Everything You Need to Know About Cooking With Lovage
I'm going to go out on a limb, and assume a lot of you have never heard of lovage. It isn't a commonly used herb here in the U.S., so that's not surprising. The ancient Greeks and Romans were quite fond of it — as a food, spice, and medicine — and I think you might be too, once you try it.
What Is Lovage?
Lovage (scientific name: Lecisticum Officinale) is a member of the parsley/carrot/celery families. It is grown widely in Europe, and used most frequently in the cuisines of Southern Europe, Germany, England, and in some Eastern European countries. It looks like very thin, dark green celery, with dark green leaves that resemble a combination of both celery leaves and giant parsley leaves.
What Does Lovage Taste Like?
Imagine a combination of celery with a bit of parsley...but on steroids. This is not a shy herb by any stretch. In addition to the predominant celery bite, lovage also offers a bit of a citrusy zing.
How to Use Lovage
Lovage gets along beautifully with a large number of foods. The leaves can be used in salads, soups, and anything containing pork, poultry, and strongly flavored fish. But a word of caution: Lovage is strong. So I'd advise starting with just one or two chopped leaves in a dish. (Yes, it really is that powerful!) Any more can be overwhelming, especially if you haven't used it before.
Try It: Romanian Meatball Sour Soup
The seeds of a lovage plant are very interesting. They look and taste a lot like what we buy in the spice aisle labelled "celery seed." AND, as a matter of fact, what we call celery seed is very often either lovage seed or the seed from a form of wild celery. The seeds can be used just as you'd use celery seeds (but I very much doubt that you'll ever find a jar of lovage seeds at the store any time soon!) Both the seeds and leaves can also be added to pickling liquid.
The stalks and roots of a lovage plant can be cooked and used with and like other root vegetables.
Fresh vs. Dry Lovage
I have never encountered dried lovage in a store, but I do know that it is used in many cuisines, and that, unlike dried parsley, it DOES retain a strong bite. So, if you do grow it, dry some and try it for yourself.
Substitutions for Lovage
While nothing will give you quite the same punch as lovage, a combination of celery, parsley, and celery seed (perhaps with a bit of lemon zest) will put you in the same ballpark. You might also try a bit of celeriac (another woefully underused root) to achieve that intense celery flavor.
All in all, I really hope you'll try lovage. It is truly a one of a kind herb that deserves a renaissance. I love using it...mostly because of the shocking freshness it imparts. But remember, lovage is potent, so start out with using just a leaf or two — after all, you can always add more.
And, in the garden, lovage comes back strong year after year and requires minimal care. So plant once, and you should have plenty to play with.