Growing and cooking with lavender and rice

A gardener and a chef give tips on growing and cooking with lavender -- and rice -- including a great recipe.

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    Sprigs of fragrant lavender add taste and color to many dishes. They're especially tasty when combined with Thai jasmine rice, in this easy-to-prepare dish.
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Growing lavender can be a challenge, especially in hot weather, which many of us seem to be suffering through lately, says gardener Anne Moore.

Choosing the best variety for where you live will give you the finest results. There are many types of lavender rated for my USDA hardiness Zone 8 garden, but they will not withstand the high humidity that hot summers bring.

In the South, Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), with its tight flower heads topped by "donkey ears," is the chief perennial for our hot and humid summers, coming back year after year.

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I have decent results by growing Spanish lavender in pots. I suspect any lavender will do best in a container, since this plant really requires good drainage. but it does not tolerate drying out. If you have sandy loam, then by all means, plant your lavender in the ground.

Lavenders also benefit from a shearing down to good strong growth right after you harvest the flowers. This will often not only strengthen the plant but also trigger it to bloom again.

How to grow rice

Growing rice is not for the faint-of-heart or the gardener in a hurry. Nor will you get much of a crop in your backyard garden. However, it can be fun to try something new.

A passive hydroponics system is a great way to grow rice. You can use jasmine rice from the supermarket as the seed, or you can also order rice seed from an online source.

Plant the rice into a large, clean bucket with the bottom covered in wet, heavy clay soil. Add about 2 inches of water to the top and leave the buckets in the sunshine. Add more water as the plants grow, making sure the roots do not dry out.

I doubt I will be growing much rice, but lavender to me is like catnip to kitties. I love the perfume of it and once I discovered lavender laundry supplies, washing day became a whole lot more pleasant.

I have not tried cooking with lavender, however. Linda’s Jasmine Rice With Lavender and Pecans recipe will change that.

Simple recipe combines lavender, rice

Where I live, says chef Linda Weiss, rice is a very popular food. Not only is one brand of rice grown here in South Carolina, but we even have special rice spoons for serving it.

This easy rice recipe has a lot of flavor, first from the bouquet of the rice and then from the lavender. When it is cooked and ready to serve, you add pecans or hazelnuts, so you have extra texture as well. Cooking the rice in butter before you add the liquid helps every grain to stand alone when it is ready to serve.

The recipe below uses Thai jasmine rice, but if you want to use plain long-grain rice, just follow the package directions as to water ratio and do everything else the same as in our recipe.

Here is a menu idea to serve with the rice: Strawberry-Parmesan salad with fresh baby greens and poppy seed dressing, pork tenderloin with Jezebel sauce (green peppercorn sauce), oven-roasted green beans, fresh rolls, and cold lime soufflé.

Now you have a great special or Sunday dinner menu. Enjoy!

Easy Jasmine Rice With Lavender and Pecans

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup Thai jasmine rice (I used Mahatma)

1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth or equivalent of water

1 (3-inch) leafy stem of fresh lavender

1/3 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Salt to taste*

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and stir until rice starts to turn golden.

Add chicken broth and lavender stem. Turn heat up and let the rice start to boil. Stir, and then immediately turn heat down to the lowest level. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Turn heat off and leave for 5 minutes. Flake into a serving dish with a fork. Add pecans to the top. Makes about 4 servings.

* NOTE: I did not need to add salt, but you probably will if you use water instead of chicken broth.

Editor's Note: To read more of Anne and Linda's "how to grow and prepare" series, click here.

Fans of lavender will also want to return to Diggin' It [click here] to read an article about growing lavender and roses together.

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Linda Weiss is a personal chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu of Paris’ catering program and is a professional member of the James Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has wriitten a cookbook, "Memories From Home, Cooking with Family and Friends." Anne Moore is an award-winning freelance writer and member of the Garden Writers Association. She is the horticulture editor, gardening consultant, and e-newsletter editor for GardenSmart.tvYou can follow Linda and Anne as they also blog at www.thegardenerandthechef.com

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