Relax — cooking with lavender is easier than it sounds. Try out these savory recipes from Seattle chefs Tom Douglas and Jerry Traunfeld.

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Good news for Washington state (or Sequim, anyway): Lavender has become a dessert icon. Skeptics — particularly those inclined to leave Yelp reviews — may insist that it should have stayed in soaps and sachets where it belonged. But naysayers be damned! Lavender is everywhere, from Molly Moon’s speckled honey lavender scoops to Cupcake Royale’s purple-frosted lavender cupcake.

Everywhere, it seems, except savory dishes.

“Well, duh,” you might be thinking. “That’s because lavender is sweet.”

Au contraire. After all, it’s a member of the mint family, along with traditionally savory herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano. And it’s included in some Herbes de Provence mixtures sold in U.S. markets. Lavender has probably long been giving your meat rubs a little ersatz je ne sais quoi!

Chef Jerry Traunfeld is all about that hidden versatility. Herbs are his “thing,” he says. And he’s got the track record to back it up. Once the long-time head chef at The Herbfarm, a Northwest-obsessed Woodinville restaurant serving prix-fixe 9-course meals, Traunfeld now melds Indian traditions with fresh herbs grown right on site as executive chef at Poppy Seattle. Among his current arsenal of unlikely flavor combinations: Coriander-Lavender Duck Breast ($29) and potatoes with lavender and mint, which are occasionally served as a small plate in platters called thalis.

“(Lavender) has a very strong distinct flavor, so you have to avoid it tasting soapy,” which is especially risky when it’s the main event, Traunfeld says. “But in savory dishes… It kind of melds with the other flavors and gives it a complexity.”

For those of us without the Traunfeld touch, imagining which savory flavors to pair with lavender can make one question the herb’s relaxing reputation. Not to mention how much to use, and in what form. Where do you even get culinary lavender?

First thing’s first, according to Traunfeld: Don’t overdo it. Try it with poultry or potatoes and pair it with another Mediterranean herb, like rosemary, thyme or mint. Lavender lends itself easily to coriander and lemon, but it can “fight” with delicate flavors like fish, he warns.

“You do have to be cautious about it,” Traunfeld says. “It’s not an herb that you can put in anything.”

But you should absolutely put it in goat cheese. Goat cheese lavender fondue ($13) has been a staple on Palace Kitchen’s otherwise malleable menu since chef Tom Douglas opened the restaurant in 1996, and for good reason. Served with toasty grilled bread, crispy Gala apples and slivers of d’Anjou pears, it’s like Washington served up in a silver… fondue pot.

“I’d only ever used lavender in ice creams and sorbets and that kind of thing,” says chef Kyle Peterson, who became head chef at Palace Kitchen last November. “But it really gives (the fondue) a nice floral note… It complements the creaminess of the goat cheese and the char of the grilled bread.”

Ready to try it yourself? Traunfeld recommends growing your own lavender and harvesting it right before the flowers open, when the flavor’s just right. He prefers cooking with English lavender for its delicate floral notes but admits that Lavandin, which is punchier and less sweetly floral, might work well in savory dishes. Tie the stems together after harvesting and hang them upside down for dry lavender that will retain its peak flavor (and an aesthetic boon).

If your thumb isn’t particularly green, culinary lavender can be bought in the spice aisle of some grocery stores, at farmers markets and, of course, online. Or use your search as an excuse to head to the Lavender Capital of North America for the Sequim Lavender Festival, July 20-22. Just steer clear of craft-store potpourri.

Once you’ve got your hands on some, simply chop it up and use it as you would any other herb. Maybe toss it in a spice grinder with salt or pepper. If you don’t want little lavender bits in your dish and you’re working with milk or cream, add the herb to the simmering liquid, remove it from heat and let it steep for 15 to 30 minutes before straining the bits out. 

The result is a familiar dish made romantic, complex and downright fancy. And unlike lavender ice cream, you can’t find it just anywhere.

Potatoes with Lavender and Mint

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Jerry Traunfeld

Serves 6

2 pounds small potatoes, such as fingerlings, new potatoes or marble potatoes, washed

6 fresh lavender sprigs (or 1 teaspoon dried lavender buds)

Kosher salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon fresh or dried lavender buds, chopped

¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint

  1. Cut the potatoes into halves, quarters or slices, depending on their size.
  2. Put them in a large saucepan and fill the pan with cold water. Drop in the lavender sprigs and about 1 tablespoon kosher salt.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until a paring knife can pierce the potato with little resistance, but they still hold their shape; 10-15 minutes. Drain. Some of the lavender buds may cling to the potatoes.
  4. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add the chopped lavender, cook for 30 seconds, then add the potatoes.
  6. Sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons kosher salt and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, tossing often, or until the potatoes are very hot.
  7. Add the mint and toss again before serving.

Palace Kitchen Goat Cheese Fondue

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Tom Douglas

Serves 6 to 8

Palace Kitchen always serves this fondue with “chunks of grilled or toasted rustic bread and wedges of tart apple,” but they also recommend trying it with cubes of ripe pear or even fennel bulbs. (I recommend eating it with a spoon.) If you’ve never had a wedding registry and therefore don’t own a fondue pot, serve the fondue in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pot of hot water.

1 cup whipping cream

2 or 3 lavender buds

11 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese, broken into chunks

1 tablespoon sliced chives

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toasted rustic bread cubes and apple wedges for serving

  1. Slowly warm the whipping cream and lavender buds in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until hot but not boiling.  (Yes, slowly: Chef Peterson says the process takes about an hour, so the lavender flavor can grab hold without having to overdo it.)
  2. Gradually add the goat cheese and whisk until smooth. The thickness of the fondue may vary due to the particular brand of fresh goat cheese that you use. It should be thick enough to coat a spoon. If too thin add a little more cheese, if too thick add a little more cream.  
  3. Remove the fondue from the heat and whisk in the chives and black pepper.
  4. Pour the warm fondue into a fondue pot and serve with chunks of toasted rustic bread and apple wedges for dunking.