and one cup of water.

Add the simple syrup to a pitcher.

Then, juice your fruit.

I know lemonade is supposed to be a refreshing treat that’ll energize you after a hard day of outside work on a Summer’s day. But, let me tell you this: The heck with the hard work outside. Hand-juicing all this fruit will make you break a sweat.

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I used an old cobalt blue glass juicer and measuring cup my dad got me from an auction. Doing it this way makes the lemonade taste better. I swear.

Add the juices to the pitcher and stir. Then add the remaining four cups of water. Stir.

This is a stout glass of lemonade.

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The flavors of the lavender and thyme come through very well. The lemons are tart. The oranges help mellow it out just a tad.

I think this would make a great mixed drink with some plain, lemon, or honeysuckle vodka. Just sayin’… er.. typin’.

What’s great about lavender is that it’s a jack of all trades. Its sweet aroma often means it’s designated for desserts.

But you’ll find it in Herbes de Provence, one of my favorite herb blends. It named for the southeastern region of France, and though they are herbs typical of that region, there’s no guarantee that the blend you buy came from there. In fact, lavender isn’t typically used in Provence. It was added to the blend for the American market.

I digress.

For a savory use, I made a dry rub for steaks and topped them with a lemon butter!

Here’s what you need:
For the rub:
1 Tbsp. dried lavender
½ Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried rosemary
¼ tsp. salt
Pepper

For the lemon butter:
½ stick unsalted butter
1 lemon
Salt

In a small dish, microwave the butter for about 20 seconds. You don’t want it to melt. You just want it to soften.

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To the softened butter add the zest of the lemon, and the juice of half of it. Sprinkle in some salt. Stir well.

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Dump the butter onto a piece of plastic wrap and roll it up to create a log. Twist the sides to further create the log. Toss it in the freezer to solidify. If you want to make the butter a day ahead, put it in the fridge instead of the freezer.

Now make the rub.

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In a spice (or coffee) grinder, combine all the herbs. Leave out the salt and pepper.

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Grind up the herbs until they’re practically powder. A few pieces of a leaf here and there are fine.

Mix in the salt and a few cracks of pepper.

Dry your steaks (I used sirloin), and then sprinkle the rub all over them. Be generous. Pat it in as you go.

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Let the steaks sit for 5-10 minutes.

The scent made me want to have tartare. It was hard to just let it sit there, begging me to eat it.

I cooked the steaks on a cast-iron grill pan. You can do it on the gas or charcoal grill, too.

As soon as they come off the grill, top them with a slice of the lemon butter. It’ll slowly melt onto the steak.

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The herb combination made for an outstanding steak.

When I asked my partner in cuisine crime how he’d describe the flavor he said, “Clean.” He’s right. It’s a very fresh flavor. And combined with the creaminess and tartness of the butter, it was a homerun. No marinade needed.

I think the herb blend I used for the rub would be a great addition to a bread or pizza dough.

Spring can’t come fast enough. I plan to plant some English lavender and get to know my know fragrant friend. I hope it’ll be as beautiful as the gift we got from Carla!

Tip: For a real treat, try lavender chocolate milk. Put 8 ounce of milk into a measuring cup and added 1/2 Tbsp. of dried lavender. Whisk it together, then set the cup in the fridge and let it steep for at least 30 minutes.

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Strain the milk into the cup you’ll use for drinking. Then add your chocolate syrup. Whisk together.

The lavender flavor is very subtle. I loved it. It reminded me of a truffle we got from a chocolate shop in Asheville, North Carolina.

I think this would be a great treat when you have breakfast guests. It’ll leave them asking you about that little something extra they taste.

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