Posted by Sue Landsman on Jul.13, 2009
Planting and using fresh herbs is one of the best parts of Summer. But after one too many chive omelets or yet more pesto sauce, it’s easy to find yourself wondering what to do with all those herbs that are overrunning the garden.
It’s fun to find ways to use your plants that you might not have tried before, and even better if doing so means you can make something for which you’d otherwise pay good money. Herbal vinegars are just the thing. You can usually find them in whole food or specialty stores in fancy bottles, and they can cost over ten dollars. You can easily make them at home for a fraction of the cost.
An herbal vinegar is simply a vinegar in which you’ve steeped fresh herbs, so that the flavor of the herbs has entered into the vinegar. Often the vinegar will also take on the color of the herbs. You can use the vinegars with olive oil to make salad dressing, or to add to sauces or stocks for extra taste.
To make an herbal vinegar, you’ll want to start with sterilized bottles or jars. You can use jelly or jam jars, or you can find inexpensive bottles at your local flea market or home goods store. The jam jars make great projects for kids or for local craft fairs. Sterilize all your bottles and corks for about 10 minutes in boiling water, let cool, then let them dry. Be sure to use jars with plastic lids; metal lids will rust in contact with the vinegar.
Wash and dry your herbs. You’ll want to leave them relatively intact, so that they do not pour out with the vinegar as you use it and so that they look beautiful. In general, use three or four two-inch sprigs of herb per cup of vinegar. Using short sprigs will save you trouble later, because as you use the vinegar you want to make sure that as the vinegar level lowers no herb sticks up. Unsubmerged herbs tend to mold. You could, of course, use cheese cloth to strain the herb out of the vinegar when you are done. This won’t look nearly as pretty though. If you’re giving the vinegar as a gift, you may want to strain the herbs out and put a new sprig in as that will look better.
Pour warm vinegar over your herbs, making sure they are completely covered. Regular white wine vinegar is perfectly fine. You can heat it carefully on the stove or let it sit in the sun for about a half an hour. Let the bottles sit for one to two months, out of direct sunlight, to let the flavor of the herb seep into the vinegar.
If a month is too long for you to wait, you can also make your vinegars the “fast way.” Try doing both so that you can compare the taste and see which you like best. To make a quick herbal vinegar, heat the vinegar to just below boiling (instead of warm, as above) and then pour over the herbs. Cover the mixture, then gently shake twice a day for a week.
You can find many recipes for herbal vinegars on the internet using ingredients ranging from simple herbs to complex concoctions. Some wonderful herbal vinegars are:
Lemon thyme or verbena
You can also experiment with combinations or with special herb varieties like lemon basil or purple sage. Red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, and rice vinegar can also be used, though they will each give you different tastes and colors. You should avoid distilled vinegar, since the taste will be too harsh.
When you have made your vinegars, don’t stop there. Make up some nice labels on your computer and print them on sticker paper then put the labels on your bottles. It’s easy to lose track of which vinegar is which unless you do this. The nicely labeled bottles also make great hostess gifts for when you’re invited to dinner or a party.
Article By: Sue Landsman
Profile: “I am a freelance writer with a background in science and technical writing. I currently enjoy writing about parenting and education with the occasional extremely short story thrown in. Or not. “
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