It’s Friday afternoon, the sun has won its daily battle with the fog, and I’m making cocktails. Never let it be said that the Proximal Kitchen does not count booze as a food group.
We have lavender planted all over the property (wine country residents alternate between delusions of Tuscany and ones of Provence) and I often wonder what to do with all the precious stuff: We occasionally dry it and bundle it for gifts, we often use large quantities as our house-brand air freshener, and my wife has a great eye for incorporating it into our homegrown floral arrangements. However, as a cook, I always feel a bit guilty about not doing more with it – I mean, here we have this beautiful plant that we have paid to plant and water, that commands what strikes us as an absurd price in the marketplace, and that often gets cut and dumped into the green waste recycle bin at the end of the summer. Somehow, that just seems wrong.
My gut reaction is, unsurprisingly, to think of more ways to eat it. Lavender is, after all, a culinary herb: It does wonders for certain salads, I’ve seen all sorts of interesting lavender desserts (I’m not really a sweets person, but I’ll take it on faith that they didn’t all suck), and it provides a great touch of color and aroma as a garnish on the plate. But what I’ve come to learn is, the easiest and arguably best use of lavender is in cocktails: Try it in mojitos, margaritas, or – as I’m planning on doing as soon as I finish this post – just simply mixed with vodka and lots of fresh lime. And it’s outstanding in (non-alcoholic, if you must) lemonade. The way to do it is to make a lavender simple syrup, and then use that in lieu of whatever sweet syrup your drink would have otherwise called for. It takes no time at all and can be stored for long periods in the fridge.
Lavender Simple Syrup
- Combine 2 cups of sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a low boil (watch it, you don’t want to scorch it).
- Throw in a large handful of lavender blossoms. It doesn’t really matter which kind; we grow several, I just grab them all and strip the blossoms from the stems. Simmer gently until the flavor is extracted – maybe 15 minutes, there’s plenty of slack here.
- Pour through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing gently on the blossoms to get all the goodness out.
- Use in place of simple syrup in any cocktail or sweetened juice drink.