I've come to believe that the oldest cooking ingredient known to man (besides manna) may be vinegar. According to the Vinegar Institute (yes, there is a vinegar institute; check it out at: versatilevinegar.org), the use of this substance can be traced back 10,000 years. In fact, flavored vinegars have existed almost as long, which explains the wide variety of choices available in the market place today.
It is supposed that once upon a time, an enterprising vintner who had a cask of slightly sour wine decided to try and use it for cooking, instead of drinking. The French perhaps said it best when they named it vin ("wine") aigre ("sour"). Lest you think that all vinegars are derived solely from grapes, listen up.
Through the centuries, people have also been making vinegar from a variety of foods that ferment. Simply put, vinegar is the byproduct that is created when there is an oxidation of the ethanol in an alcoholic liquid like wine, mead, fermented fruit juice and even beer.
Of course, vinegar is much more than whipping up a bad batch of wine. It has become a process not unlike that of creating fine wines, and some even support a hefty price tag. Some of the true balsamic vinegars made from the white Trebbiano grape in Italy can be aged 20 years, and run more than $100 a bottle.
In addition to balsamic, there is apple-cider vinegar, red-wine vinegar, rice wine and even coconut vinegar to choose from. One of the best things about vinegar is that it enhances almost any food you pair it with or add to it. Enterprising chefs use fruit, honey, garlic or even herbs with vinegar to enhance dishes.
The breakdowns of the types most available to the average consumer are:
· Wine vinegar can be made from white, red and or a rose wine. These are great in salad dressings and marinades.
· Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice, and rice-wine vinegar is made from sake. Rice vinegar made from sake is often called seasoned rice vinegar, and has a stronger taste than rice vinegar.
· Cider vinegar is made from apples and found primarily in the United States.
· Distilled vinegar is made from grains, and is best for pickling and cleaning.
· Malt vinegar is popular in England. It's made from fermented barley and grain mash, and fermented in casket of beech or birch. It is often served as a condiment with fish and chips, much like we use ketchup.
Vinegar also works as a terrific household cleaner. Using distilled white vinegar with water, baking soda or soap is an inexpensive way to go green and still have a sparkling home. Vinegar can be used to clean the bathroom, kitchen and even whiten your laundry. It also has both antiseptic and antibiotic properties, and so is considered an effective disinfectant.
But before you rush out and purchase every kind, match the vinegar with the kind of cooking you do; a little goes a long way.
6 Asian eggplants
3 Tbsps. rice vinegar
3 Tbsps. soy sauce
2/3 cup oil
1/3 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsps. sugar
2 Tbsps. toasted sesame seeds
Preheat oven to broil.
Remove the stalk from the eggplants and cut it into quarters lengthwise.
Put the eggplants on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler. Let cook until the eggplant is soft and slightly browned on the top. Remove from the heat and let cool.
While eggplant is cooking, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, oil, sesame oil and sugar together. Whisk to combine.
Add the sesame seeds; whisk to combine.
Place cooled eggplant pieces in a bowl and pour the dressing over top. Toss to coat and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
Eileen Goltz is a freelance food writer and the author of Perfectly Pareve. E-mail her at: ztlog@ verizon.net.