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April 13, 2011 - Kathie Evanoff
This time last year I was already harvesting lettuce and beet greens from my greenhouse garden that I planted in March.
This year, I didn’t get the small raised bed garden planted, so I am still buying fresh greens at the grocery store. After seeing the prices that continually rise, I wish I had managed to get the garden planted after all.
Seeds are cheap and lettuce loves to grow, especially when the air is still a bit cool. There isn’t much that tastes as good as fresh, young greens tossed with a light, homemade dressing. Add a chopped hard-cooked egg and a couple ounces of sliced ham, turkey or a handful of walnuts for protein and you have a well-rounded, nutritious lunch.
Those light, homemade salad dressings are easy to make, especially if you start with a base of herbal vinegar. Making herbal vinegar is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. It all starts in the herb garden, but you can flavor vinegar with other things as well, including hot peppers, garlic and other spices. It all depends on what you like.
Think flavor matching. Light vinegar work best with lighter flavors. Most light herbal vinegars are used with white wine vinegar. Rather than pay high prices for white wine vinegar, I prefer to make my own my mixing a cup of good white wine with a gallon of plain white vinegar.
Flavors that mix well with white vinegar include chives and chive blossoms. I love chive blossom vinegar because the pale purple flowers tint the vinegar a lovely mauve shade, which might be nice in a pretty bottle as a decoration, but it should be used because it will fade to a less appealing tan color over time.
Most all herbs can be used with white wine vinegar, including basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. Go easy on the rosemary, however, as it can overpower the flavors of the rest of the herbs. For more robust flavors, use red wine vinegar to create vinegar flavored with garlic, onions and hot peppers.
Flavored vinegar can be used for more than just salad dressings. They also make great meat marinades. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
To make herbal vinegar, simply harvest and wash your herbs of choice and let them dry completely before using. Stuff the dry herbs in a glass jar and pour warm vinegar over the top. You can heat the vinegar on the stove, but never let it reach the boiling point or it will be spoiled. You also set the vinegar in a sunny window for a couple hours to warm it while your herbs are drying.
Once mixed in their container, cover with a lid and let the herbs steep in the vinegar for at least a week, but longer is better. Make sure all of the herbs and vegetables are completely covered with vinegar. Anything that pops up above the liquid is prone to mold, and no one wants that. You can spear peppers with wooden skewers to keep them submerged while they steep.
Don’t store your flavored vinegar in direct sunlight.
To make salad dressing, combine one part flavored vinegar to three parts olive oil and toss in whatever other flavors you might like, including powdered mustard, honey or chopped onion. I also like to add a couple tablespoons white or regular balsamic vinegar to my dressings, depending on which flavored vinegar I’m using.
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