|Nectarine and Lavender Salad with Goat Cheese Medallions|
Here in the Okanagan Valley we have several lavender farms including a beautiful farm property with sweeping views of Okanagan Lake right here in K-town. Sixteen years ago Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm was the inspiration of the McFadden family to reinvent their heritage property into an agritourism business which today features over 60 varieties of fragrant lavender. Row upon row of gentle waves of icy blue, mauve, and deep violet billow all around you with themed herbal gardens and an array of whimsical vine sculptures, created by local artist Annabel Stanley dotted throughout the landscape. Is there anything more sensuous than a field of lavender in bloom?The air was vibrating with the hum of bumblebees clinging to the bobbling purple spikes and the heady fragrance of thousands of stunning blooms at the peak of their perfection. I have always been passionate about lavender and grew several varieties in "my garden days." Beginning today it is time to explore the culinary side of this versatile herb disguised as a flower.
Mid July is the peak moment for lavender here in the valley. It’s no coincidence that the Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm, located in Kelowna, British Columbia, is holding its Lavender Discovery Days for the next month or so. Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to spend some time with Andrea McFadden owner and kindred spirit at her lavender farm to celebrate this visually spectacular time. I had the chance to talk to her about lavender and its many uses. She invited me to wander the farm and gave me some tips specifically on exploring the culinary side of lavender. At the farm you can take a self guided tour and learn to create fresh herbal teas from your own garden and take pleasure in the beauty of a fragrant harvest throughout the month of July and into August.
It reminded me of the late 70's and wandering in southern France among fields of gently waving flowers. I pondered this while tasting a refreshing lavender-infused ice cream. North Americans have not taken to cooking with lavender, but the French, especially in Provence where there are vast fields, use it in the kitchen often. Lavender is sometimes mixed into Herbes de Provence, a blend of thyme, basil, rosemary and marjoram that is traditionally used to season beef, lamb and pork stews, soups, and as a rub for grilled fish. Locals make lavender infused liqueurs and although I suspect that French lavender farmers must occasionally grill a whole lamb over dried stems, or infuse a creme anglaise with a few stray flowers, written recipes are hard to come by.
Lavender is an incredibly versatile herb for cooking enhancing both the flavour and appearance of food. As an herb, lavender has been in documented use for over 2,500 years. As a member of the same family as many of our most popular herbs, it is not surprising that lavender is edible and that its use in food preparation is also returning. Flowers and leaves can be used fresh, and both buds and stems can be used dried. Lavender is a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage, and thyme. It has a sweet flavour, with lemon, citrus and sometimes peppery notes. Andrea says, "Most people are surprised that lavender does not actually have a floral or soapy taste (which is what they expect)." It is the type of herb where your guests will ask "What's in this dish?" while enjoying every bite.
It always surprises me to learn the number of varieties that exist from a species of plant, and lavender offers an assortment of over 400 varieties. All lavender plants look and smell wonderfully but not all are meant for use in the kitchen. Andrea says, "Any lavender from the species Lavandula angustifolia (the lavenders that are the first to bloom here), also sometimes called 'sweet lavenders can be used in cooking. Most of the lavenders you would not cook with are not winter hardy. If the plant has an unusual leaf (serrated or fern shaped) or an unusual flower (with 'wings' coming out of the top) it is generally not a culinary lavender. These are often called 'savoury lavenders'. If they have a lot of camphor in them as some do, do not use them...you can usually guess by their aroma. All flowers are not edible and some are extremely toxic.
Imagine the sweet, buttery flavour of a shortbread cookie as it melts away in your mouth. Now, add to that the floral, fresh, spicy tang of lavender (think of a mild hybrid of sage and rosemary, with a subtle citrusy presence), blowing onto your palate like a spring breeze in Provence. It's a dazzling mix, and it's surprisingly easy to achieve at home.
Lavender lends itself to savoury dishes, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Release the flavour by using an herb mill or mortar and pestle to break up dry lavender to release its aroma before using in as an ingredient in a recipe. In The Lavender Garden, Robert Kourik suggests that lavender foliage can be substituted for rosemary in almost any dish. Both are members of the enormous mint family, and both have a powerfully aromatic flavor with resinous undertones. His recipes include one for lamb chops cooked over lavender sprigs and garlic and another for boneless chicken breasts laid on top of fresh lavender stalks and cooked on a cast iron griddle over an open fire.
