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Monday, January 27, 2014

California Gourmet: Making Flavored (Infused) Vinegars

The salad season is commencing a bit early in our part of S. California.  The warm dry weather has strongly influenced local gardens.  If you’ve supplied a little irrigation, you may have native greens that are ready to eat (or nearly so).  That means it’s time to think about greens: raw, sautéed, steamed and baked.   If you didn’t catch our earlier postings on native greens you might want to visit them:

One of the best uses for the milder greens like Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) and the native clovers is for salads.  They add unique flavors and textures;   they can be used alone or combined with other greens, lettuce, etc.  And of course,  native greens are even more fabulous when dressed with a simple oil & vinegar dressing made with flavored vinegars. 

Flavored vinegars or infused vinegars are simply vinegars that have been infused with the flavor(s) of herbs, spices, nuts or fruits.   These vinegars are becoming more popular – in fact, some are now available in local grocery stores.   They are wonderful for salad dressings, marinades, sauces and in the traditional recipes of many cultures.  You can use the flavored vinegars for any recipe that calls for vinegar, remembering that the flavor should complement the dish.

Our native seasoning herbs also yield wonderful flavored vinegars.  Native plant- infused vinegars are easy to make; and they feature our unique California flavors in new and creative ways. They are a fun introduction to using native plants and make unique gifts for foodie friends.   A few words of caution: 1) use only garden- collected materials; 2) be sure to identify the plant correctly (one of the advantages of growing the plants in your own garden); 3) know what plant part(s) can be used safely; 4) do not use plants that have been sprayed with pesticides.  As always, use moderation when trying any new food.   For a complete list of native plants that can be used for flavored vinegars see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/flavored-vinegars
Black sage (Salvia mellifera) - a popular native seasoning herb

The easiest flavored vinegars are made from fresh/dried leaf seasoning herbs.  While many people use Mediterranean herbs (rosemary; thyme; etc.) our native Salvias (Sages), California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), Wild tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and other plants in the Mint family (Lepechinia fragrans; Mentha arvensis; Salvia spathacea) make wonderful infusion herbs.  They can be used separately, in combination or with the more common kitchen herbs.  Combining flavors takes a bit of experience, so we suggest you begin with a single ‘flavor’.  But there’s lots of room for creative exploration if you’re so inclined!
Infused vinegars combine the flavors of the infusion herbs with the flavor of the vinegar itself.  A mild or delicate flavoring herb will be overwhelmed by a robust vinegar like a balsamic, sherry or red wine vinegar. The flavors of mild herbs work best with the milder vinegars: champagne,  white wine and white Japanese rice vinegars.  Bolder infusion herbs – including native Salvias and California sagebrush - combine well with the bolder vinegars and even with plain old distilled white vinegar. You can download a table with a description of common types of vinegars at: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/types-of-vinegars-for-making-flavored-vinegars

Below is a simple recipe for cold-infused herb vinegar.  You can download this and other flavored vinegar recipes at: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/flavored-vinegar-recipes-leaf-spices

Herb-infused vinegar – cold vinegar method
1 to 1 ¼  cup vinegar
1 to 3 sprigs of fresh herbs (3-inch sprigs) or 2 to 4 sprigs dried herbs or ½ cup chopped fresh herbs
Wash jar in dishwasher or sterilize in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Invert jar on paper towel and let completely dry.  Wash fresh herbs and pat dry.  Measure vinegar and pour into sterilized jar.  Lightly crush or cut herb sprigs and add to jar.  Be sure that herbs are completely covered by the vinegar – if needed, add more vinegar.   If your jar has a metal lid, place a double layer of plastic wrap over the jar opening.  Screw on the lid/cap the jar.  Place in an area out of direct sun and let the flavors develop at room temperature.  Check daily until flavors are sufficiently strong (often 1-3 days for fresh herbs – up to a week or two for dried herbs). You can shake the jar to distribute the flavors better.  Once the flavors suit your taste remove the herbs.  Strain the vinegar through a jelly/juicing bag or a strainer lined with a coffee filter.  Re-bottle in a sterile bottle and store in a cool dark place at room temperature (about 1-2 month) or in the refrigerator (2-4 months).

We hope you’ve been inspired to try making a batch of flavored vinegar.  We’ll talk about making fruit-infused vinegars in summer, when our fruits are ripe.  For more on vinegars and flavored vinegar making we suggest viewing our slide show:   http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/making-seasoned-vinegars-2011  


We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at : mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

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