Vinegar is a culinary ingredient that has so many uses, yet is often overlooked.
If you add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to the water when boiling or steaming cauliflower, beets, or other vegetables, it will help their color, improve taste, and reduce gassy elements, writes Vicki Lansky in Vinegar: Over 400 Various, Versatile & Very Good Uses You've Probably Never Thought Of (Book Peddlers, $8.95).
Tips include adding a tablespoon of vinegar when boiling ribs or stew meat for extra tenderness, and using a vinegar wash for any meat, including poultry, to kill bacteria. For gardeners, here's a tip: Get rid of bugs in any fresh vegetable with a short soak in water with a good dash of vinegar and salt.
The cucumber crop inspires the subject of pickling. Always use a glass or ceramic container when making pickles. Lansky advises using white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar with 5 percent acetic acid. Four percent acetic vinegar is weaker and should be used for salad dressing - it won't make good pickles.
For years I only had white vinegar and cider vinegar in my cupboard. I've made dill pickles and sweet pickles with mediocre results, in my estimation.
I've done better with a Refrigerated Cucumber Salad that's great for picnics.
Then I added red wine vinegar to my cupboard when I started making my mother-in-law's marinated bean salad with five different beans: canned lima, French-style green, wax, garbanzo, and kidney beans.
The wine vinegars - red wine, white wine, champagne vinegar, and even a pinot grigio vinegar - make great salad dressings, each with its own nuance of flavor. White wine vinegar can be flavored with tarragon or chive blossoms.
The basic vinaigrette salad dressing proportion is 1 part vinegar to 4 parts oil, according to Lansky. Season with salt, pepper, dry mustard, or Dijon mustard, dried tarragon, garlic, basil, or other herbs (dried or fresh). Some people like a little sugar in the mix for sweetness. I think that white wine vinegar is much tarter than red wine vinegar.
I bought my first bottle of balsamic vinegar in Louisville 20 years ago when I was working on a food story. It was a $10 variety, which was pricey at that time. Balsamic vinegar comes from Italy's Modena and Reggio Emilia areas. It's produced from white Trebbiano grapes which are cooked and concentrated into a must with a dark color and pungent sweetness from aging in barrels of various woods. Balsamic vinegars can be aged for 3 to 5 years (young), or 12 to 100 years.
Balsamic vinegar adds flavor to dressings. This is the time of year to slice homegrown tomatoes and add little balls of fresh mozzarella and a chiffonade of fresh basil. Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic for the best salad ever. Any leftovers can be added to a basic luncheon salad of greens; there's enough balsamic to flavor. Balsamic adds flavor to pasta salads, too, and it's a great dressing for roasted red and yellow peppers, which must be peeled once roasted and sliced. That dish is my Texas daughter's specialty and is quite labor-intensive, but she has the patience to make it.
The newest in my repertoire is sherry vinegar. Some are aged for years, and while they are found in Spanish dishes, they are also in Cuban recipes.
When I made a Cuban Black Bean Stew made with a ham bone last spring and flavored it with a little sherry vinegar, I froze two pints of leftover stew. This summer, when I baked boneless pork chops, I took out one of those pints of stew and served the pork chops with a couple tablespoons of the stew over each chop.
The pork with the slightly sweet acidic sauce had unbelievably good flavor. It's a flavor to remember with a personality all its own.