I took my own advice and started doing it myself.
Because of my gig at an olive oil and vinegar tasting room, I am pretty regularly inundated with recipe ideas. And I pretty much have to memorize them, because people constantly walk into the store, see Thai Lemongrass Mint Balsamic, and turn to me incredulously: “Well what do you do with THAT?”
With all of these hypothetical meals being thrown around—and my 50% discount—you’d think I would have done some creatin’ by now!
The answer is… mostly no. A little yes. But even when I’d ‘make’ a salad dressing, I’d just haphazardly drizzle the EVOO and then eyeball about the same amount of vinegar. (Oh, Rachael Ray, you helped me SO much in that sentence).
Plus, I pretty much just drink the stuff—no, seriously, I put peach balsamic in my water. And take a shot of olive oil every time I work.
I have since expanded my horizons. I now actually use my oils and vinegars for meals! I’m motivated, because otherwise I’m going to be eating a whole lot of grilled cheese and hummus come next spring. Not together. Well, sure, together, because both hummus and cheese go with everything.
SO. I’m here to tell you about the wonders of cooking with fancy oils and vinegars.
First, let’s talk about why this fits into my column’s theme.
A shot of oil a day keeps the doctor away? Well, not necessarily, but you will be taking some key preventative measures.
Olive oil—and we are talking strictly first cold press extra virgin olive oil, none of those other, slutty ones—is an anti-inflammatory. Its monounsaturated fat reduces bad cholesterol, regulates blood pressure and can work to ward off diseases, both long-term (diabetes, cancer) and short-term (infections!). The good stuff contains a sizable amount of polyphenols, which are antioxidants; basically, free radical-fighting ninjas.
Also, once it gets down to the stomach, it will help you feel fuller, as unsaturated fat is much more satisfying than its evil twin, saturated fat. (Let’s not even get started on trans fat. We excommunicated him from the family). This will ultimately allow you to thrive on less food, perhaps shedding a few extra LBs.
Stop whining about calories, because, contrary to popular belief, they are not the most important aspect of a person’s diet. And we already went over the healthy fat thing. No one ever seems to have a problem with the healthy fats in avocados, so why oil?
But I digress. A little EVOO down the hatch a few times a week will do ya good!
**Warning: try your best not to use olive oil when cooking with heat. The heat diminishes the health properties of the oil. Instead, use avocado or grapeseed oil. They have much higher flash points.**
On to le vinaigre.
Interestingly enough, balsamic vinegar has many of the same health benefits. Vinegar aids in weight loss, because it suppresses the appetite. Like olive oil, it contains some lovely little antioxidants, and it also helps your body to digest by boosting the activity of pepsin, an enzyme that works to break down protein. It’s great for diabetics, as it can improve insulin sensitivity and therefore allows blood sugar to be more easily regulated. One customer told me he uses it when he has heartburn!
Balsamic vinegar is also very low in calories, and any sugar in it is natural, coming from the grape. (Again, if you’re buying quality stuff). So drink up!
Since we have established that we are doing good by our body to consume these foods, on to the cooking!
Now, in my store, as I hinted at earlier, we sell many different flavors of oil and vinegar. They’re all flavored naturally, usually with the extract (of garlic, lemon, basil, etc.) so we don’t have to worry about canceling out all the good we’re doing.
My absolute, tried and true favorite is the peach white balsamic. It is the most divine-tasting liquid in this world. So divine, in fact, that I’ve used it as a dipping sauce for my quesadilla (told you cheese goes with everything).
I also put it in plain yogurt for a simple sweetener, but my favorite way to use it is on a salad. It goes with almost any oil, but I prefer the blood orange.
Some say to use a 2:1 ratio when working with oils and vinegars. We say 1:1. So perhaps a few tablespoons of each and around a teaspoon of honey (or mustard if you are using a regular olive oil) and you’ve got yourself a lovely vinaigrette! Because the flavored vinegars pack such a punch, you won’t even miss regular salad dressing.
Don’t like olive oil? Go find an olive oil store, immediately. I couldn’t stand it before I started working in my store, where I tried in-season, freshly crushed olive oil for the first time. My opinion was forever changed; they barely taste like olives. Quality is almost always worth the longer drive or higher price.
If you can find a place near you (my store also sells online!), see if they have a maple balsamic. Pour some in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until you have a reduction, then drizzle it over pancakes. Instant, low-sugar syrup.
Perhaps you’re a fan of heat? Hunt down a chipotle olive oil and work it into your favorite hummus recipe (how pretentious do I currently sound?).
A fun mocktail, which can quite easily be made into a cocktail (use your best judgement) combines cantaloupe, mango, orange juice and coconut balsamic. Blend it up, and you’ve got yourself a tropical drink with a kick.
You can even use the oil to bake! A blood orange oil goes perfectly with a dark chocolate cake, and replacing butter with oil gets two thumbs up from any health expert.
Oils and vinegars are also wonderful as glazes and marinades for meat or veggies.
What I’m trying to say here, is that spicing up your food can be incredibly simple and surprisingly good for you. A healthy diet does not have to be boring. Nor does a vegetarian diet, or a gluten-free diet, or a vegan diet… There’s always a way to make sure your meals are unique, healthy, and full of flavor. An EASY, FAST way.
God knows I am not about to spend my whole day in the kitchen. Who has the time?