At first blush, life with next to no refined salt, sugar or oil can seem pretty dreary to most of us. But over the years I’ve found healthier ways to wake up my taste buds. Several months ago I read an Engine 2 blog post from Ami about the joys of splurging on flavored vinegars. But it’s not necessary for me to spend the money on those specialy items to enjoy their trendy fruity flavors. Instead I literally “lock” the fruits of my garden into a jar that can be poured out and enjoyed when Summer is long gone and the snow is flying, the days gone short and cold.
Homemade infused vinegars are a wonderful way to give your whole food plant-based meals a touch of tasty class without added salt sugar or fat. They make low fat dressings something special, and even when you don’t have time to whip up a dressing, an infused vinegar is tasty enough to be the dressing all on its own. I’ve been making infused vinegar with fresh treasures from my garden for almost 20 years. It’s literally as easy as filling a jar and forgetting about it for a while.
I learned from Susan S. Weed in her herbal classic Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way that vinegar has the amazing ability to pull out, suspend and preserve minerals from live plant material. She has a suggested a recipe for such a vinegar using one or all of several mineral rich plants, among them raspberry leaves, canes or berries. That was all the prompting I needed to try making some simple raspberry infused red wine vinegar. The vinegar gets saturated with calcium and other goodies like vitamin C from the fresh raspberries, and its sweetness rivals the brands you can buy in the store. And it tastes great on just about anything: salads, stir fries, black bean and lentil dishes, potato and sweet potato salad. It adds surprise and complexity and tart-sweetness to a homemade fat free salad dressing.
Another flavor direction to go with infused vinegars is spicy. I do this by infusing white wine or rice vinegar with peppery nasturtium flowers ( you can also use the stems and leaves). It’s a great way to have a spicy peppery taste to sprinkle on warm oven fries, and it adds spiciness to a salad dressing without the hard-core heat of hot peppers or black pepper, both of which I am sensitive to. I used it in just this way to make a soy free and jalapeno free version of Susan’s Pumpkin Seed Dressing, which I describe in my post Japanese Sweet Potato to the Rescue.
It’s so simple it isn’t really a recipe, but I’ll make it into one, so you can take it with you and try out your own infused vinegar magic. Here is a template for both fruity and spicy infused vinegars. One word to the wise: keep it simple. One main fruit, and maybe a spice or herb accent. Let the sweetness or bite of the fruit or plant take the center stage.
Plant-Based DIY Infused Vinegar
Fill a pint mason jar with fresh ripe raspberries
Then fill the jar with red wine vinegar to cover the berries
Put on a clean canning lid and screw top.
Store in a cool dark place for 4-6 weeks (see notes).
Strawberry Mint Balsamic:
Fill a pint mason jar with fresh cut strawberries and a few sprigs of fresh mint
Then fill the jar with balsamic vinegar
Put on a clean canning lid and screw top. Label and date. Store in a cool dry place for 4-6 weeks. You can also just refrigerate this one, and use it in a couple of weeks if you like (which I did because I did not want to wait months to use it).
Fill a pint mason jar with nasturtium flowers, leaves and stems (mostly flowers is nice if you have enough)
Then fill it with white wine vinegar (rice vinegar should work too).
Follow the same procedures as above for closing jar and storing to infuse.
Fill a pint canning jar with cut fresh pear pieces (no seeds or core, but you can leave the skin on) and a couple of cinnamon sticks
Then fill that jar with vinegar. Pears are versatile. They take to rice vinegar, dark balsamic, white wine vinegar, you choose. Very nice with a wild rice mushroom pilaf and dark greens.
Follow the same directions for infusing as above.
To decant, pour out vinegar mixture into a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a large glass measuring cup or bowl. Pour the strained vinegar into a bottle and sprinkle on salads, stir fries, oven fries, beans, or use as a special ingredient in a low fat salad dressing.
Notes: What I actually do with the raspberry vinegar (Susan Weed gave me permission) is just leave the berries in the vinegar until I’m ready to decant it. This means the berries may stay in the jar for months. It’s fine to do it that way, and makes for a deeply flavored vinegar. There is practically no wrong way to do this. You can refrigerate it if you want, but it doesn’t need it.
The only flavor described in the Engine 2 post about exploring the world of specialty vinegars I can’t tell you how to make yourself is a chocolate balsamic. Given my issues with chocolate, that doesn’t sound so good to me, so I’ll leave that DIY adventure up to someone else.
I just decanted my last pint jar of raspberry about 3 weeks ago. Now I’m waiting for the new crop of raspberries to ripen so I can make more. It’s a ritual I look forward to every year. No matter the flavor, homemade infused vinegar really is a healthy “secret ingredient” that never fails to make the simplest meal something special.