Friday, January 22, 2010

"Men are like wine - some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age." - Pope John XXIII

While the former pope was using vinegar in a negative context he really couldn't be more wrong. Vinegars are wonderful culinary delights. They can come from a great many sources from barley to coconuts. They are found in a great number of foods, particularly condiments and pickling, and make an excellent cleaning product owing to their acidity and antimicrobial properties.

Additionally, some vinegars also get better with age. A prime example is Balsamic vinegar. Like the wines of Bordeaux and Champagne, real Balsamic vinegar can only come from a specific region - the Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy to be exact. It is made from a reduction of the syrup, aka "must", of Trebbiano grapes (a sweet white grape), which is then aged in wood barrels for at least 12 years. The result is a sweet, rich vinegar bearing the complex flavours imparted by the woods. The balsamic vinegar industry is very much like the wine industry, with different companies producing more expensive vinegars than others. Needless to say, real Balsamic vinegar isn't cheap. In fact, 100 mL of 12 year old Balsamic can set you back up to $100 or more. But if you're feeling really indulgent, spring for some of this 25 year old vinegar, at a price tag of $255.95. That's about $12 per teaspoon.

Factoid: Use non-reactive cookware when cooking or marinating with vinegars - reactive pots, such as those made with aluminum or copper, will alter the taste! Use glass, ceramics, or stainless steel instead.

So let's get real and talk about the "balsamic" vinegar the vast majority of us actually use. Until some time in the 1970s, nobody had ever really heard of Balsamic vinegar. But when it broke out on the culinary scene, demand for this vinegar was high, and vinegar artisans just couldn't keep up. Cheaper vinegars aged for less time, often in steel barrels, were produced, making "balsamic" available to the masses. Instead of 100% must, as in traditional balsamic vinegars, most vinegars you'll find in the grocery store are made from a combination of must and red wine vinegar. The higher the percentage of must, the higher the quality. White balsamic vinegars are made using white wine vinegar, and are not caramelized, giving the vinegar a golden colour. This is good if you want to put it in any kind of light coloured dish or sauce without imparting an ugly muddy colour typical of balsamic vinegar.

As you may have guessed, this week's salad challenge recipe makes use of balsamic vinegar. I got the recipe from the February 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times. It is based on the traditional South German dish Kartoffelsalat, which is a potato salad that is made with oil & vinegar and served warm, unlike its mayo-based, cold counterpart of the North.

German-Style Warm Potato Salad

8 0z. baby red potatoes, sliced
4 oz. green beans, cut in half
3 tbsp olive oil
3 green onions, chopped
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley*
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or dill*
4 cups baby spinach leaves

*If you're using dry herbs (like I did) you'll need to use less, so use teaspoons instead of tablespoons.

Boil potatoes until tender. Add green beans during last minute of cooking (you still want them to have some crunch).
While you're waiting on the potatoes, saute your green onion in the oil on medium for a few minutes until tender. Remove from heat and add the vinegar.
Drain beans & potatoes and add to the pan with the onion. Add your herbs, salt & pepper to taste, toss to coat, then serve warm over baby spinach.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 3 Salads left: 49


  1. oooh, I'm loving the idea of one salad per week. I've seen soooo many salad recipes but I rarely try new ones (it's so much easier to just throw balsamic & oil on some lettuce!). And what's worse... the couple of salad recipes I have tried have been total disappointments. Well, maybe you'll prompt me to be more adventurous.

    That said: I don't have anything as specific as a 52-week salad challenge... but I'll totally be on board with a 52-week BLOG challenge. Post at least one entry per week. Ideally a couple more interspersed in there, but at LEAST one per week. I'm going to figure out how to subscribe to your blog, so we can keep an eye on each other :)

    Let me know how your sackboy turns out! I'm so happy you love crocheting... it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know that I've imparted the wisdom of the crochet to so many people (through association... cuz Jess or Van taught you, right?). :D

  2. Yes, Van taught me to crochet. My brother and his wife are expecting so I plan to use my crocheting skills to make adorable baby things. So exciting!

    You can "Follow" my blog by clicking on the follow button in the left hand column. :)