Monday, 10 December 2012

ODE TO LOVAGE: Cooking With The "Herb of Love"

My home grown lovage

Have you ever heard of the "Herb of Love"? Nah, not that herb...

It wasn't until I was well into my adult years that I learned the English name for this most aromatic and fanciful herb called Lovage. Like many Romanians, I  grew up on it. Though it has always been a staple in the Romanian kitchen, this herb was in fact widely used in many countries for centuries before it has somehow fallen into disuse. Why this is is a mystery to me as you only have to taste it once to be converted to its distinct charms. So if you’re cooking anything from stews, to fish, or just simple potatoes, (cue the Beatles song): All You Need is Lovage , da da-da-da da.

Lovage transforms foods into something quite special, much like Love. Perhaps, this is why it translates into the “herb of love”. You will see ordinary meals through Lovage-tinted glasses. The first time I cued in on the love connection was while living in Germany. I wanted to make a traditional Romanian sour soup called Ciorba which necessitates the use of lovage to give it its distinctive flavor  So off I went to my weekly farmers market and there it was, green and bushy, looking much like oversized parsley but with an unmistakable aroma. They call it Liebstoekel over there. Ach, meine liebe Liebestoekel! It was such a curious thing to find out it literally translates into “love sticklet”, hah hah, I won’t even go there. You may also find it in some gardening stores in Toronto. It plants easily and does it's own thing, quickly growing into a full bushel given the space. And if this hasn't sold you, Lovage has many practical medicinal properties as well, so you won’t be planting it in vain (I.e. migraines, kidney stones, menstrual disorders, colic, pink eye, flatulence, canker sores, etc.).Here are some ways for you to transform the following dishes with Lovage, as well as a simple potato lovage soup that is certain to warm you up on a cold winter’s night:

Potato Lovage Soup

            25g butter
            2 medium onions, finely chopped
            500g potatoes, diced
            6-7 tbsp. chopped lovage leaves
            About 1L chicken or vegetable stock

  • Melt butter in a soup pot, add chopped onions and diced potatoes, and gently sauté for 5 min. until soft
  • Add 4 tbsp, chopped lovage leaves and let cook for 1 min.
  • Pour in the stock, bring to boil, then turn down to low heat
  • Cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  • Puree soup, adding the rest of the fresh chopped lovage, and season with salt and pepper.
  • Return to pot and cook gently for another few minutes, tweaking the seasoning as needed.
  • Serve with croutons and a drizzle of cream. Sublime!

Other ways to incorporate Lovage into your cooking:

  • Incorporate finely chopped lovage leaves into the butter when cooking white fish fillets

  •  Stir in fresh chopped leaves  into your mashed potatoes

 ... or potato purées

  • Use the lovage stalks and leaves when cooking red meat stews
  • Incorporate the fresh leaves into your salads (goes well with tomato and onion)
  • Use it in bean or lentils stews
  • Incorporate the fresh leaves into your meatballs