Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Low Sodium Pantry: Vinegar
When you remove extra salt from your cooking, vinegar becomes a favorite friend. I always have at least five kinds on hand: Red wine, white wine, dark balsamic, white balsamic, and unseasoned rice vinegar.
The balsamic vinegars have a touch of sweetness, and the rice vinegar is very mild. Flavored vinegars are great too. I usually have some raspberry vinegar on hand along with Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar. Probably the most expected use for all these vinegars is in making salad dressings. That goes without saying.
1/2 cup olive oil (Extra Virgin has a stronger flavor & will solidify when refrigerated)
1/4 cup vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons honey
1 clove crushed garlic
1-2 tablespoons water
Combine ingredients in jar & shake or whisk together in bowl.
By changing the vinegars and/or oils, adding different herbs, using different sweeteners, or substituting different ingredients for the mustard & water, you can come up with a variety of flavors. For example, changing out just a couple of tablespoons of plain olive oil with a flavored oil will add an entirely new dimension. Similarly, using a flavored vinegar or citrus juice for the acidic ingredient will do the same. Instead of honey for the sweetening, consider using brown sugar, maple syrup, or even jams/jellies. Pepper jelly adds a nice combination of sweet & spicy. And ketchup or even mayonnaise can be substituted for the mustard.
I make a delicious & easy Raspberry Vinaigrette by using raspberry vinegar and Torani Raspberry Syrup in place of the mustard, honey, & water in the basic vinaigrette recipe. Many variations are possible from such a simple & basic recipe.
When making classic American potato salad, I toss the drained, warm potatoes with some of the basic vinaigrette (I usually add a bit more vinegar). It flavors the potatoes nicely and adds moisture so I don’t end up overdoing the mayonnaise. The vinegar provides the zip that salt usually adds. I do the same thing when making old-fashioned American macaroni salad too. Oh, and I do NOT salt the cooking water for either the potatoes or macaroni.
I make quick dressing combos for both cooked and raw vegetables too. Usually equal parts vinegar & oil with a little added sweetener. I vary the oils and vinegars used and add whatever herbs or spices I think appropriate. Top the vegetable off with some toasted nuts or buttered breadcrumbs and you’ve got a “fancy” no-salt vegetable dish.
I also use vinegar in cooking. Whenever I make a braised dish (stew or pot roast), I always add 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar to the pot. Red wine vinegar with beef or lamb and white wine vinegar with chicken or pork. Again, the vinegar adds a zip that salt usually provides. A splash of vinegar ten minutes before finishing cooking can also brighten a braised dish.
I also add some red wine vinegar to any type of tomato sauce I’m cooking (lemon juice is also good with tomato sauces). Sometimes the unsalted tomato products not only taste flat but they taste overly sweet. Reasonable enough – salt is a foil to the natural sweetness in tomatoes. So I’ll add a dribble of vinegar to my spaghetti sauce and chili during cooking. Again, a splash ten minutes before finishing cooking can also brighten tomato sauce based dishes. A light splash of sherry vinegar right before serving can also add some sparkle to bean soups.
You can easily make a balsamic vinegar reduction. You’ll end up with a dark brown syrupy glaze that can be drizzled on fish, chicken, or vegetables to add a sweet-tart zing to any dish. If you’re artistic, swirls of balsamic vinegar glaze make a lovely edible plate decoration sure to impress guests. (Please note: I am NOT artistic as the accompanying picture will show.) I use the dark balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe’s and buy two bottles. Rather than making a little bit at a time, I use up an entire bottle. That way, I have a good supply of balsamic vinegar syrup always on hand.
Balsamic Vinegar Reduction
Pour the contents of one bottle of balsamic vinegar into a heavy bottomed non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel works well). Bring the contents to a boil, and then lower heat to a simmer. (Because you’re dealing with vinegar and its fumes, be sure to turn on your kitchen exhaust fan. There’s no danger; it’s just that vinegar can be a strong odor.)
Continue simmering until the vinegar is reduced by about half. It should be slightly syrupy, similar to a glaze, and coat a spoon. Take the reduction off the heat when it is still just a bit thin. It will continue to thicken as it sits. Let the vinegar stand at room temperature until it is cool enough to pour into a plastic squeeze bottle (I use a picnic ketchup bottle). Store in the refrigerator.
Before using, be sure to set the bottle out until it comes to room temperature, or, if necessary, heat it a bit in the microwave or set it in a warm water bath (similar to what you do with crystallized honey.)
You can also make your own herb-infused vinegars. The Gardens Ablaze website gives complete directions and even suggestions for herbal combinations.
You can find wine vinegars and balsamic vinegar at most grocery stores, and rice vinegar is usually found in the Asian foods section of most grocery stores. Specialty food shops, Cost Plus World Market, Trader Joe’s, and even some natural foods stores also carry a good selection of vinegars, often including some flavored ones. I consider red & white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and plain rice vinegar as basic necessities. But I do love the flavored vinegars as well.