And then there are desserts. The flowers can be put in sugar and sealed tightly for a couple of weeks then the sugar can be substituted for ordinary sugar for a cake, buns or custards. Used in moderation, lavender blends well with lemon and other citrus flavors, making a lovely summery ice cream, and adds a floral aroma to baked goods such as shortbread and pound cake. Diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. Imagine white chocolate lavender cheesecake or lavender lemonade. Culinary Lavender is also used to make simple syrups which can be used on fruit or desserts as a light and refreshing addition. Andrea was in the process of making a second batch during my visit. Keep the lavender stems after removing the dried flower buds and use as a fragrant kabob stick, just slide fresh fruit on the stems. Flowers look beautiful and taste good too in a glass of champagne so let's celebrate the season with style!!!!
Are you drooling yet?
Lavender has become a popular ingredient for cooking for both sweet and savoury dishes but a little goes a long way. Keep in mind that too much lavender, as with other herbs, can overpower a recipe. Use it sparingly. Start out using small amounts and experiment a bit until you find what amount works best for your taste and in a particular recipe. Meantime, consider it as a complimentary background flavor, similar to the use of vanilla. Andrea says, "Use pure lavender essential oil (we use Lavandula angustifolia, 'Maillette'). Because it is a concentrated essence of the plant you need so little - it adds surprising flavour, but not texture and none of the work of infusions which need to be strained."
Wherever your culinary experiments take you, the real secret is to use lavender with the greatest restraint, particularly if you are substituting the dried flowers for fresh blooms: A good rule of thumb is to use half as much dried lavender as you would fresh. And if you buy lavender, be sure that it is culinary, unsprayed quality.
The fresher the flower, the more flavourful its taste, so pick your flowers as close as possible to food preparation time. Stem flowers may be put in a glass of water in a cool place until you are ready to use them. All blooms should be thoroughly rinsed. Immerse them in water to remove any insects or soil. Then lay the flowers gently on paper or cloth towels and dab dry, or gently spin dry in a salad spinner. If necessary, layer blooms carefully between moist paper towels in the refrigerator until meal time.
So let's get this My World is Blue party started!!!
To start us off I prepared a delicious salad suggested by Andrea. She also wisely suggests using blackberries when they are in season. The balanced of flavours is a perfect beginning.To round out the salad I used the original dressing from a local farm. Little Creek Gardens is a certified organic farm nestled on the west shores of Okanagan Lake. In 1995 Donna Denison developed Little Creek Dressing as a "value-added" product to complement her husband, Dale Ziech's, gourmet salad greens which are grown on their farm. I agree with everyone else when they say this is THE BEST bottled dressing on the market. My kitchen would never be without it!!!It pairs perfectly with the salad with it's slight garlic flavour. With the Herbes de Provence coated goat cheese the lavender becomes a background flavour that just works beautifully. Stay tuned for the rest of the menu.....
**Nectarine and Lavender Salad with Goat Cheese Medallions**
2 fresh nectarines ( or blackberries)
2 small red or yellow peppers, sliced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh or dried lavender blossoms
1 roll of Chevre (goat cheese)
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Little Creek Gardens Original Dressing
Mix the bread crumbs and the Herbes de Provence. Coat Chevre in olive oil and roll in bread crumb mixture. Bake in 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes. When baked, slice into 1/4 inch rounds.
Meanwhile, wash and tear lettuces into bite-sized pieces. Place in salad bowl, top with sliced nectarines, peppers, toasted pine nuts and lavender blossoms.
Place warm rounds of Chevre on salad, dress and serve immediately.
You may also enjoy....
Baked Figs with Ricotta and Lavender Honey
Lavender Honey Pistachio Encrusted Lamb
Marinated Salmon and Spinach Salad with Berries and Flowers
Roast Best End of British Lamb with Lavender Risotto and Olive Jus
Lavender Sugar, Lavender Butter and Salad Dressing - Mary- One Perfect Bite
Lavender Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce - Barbara - Moveable Feasts
Lavender-Lemon Pound Cake - Susan -Savoring Time in the Kitchen
Halibut Brochettes Provençale -Epicurious
Pound Cake with Blueberries and Lavender Syrup
Sweet Potato Crisps with Lavender Aioli - The Herb Companion
Herbes de Provence
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