Just because you don't have fresh herbs on hand in the winter doesn't mean you can't enjoy flavored vinegars. Sample pantry ingredients create vinegars as delicious as their fresh-herb counterparts.
Herbal Vinegar Recipes:
Herb-flavored vinegars are fun and easy to make during the spring and summer months when fresh herbs are plentiful. I make large batches by filling gallon jars with vinegar and fresh herbs and steeping them until the liquid is infused with the delicious herbal oils. I enjoy making unique herb combinations to keep in my pantry for everything from salad dressing to barbeque sauce.
One February day, a few years ago, I went to make a vinaigrette recipe and discovered that I was completely out of herbal vinegar. I had used my winter supply and it would be months before I could harvest a new batch of fresh herbs. I decided to try making vinegar using dried herbs and other flavorful ingredients, such as red pepper flakes, citrus peels and spices. I began experimenting and discovered that simple pantry ingredients created vinegars as delicious as their fresh-herb counterparts.
The trick to a delicious dried-herb vinegar is in the length of time you allow it steep. You can steep vinegar made with fresh herbs for as little two weeks, although many people prefer to steep it longer. When using dried herbs, you will need at least three to four weeks to fully flavor the vinegar. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor. Taste the vinegar before straining it. If the flavor is not strong enough for you, let the mixture steep longer.
The basic formula for flavored vinegar is approximately 1/4 cup dried herbs and spices to 4 cups vinegar. You can find a wealth of delicious combinations in your own pantry. Try combining various dried herbs, such as bay leaf, dill, lemon verbena, oregano, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, tarragon or thyme, along with spices, such as allspice, black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, star anise, garlic, nutmeg or even candied ginger. You also can add dried seeds, such as anise, celery, coriander, dill, fennel or mustard. Be sure to crush them slightly to release their flavors. You can create sweet vinegars using 12 ounces frozen berries (such as raspberries, strawberries and/or blueberries), 1 to 3 tablespoons dried herbs or spices and 4 cups vinegar. You also can throw in a fresh citrus peel or dried berries.
Whether for fresh- or dried-herb versions, using white wine, rice or champagne vinegar yields the best results. Red wine and cider vinegar also can be used, but their intense flavors call for strongly flavored ingredients, such as rosemary, garlic or hot peppers. For delicately flavored herbs, such as lemon verbena, stick to clear vinegars. Of all the vinegars, rice wine and champagne are the lightest, and they really let the herb flavors shine through. They are also especially suited to fruit vinegars as the sweetness of the fruit overshadows their mild vinegar flavor. White distilled vinegar is too overpowering and should not be used.
Once your vinegar is finished, try using it to flavor your favorite soups, stews or steamed vegetables. You also can use it in salad dressings, sauces or marinades, or to deglaze your pan and create a reduction sauce after frying meat. For a refreshing beverage, add one or two tablespoons of fruit vinegar to a tall glass of sparkling water.
Theresa Loe is always creating new herbal recipes and crafts for her annual calendar, The Herbal Calendar (Tide-Mark Press). It is illustrated by Peggy Turchette, who also illustrated this column.
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