Lavender originated in the Mediterranean and is a staple of French cooking (Italian cooking, not so much). Lavender is in the Lamiaceae or mint family, but that doesn’t mean that it smells like mint. This family contains about 7000 species and includes culinary greats like basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano (herbs that are prevalent in Italian cooking). Lavender looks similar to sage and rosemary with purple flowers and leaves that look like flat evergreen needles.
This herb has a very distinct scent. Once you’ve smelled lavender, you will recognize it immediately. Overall, it has a delicate, sweet smell that is floral, herbal, and evergreen woodsy at the same time. I have used lavender in baked goods and beverages with great results, however, I have been a bit reluctant to use it in savory dishes … until now.
After my recent visits to several lavender farms, I have learned that English lavender is the variety most commonly used as a culinary herb. Its floral sweetness and citrus notes can complement a wide range of foods ranging from meats to desserts. After doing a bit of research, I have discovered that since rosemary and lavender are closely related it will pair well with most of the other herbs and spices that typically accompany lavender in savory recipes. So, I decided to take the plunge and make this saucy appetizer (with a few modifications). It is from the book in the photo. The lavender adds a subtle note to the zesty sauce that can also liven up skewers of grilled meat or chicken.
Lavender Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 1/4 cups ketchup
- 1/3 cup lavender sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons finely crushed or coarsely ground dried culinary lavender buds
- Freshly ground black pepper, a few grinds
- 4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil and onion. Cook, stirring until the onion is tender and just beginning to brown. Stir in the ketchup, sugar, soy sauce, lavender and pepper. Gradually stir in the vinegar. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until the flavors are well blended and the sauce is slightly thickened. Use immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to a week. Makes 1 1/4 cup sauce.
- 1/4 cup fine breadcrumbs
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with a fork
- 1 teaspoon finely crushed or coarsely ground culinary lavender buds
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Black pepper, a few grinds
- 1 pound ground beef (not extra lean)
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the sweet and sour sauce, the breadcrumbs, egg, lavender, thyme, salt and pepper until well blended.
- Mix in the meat (I use my hands) until the mixture is evenly and thoroughly combined.
- Shape into small balls 1-2 inches. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a preheated 375* Bake 12 minutes, then turn over and bake another 6 minutes.
- Transfer the meatballs to the sauce. If you made the sauce in advance and it has been refrigerated, heat the sauce (in a saucepan large enough to hold the meatballs) before adding the meatballs. Serve as small bites (merenda) or as a first course. This recipe is also well received at potlunks!