Ok, I have a lot to say about vinegar, mainly because I'm a little obsessed. So I'm going to try to keep it short(er). I really love vinegar. Everything about vinegar. I love how it cleans just about everything, I love how I can wash my hair with it (for a little less than a penny per wash, as opposed to paying for shampoo). I love the smell of vinegar, and I love making vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, I love its odor-absorbing properties and I love that if I spray it, Aleister stays out of the room for a little while and doesn't try to get whatever I'm into.
But more than anything, I love the myriad ways it can be used with food. I love a splash of Asian vinegar (I flit between rice vinegar, coconut vinegar and plum vinegar in this context) can liven up a stir-fry (keep your nose from the fumes!). I love a drizzle of vinegar on veggies I intend to roast. I love salads, and salad dressings. I love making infused vinegars. Mostly because it's fun, it's a nice gift to be able to give (I have even sent my spiced fig vinegar to my "nephew" in Israel) when placed in a pretty bottle with a couple recipes tied to it, and because I have a short attention span which results in me being easily bored. Plus, you can get a lot of diverse flavours out of vinegar if you infuse it with unusual items. Additionally, infusing vinegars can give you a way to retain out-of-season-ingredient flavours in your cooking.
It is probably due to my love of vinegar that the only dressing I ever buy is cucumber ranch (which I dip things in; I don't actually put it on my salads). I suppose I could make that too... but it'd involve me acknowledging mayonnaise is present in it, and I want to just pretend. So let me, ok?
I first realised I love infusing vinegars when I was soaking cucumber slices in white vinegar with piles of salt and pepper. It occurred to me one day that it'd save me money (oh, the first college days!) if I didn't throw the vinegar away, and instead retained it for the next time I got hold of a cucumber. I noticed the difference in the smell and flavour of the vinegar over time, and then the proverbial light bulb went off in my head. Did this mean I could keep tasting things I couldn't afford to buy all the time? I thought it did!
And it did. Basically, infusing a vinegar is about as simple a "cooking" event as you can have. You get some stuff, you put it in a jar or container, pour vinegar over it, let it sit. Presto. The only thing I ever tried to infuse in vinegar that didn't work out was pumpkin. The pumpkin probably needed heat infusion, and I just don't like doing that. I feel like I have to use the vinegar quickly then, and I really do hate being rushed. So there it is. Below is a list of some of my favourite infusion recipes. I hope you like them. I personally love them all. With all of them, infusing times are estimates. Check that the vinegar has the strength of infusion you want before straining.
Chive Vinegar (for people who grow chives, but who probably already know this)
1 jar full of chive flowers
vinegar to cover
Let sit at least a couple weeks. If you feel spunky, let it sit in the sun.
16 oz. mushrooms
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 oz pimentos, diced
½ c celery, minced
1 shallot, minced
white distilled vinegar to cover
1 t salt
½ t black pepper
Allow to marinate an hour or so. Strain and discard food particles, reserving vinegar in a clean container. [This is a two-recipe deal, because if you do half-vinegar, half water, you can make those delicious marinated mushrooms I love so much. If you don't put the water in, the mushrooms won't taste all that good when you strain it].
Truffle Balsamic Vinegar:
1 bottle 6 or 10 year balsamic vinegar
1 thumb-sized piece black truffle
Pour out a little of the vinegar. Shave the truffles, and combine. Allow to meld for several months before using. Do not shake before using. [Use good quality balsamic for this]
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
White distilled vinegar to cover
Freshly ground black pepper
Arrange cucumbers in a bowl, dressing each layer with a healthy amount of salt and pepper. Cover with vinegar. Let sit for no less than 30 minutes and no more than 2 hours. Strain and reserve the vinegar in a clean container.
6-7 figs, cut in half
10 ounces cider vinegar
Arrange figs in a bowl. Cover with vinegar. Allow to steep in refrigerator for 5 days. Strain and reserve the vinegar in a clean container.
Spiced Fig Vinegar (this is one of my favourites; if you only make one, let it be this)
6-7 figs, cut in half
2 red peppercorns
4 allspice berries
10 ounces white wine vinegar
Combine figs, spices and vinegar in a bowl. Allow to steep in refrigerator for 5 days. Strain and reserve the vinegar in a clean container.
Tangerine-Basil Vinegar (this makes a lot; be warned)
2.5 pounds satsuma tangerines
1 pound fresh basil
cider vinegar to cover
Cut up the tangerines, put in a container with basil. Add vinegar. Soak until aromatic. I think this one took a while, though it could simply be that since I was in the middle of extracting myself from a marriage while making this, that I simply didn't strain it as soon as I could have. I still have bottles and bottles of it left.
1 large knob fresh ginger, cut into strips
teaspoon crushed (not ground) black peppercorns
3 shallots, sliced
1/8 cup star anise
white wine vinegar to cover
You know the drill. Put it in a jar, cover with vinegar. This one takes a couple weeks.
small piece of black truffle (oregons are fine)
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lemon, chopped up
1 large bunch tarragon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
distilled white vinegar to cover
Mix, let it hang out for a while. This vinegar has always been a favourite of many of my friends. I let this one go a week or two.
Ok... So I lied when I said I'd keep it short.