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A Little Bit Sweet, A Little Bit Tart: Balsamic Vinegar Adds Sass to Classic Recipes

Julie McLaughlin's Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Throughout culinary history there have arisen many great pairings: salt and pepper, chocolate and peanut butter, chips and salsa. But there exists one often overlooked pair that I simply could not do without.

With their complimentary coloring, silky textures and subtle bite, olive oil and balsamic vinegar are the secret weapon of many a savvy cook. Whether dipping hot, crusty Italian bread, or tossing it with your favorite greens, this dynamic duo packs a high-health, low-guilt punch with very little effort.

“I’ve got olive oil in my cupboard, but what’s this balsamic stuff you’re talking about,” you ask hungrily?

Well, let me take a moment to spread the good word about my new vinegar friend. Lurking behind a rich, burgundy exterior lies a subtly sweet yet seriously sour syrup jam-packed with health benefits and complex flavors. (In fact, I just found out that the Italian word balsamico, means “curative”!)

Unlike other vinegars, traditional balsamic is made from a reduction of two different types of grapes and then aged for at least 12 years. I’m a firm believer that good things come in old packages – if I do say so myself – and this tangy treat is certainly no exception! Its complex flavors can easily stand alone and in my experience it is often best-served drizzled atop tomatoes, bruschetta or other equally simple dishes. (For a taste, try Brian Blackley’s yummy Bruschetta recipe!)

Broadening my culinary horizons, however, are folks like Tonya Young who originally hails from Denison, IA. Tonya has thrown open the curtains to a terrific new way of incorporating balsamic into a classic recipe. Her Balsamic Potato Salad dishes up a perfectly un-classic take on a down-home picnic favorite, and the results are utterly fantastic. Using a combination of red potatoes, sour cream and balsamic, Tonya turns old-fashioned potato salad on its end while still preserving a traditional feel.

“Well, I’m a huge balsamic vinegar fan AND red potato fan, so this potato salad is one of my favorites of all the potato salads I’ve tasted,” says Tonya. “Pictures are hard to give it justice…”

And that is precisely why we had to give it a try ourselves!

Similarly, the Kitchen Crew and I were wowed by the zing that balsamic adds to Julie McLaughlin’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad. The flavors in this dish are the perfect jumping-off point for your next creative day in the kitchen. Don’t like black-eyed peas? Try chick peas! Not a green pepper fan? Throw in some zucchini instead. The basic foundation Julie creates with spices and vinegar will compliment most any ingredient addition.

And it’s that versatility that is really at the heart of what I love so much about balsamic. A little dash will brighten up many a dish. In fact, I’ve heard of folks using it as an ingredient in their sweet dishes as well. We haven’t given that a go just yet, but you can bet it’s on our schedule of things to make! (Top of the list? Kathleen Erbe’s Balsamic Strawberry Sauce! Give it a try and let us know what you think.)

Happy cooking!