Monday, September 12, 2005

But Do You Want to Attract Flies?

As the old adage goes, "You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar." But does one really want to attract flies?

Vinegar is an important flavor component that adds depth and balance to foods. This past weekend, I prepared a few dishes that showcased my collection of the tart flavorings: marinated asparagus with Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar; Asian pasta salad with rice wine vinegar; and Golden Whisk Earl Grey Vinaigre de T was used in the dressing for a chopped salad. I also have the now-ubiquitous balsamic vinegar, plus bottles of red wine, sherry, vanilla, cherry, and Golden Whisk Smokey Lap-Souchang Chinese Tea vinegars on hand.

What does one do with myriad flavored vinegars? Make myriad tasty foodstuffs, that's what! The most obvious use is in salad dressings. If using a tasty vinegar, it's possible to skimp on the olive oil and make a really low-fat dressing.

Basic Flavorful Low-Fat Vinaigrette

1 tsp Dijon mustard (but heck, you can use Gulden's if it's all you have on hand!)
1 tsp honey
2-3 tsp flavored vinegar (raspberry, vanilla, fig, cherry, etc.)
salt and pepper

Whisk ingredients together with a fork. Slowly drizzle in some nice olive oil - maybe a tablespoon or so - whisking all the time until the dressing coalesces. Taste it and add more honey or salt to taste. Ok, if you think it needs more oil, by all means, add whatever amount you want.

This tastes great over mesclun with sliced pears, walnut pieces, and maybe some crumbled bleu cheese. Or make the dressing with balsamic vinegar and put sliced strawberries in the salad. Yum!

Ok, you say, what else can I put all of these weird vinegars into? Well, have you ever cooked something that's just, well, flat? Add a tiny bit of vinegar to perk it up! I made a recipe out of one of Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals books (An aside: I don't get her popularity. She's got a voice like she snacks on coarse sandpaper, and the few recipes of hers that I've tried are extremely bland. And those cheap travel shows make her seem like...well, a cheapskate) an eggplant sauce for pasta. It tasted like...nothing. So I added a tablespoonful of balsamic vinegar, some honey, and SALT, and it was quite yummy.

Other ideas: use a little balsamic vinegar to perk up a bland tomato sauce. Macerate some orange and grapefruit slices in a little bit of fruity vinegar, add chopped red onion, and either fresh basil or fresh cilantro, and use it as a cool salsa-like topping for red snapper or tilapia.

Speaking of salsa, here's one of my favorite salsa recipes. The cocoa seems weird, but it adds an unusual smoky flavor.

Chocolate Salsa

1 32-oz can chopped tomatoes (with no additional seasoning, drained, juice reserved
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 tblsp cocoa powder
1 tblsp red chile powder (not chili powder)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup green chiles (canned, not jalapenos)
salt and fresh lime juice, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Yummy on just about everything.

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