Guide To Herbs Day 12: Lavender

Just a few days left for first Food Republic herb guide, where we are pulling together the basic facts about some of our favorite herbs to keep in the kitchen: what they are, how to keep them fresh, and how to cook with them. We started it all with a prelude, looked at parsley, basil, rosemary, dill, checked out cilantro, discovered what is up with herbes de Provence, mined the multitude of uses for chives, looked at sausage's best friend sage, pondered tarragon, moved on to oregano, and looked at thyme. And our culinary herb of the day today is, um, lavender. Yes you heard us, it's lavender.

Popular for its intoxicating presence in perfume and for its aromatic contributions to honey, lavender as a cooking herb is a more recent development. The iconic purple buds were added by wholesalers to a blend of herbs called herbes de Provence in the 1970s, but were never really part of Proven├žal cuisine prior to that.

How to cook with lavender? The easiest way to use lavender is to drop a couple of the dried buds into your regular tea blend to punch up the aromas. A cousin to mint, lavender (especially English lavender) will also lend sweet citrus notes to your tisane. Similarly, add lavender to salads or sparkling wines for an unexpected burst of aroma.

In the kitchen when we discuss cooking with lavender it is usually referring to dried lavender. However, if you have access to fresh, use three times as much as you would the dried.

While some chefs add lavender to savory dishes, like slow-cooked stews, the herb is more at home in the pastry kitchen, where it is used in flans, cakes, sorbets, and ice creams. Throw a small handful of dried lavender in with a pound or two of sugar for a couple of weeks. The infused sugar can then be used as a unique addition to an array of concoctions, like sweet tea or meringue, for instance.

Caution is always recommended when using lavender in your cooking as its mighty aromas and flavors can easily overpower a dish, leaving you with a flavor profile more in line with soap than food. But used correctly, it's an exotic addition to your culinary arsenal.

The first herb guide is almost over. Are there herbs that you have burning questions about? Let us know in the comments.

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