Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vinegar and My Favorite Salad

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The basics, I dumped the Salata after this post, I was kinda grossed out.

I like the idea of hitting on one food topic and exploring.  I did it with cocoa last spring, and with cucumbers one hot summer.  I love food, no question there, and when I peek into my pantry, vinegar is a strong presence.  Fourteen (yes, 14) bottles of vinegar live harmoniously in my pantry.  Some I love and replenish often, others are not my favorite, but they are getting a little kitchen time too.  Only one vinegar doesn't reside in my pantry, and that is the large jug of Heinz white vinegar.  I use it for cleaning up little doggie tinkles.  The only recipe I use it for on a regular basis is my famous Sloppy Joes.  Of course I also use white vinegar for canning.  But oh, the other vinegars are where the fun is!  So hang on while I show you what I have.  I promise one of my favorite salads of all time at the end!

First the basics, above, sort of the everyday salad vinegars, nothing funky.  Heinz apple cider is what I grew up on.  My Grandma would sprinkle the salad with this and oil (probably Mazola, she was brand loyal) and salt and pepper.  She would then cover the salad with a dish towel and set it aside.  I got an email last year from an old childhood friend asking for our salad recipe.  That's it.  We NEVER eat cold salad.  I found the other cider vinegar at WS, and it's good, but pricey no doubt.  It has added white wine vinegar I am guessing to bring the acidity level down.  It runs about $15.  The other is Salata, a seasoned vinegar from Germany.  It is also mellowed with wine vinegar, but its first ingredient is spirit vinegar.  Not sure what that means. (I looked on Wiki, and ew!  It could be chemically made.)  It also has some seasoning and coloring.  It's not my favorite, but I love trying them all.  
The middle one is spectacular!

Now, on to Balsamic.  My gold standard is Olivier 25 year balsamic from Modena.  It is fantastic at just under $30 a bottle.  But I always have a cheapie grocery brand on hand for drizzling on roasted brussel sprouts or asparagus.  If you're going to cook it, I go with the grocery.  They run around $10, mine also contains coloring and grape must.  It isn't authentic, and I wouldn't drizzle it on a salad or strawberries, but I drizzled it last night on brussel sprouts and roasted them and it caramelized beautifully.  And then White Balsamic.  What is this stuff?  According to the bottle it is white wine vinegar and the musts of white grapes.  I love it.  It is imported from Italy and has a great flavor on a salad.  True Balsamic is regulated, aged and imported.
I buy 2 Rice Vinegars at a time, that bottle of Ume will last me a lifetime!

Now onto the Asian flair.  Rice vinegar has achieved great popularity.  Seasoned, which I have, has sweetening in it.  Corn syrup, brown sugar, I know...Yikes.  But only 5 carbs per Tablespoon, and I can use it without oil it is so mellow.  They also offer it plain and with other seasonings.  I prefer the imported ones, and as I am reading the bottle for this blog, it says to refrigerate after opening.  Oops.  I have never put it in the fridge, and I have been buying this stuff for 15 years!  The other is Ume Plum Vinegar.  It is made in Japan and is made of Ume plum, Beefsteak Leaf (shiso) and sea salt.  A lot of sea salt.  This is high powered with 1050 mg of salt in a teaspoon.  But trust me, it takes only a teaspoon on a large salad for a family to get the amazing Ume flavor.  
Not great, but a nice change.

Then the flavored vinegar.  Not my favorites.  The blueberry pomegranate is gross.  I bought it because I love pomegranate, and I had seen a Japanese one at the International market that I didn't buy.  I will try that one because this is icky.  I usually mix it with others.  And then the Tarragon Vinegar.  I love tarragon, and use this in my chicken salad.  When my favorite grocery closed, I bought this store brand at Kroger.  I am not a fan.  I can't remember what my other brand was, but it was good stuff.  
I love Sherry Vinegar, the $10 one is great!

And finally the Cadillac of vinegars.  Sherry.  This is my all time favorite.  They can trace it back to the first century, and has a strong distinctive taste.  You should only buy it made in Jerez, Spain.  The one brand DeSoto is made by sherry growers that have been around since 1793.  It is pretty inexpensive at $10 a bottle.  The other 2 bottles are also from Jerez, but are Reserve, aged for years.  I got them on clearance because I am not likely to pay $45 for a bottle of vinegar.  It is delicious stuff though!  

And now my wish list.  We have a French cider vinegar with honey at WS I am dying to try.  Also that Japanese pomegranate vinegar sounds lovely and the color was spectacular.  I guess I will have to make room first.  And as for all those emails and ads that tell you all the benefits of vinegar, I agree with most.  But it will not make you lose weight.  I drink (yes, drink) vinegar everyday.  I love it, it makes me feel good.  But I will tell you this, if you feel crummy, achy, feverish, a warm bath with apple cider vinegar will make your nose wrinkle, but I swear it draws out the poison from your body.  It is amazing stuff!  So, here's my favorite salad, it was a supper club recipe years ago, I have no origin.  So,what are you waiting for?  Get in there!

Warm Goat Cheese and Pancetta Salad
½ cup dried cherries 
6 tablespoons olive oil 
½ pound pancetta, cut into 1/4- inch dice 
2 tablespoon chopped garlic 
2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves 
Freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 cup  sherry vinegar
10-12 cups mixed greens, such as frisee and baby spinach 
10 ounces fresh goat cheese
In a small bowl, combine dried cherries with warm water to cover. Set aside to soften. 
In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, add 2 tablespoon olive oil and pancetta. Cook until fat is rendered, about 6 minutes. Drain pancetta on paper towels and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet. 
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and increase heat to medium-high. Return pancetta to pan and cook until crispy. Add garlic and cook until just golden, about 1 minute. Reduce heat, add thyme and stir well. Add 15 good turns of black pepper. Add vinegar, return pan to heat, and deglaze pan, scraping up all the brown bits that cling to the bottom and sides of the pan. Simmer until vinegar reduces by half. Drain and add cherries. Season with salt.
Can be made ahead to this point and reheated briefly to serve.
Put mixed greens in a salad bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over the greens. Quickly toss mixture with pancetta dressing so greens barely wilt.  Immediately transfer to plates and serve.


  1. That is so cool! I also am a massive fan of vinegars and am impressed with your range. Have you ever tries a vinegar liquor? If not I am sending you a bottle- AMAZING stuff!

    I am now going to go an buy a decent bottle of sherry vinegar!

  2. Never heard of it! And a Google search is not helping me. Please, do tell!!!