Cooking with lavender

August 23, 2019
Last week, the Historic Lewes Farmers Market invited me to conduct a demo at their sunny location in George H.P. Smith Park. By the time I arrived, they had a tent and tables for me and rows of chairs for visitors. Before I started arranging my tools, I had to go shopping, with an interesting cooking-demo challenge: no cooking.
Because of the layout, there’s no running water, no electricity, no stove, no countertop or sink. This would be like going to a Delaware State Parks location where you have to bring in everything you need and take out all your trash with you. Based on the intense heat of the day, it was easy to select a fresh vegetable salad I could simply toss together.
All the produce I wanted was in abundant supply: zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes in an array of colors, corn on the cob, shallots and basil. Although I had brought along some vinegar, the ladies at Lavender Fields had beautiful bottles of lavender vinegar, and I discovered they also made lavender mustard, perfect for adding surprising flavors to a salad dressing.
A quick note about cooking with lavender: Be sure to select culinary lavender from a reputable source (or your own garden); many commercial plants may have been treated with chemicals you’ll not want on the menu. Be judicious about how much you use, so your food doesn’t taste like perfume. The lavender vinegar and lavender mustard were carefully blended to create an ideal balance of savory and sharp with bright lavender notes.
The only items that came from my pantry (instead of the market vendors) were a lime, olive oil, salt and pepper. As I trimmed and peeled and chopped everything, I described what each ingredient would bring to the mix in terms of color, flavor and texture. Tomato juices and corn “milk” added interest to the vinaigrette, while tender chunks of squash contrasted with the slight crunch of the corn kernels and shallot.
The dressing I made during the demo was a bit casual, as I simply poured the ingredients into the bowl, measuring by sight (just like some of you do at home). One thing slightly different from convention was my oil-to-vinegar ratio. Most recipes call for one part vinegar to 3 parts oil. I prefer to use both citrus and vinegar at a ratio of 2 parts acid to 1 part oil. This creates a light, flavorful vinaigrette, perfect for the summer.
To give the dressing a slight bite, I minced a shallot and let it sit in the dressing to soften before adding the rest of the vegetables. I wasn’t able to get any cheese at the market, so my plans to add goat cheese crumbles were dashed. You could also turn this into a main-course dish for lunch or dinner with sliced grilled chicken or steamed shrimp.
The one ingredient I forgot to add to the mix was fresh basil leaves (sorry, Hattie, they were so fragrant). For the version of the salad in the photo you can see snipped pieces of basil, cut with a device that resembles scissors with multiple stacked blades. They quickly cut herbs into tiny pieces you can sprinkle over your dish.
I’ve included the recipe for the salad from the demo as well as another lavender-scented dressing for a salad of sharp greens, peaches and feta cheese. The final recipe is for lavender marinade, an ideal flavoring for chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or lamb chops. Combine everything the evening before, so you’re ready to grill the next day. Thanks to all the market vendors who had such beautiful products to help make the demo a success.
Corn & Squash Salad with Lavender Vinaigrette
1/4 C olive oil
3 T lime juice
3 T lavender vinegar
1/2 t lavender mustard
1 minced shallot
2 small, young zucchini
2 tender yellow squash
4 ears of corn
pint cherry tomatoes
salt & pepper
4 large basil leaves
In a serving bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, vinegar and mustard. Stir in the shallot; set aside. Shuck corn and cut kernels from cob. Carefully remove any strands of silk and add kernels to the dressing. If large, halve cherry tomatoes; otherwise, leave whole and add to the dressing. Trim the ends from the zucchini and squash. Slice in quarters lengthwise and chop into a small dice; add to the dressing. Cut the basil into slender ribbons (chiffonade) and add to the bowl; toss to combine. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper; serve at room temperature or chilled. Yield: 6 servings.
Spring Mix Feta Salad with Lavender Vinaigrette
1/4 C lemon juice
3 T olive oil
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t Dijon mustard
1 t grated ginger
1/2 t dried lavender
1/2 C thinly sliced red onion
1/2 C thinly sliced red bell pepper
6 C spring lettuce mix
1 thinly sliced ripe peach
2 oz crumbled feta
In a serving bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, mustard, ginger and lavender. Add the onion and pepper; stir to combine. Add lettuce and toss to coat evenly with dressing. Garnish with peach slices and crumbled feta. Yield: 6 servings.
Lavender Marinade
2 T olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 t lemon zest
2 T honey
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper
2 t dried lavender
1/2 t dried savory
Combine ingredients in a zip-top bag. Add food to be marinated (chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, lamb chops) and seal. Refrigerate overnight for grilling the following day. Note: watch carefully when grilling, as the sugar in the honey can char.

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