Summer rekindles cook’s love affair with lavender

The Whole Dish podcast: Lavender piques the palate in palate in dishes sweet or savory

It’s officially summer by the calendar, but the season’s quintessential flavors — notably tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and basil — are still a few weeks off.

And with the garden’s spring vegetables — asparagus, artichokes and peas — fading fast, I’ve been something at a loss for mealtime inspiration. Then I brought a big bouquet of English lavender into the house. That nostalgic aroma both lightened my mood and served as a pungent reminder of meals and methods I’d cherished in years past but allowed to fall by the wayside since my culinary efforts have more recently catered to children.

About a decade ago, I experienced a love affair of sorts with lavender, after my mother-in-law brought me a tin of culinary lavender from Pelindaba Lavender on Washington’s San Juan Island. The dried flowers were a key ingredient in what became my signature seasoning rub of sea salt, white pepper and lavender for grilled meats, particularly lamb. I habitually combined the blossoms with mustard seeds to marinate the meat for my well-received honey-mustard grilled chicken.

Lamb and chicken both are favorites of my 3- and 5-year-old sons, but seasoning for their tender palates is decidedly less distinctive. As they become a bit more adventurous, those dishes are likely to reemerge. Until then, there’s always preparations that are indisputably adult, such as these cocktails, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Even when the lavender outside has faded, these will still find appeal in my house. My husband craves a good gin and tonic, and I have an undying affection for any cocktail with grapefruit juice, mentioned in a past post.

Choose Fever-Tree tonic water; the Mediterranean flavor goes particularly well. St. Germain elderflower liqueur, another of my longtime favorites, is a fitting substitute for the simple syrup.

Tribune News Service photo

Grapefruit and Lavender Gin and Tonic

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Small sprigs fresh thyme

Small sprigs fresh lavender

Ice cubes, as needed

Thin bias-cut slices unpeeled cucumber, as needed

Thin wedge-shaped slices fresh pink grapefruit, as needed

Pink grapefruit juice, preferably freshly squeezed, as needed

Gin, as needed

Chilled tonic water, as needed

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and ¾ cup water to a boil; simmer until sugar is dissolved, for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 2 or 3 thyme and lavender sprigs and let cool. Remove herbs and decant syrup into a small bottle. Refrigerate, covered, for up to several weeks. Makes about 1 cup syrup.

For each drink, fill a large goblet half full with ice. Put 1 cucumber slice, 1 grapefruit slice and a sprig each of lavender and mint in each goblet. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1 tablespoon cooled syrup, 1/4 cup gin and 1/2 cup tonic water. Stir and serve.

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