Yes, I said balsamic is sexy. No, I don’t have a food fetish (although I do love to eat). While I currently may lack the more conventional type of sex-appeal (I am a mother of 2 that’s been married over a decade, for Pete’s sake!), I freely acknowledge that food is sexy. Something magical happens when balsamic meets food – the dish just becomes better. It carmelizes mushrooms, brings out the ripe sweetness of berries, makes your salad zing, and makes your baked goods so moist and delectable. Oh, yes… have you ever added balsamic to dough?
Craving a molasses flavor for healthy muffins my daughter would enjoy, I happened upon a recipe for Fig and Molasses Muffins at The Voracious Vegan. When reading Tasha’s (author of The Voracious Vegan) opening sentence for the recipe post that these muffins as “sexy”, I knew right then that this was the recipe for me. Tasha accounts the sexiness for the brilliant combo of fig and molasses; I counter that it’s the combo of the molasses and balsamic that makes these muffins so uniquely yummy. You must try them! With cocoa powder, spices that include nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, a scosh (sp?) of brown sugar, heft amount of molasses, and only a tad of balsamic, these muffins are grown-up-good. My young kids like them, too! Fig may have taken this to another level, but I substituted the dried fig (since I didn’t have any on hand) with dried plums (ok, prunes already!) that I marinated about 20-30 in more balsamic to make sure that were overly plump and juicy. I also added flaxseed (about 1/4 cup) to up the nutrish level. The second time I made these, I made the same modifications but also sprinkled the tops with chopped almonds and a couple of Ghiradelli chocolate chips before baking. Mmmm…
Having such great results with balsamic in my muffins and knowing that vinegar works as a tenderizer to all things pastry, I decided to try this magical ingredient in my 2nd attempt at empanadas. I found a great, low-fat vegan empanada recipe at The Vegan Ronin. Sorry, “Ronin” but mine didn’t come out so flaky! I used homemade applesauce, which was probably the culprit since my sauce was chunky and not as liquid as a puree like you get in your store-purchased bottles. But, I had faith in the recipe and tweaked it – my husband loved try #2 admitting that the first attempt was a bit dry. My 2nd version replaced about half the applesauce with about a 1/4 cup of low-sugar apple butter (from Whole Foods – so good!). In lieu of the white wine vinegar in the original recipe or the apple cider vinegar I used in recipe 1, I used 1 tbl. of balsamic. I also increased the butter from 4 tbls to about 8 (or, 1 stick). The dough came out beautifully! So moist, easy to roll, a little delicate to work with (could have used about 6 tbls of butter & less apple butter). We filled these with several types of fillings:
(1) “Authentic” Empanada filling of scrambled “ground beef” with black beans, veggie cheese/cheddar, sauteed red & green peppers, shrooms, onion, black olives, raisins, lots of spices, cilantro, etc;
(2) Pizza Pie filling: a pat of tomato paste spiced with Italian herbs, Veggie cheese slices (mozzerella), Yves “pepperoni”, balsamic-glazed sliced portobello;
(3) Spinach! The Favorite – hands down – as selected by carnivorous hubby and picky young kids: in your food processor, throw in fresh spinach leaves, couple cloves of garlic, couple tbls. of shalots &/or red onion. Spread a bit (maybe 1 tsp – just enough to lightly coat) of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese onto the empanada round, heaping round of spinach mixture (maybe 2tbls depending on size of dough round); if you’re not making this vegan, you can crumble a bit of chevre/herbed goat cheese – otherwise, use a veggie cheese. I also added a couple slices of balsamic-glazed portobellos to some of these. So yummy and a great way to get kids eating spinach!
Follow the Vegan Ronin’s recipe for full directions. This recipe was fun to make and allowed the kids to help (they filled!).
On a side note, while I’m not yet practicing a vegan lifestyle (still in the “flirting” stages of veggie diet), I enjoy using vegan recipes especially for baking. The removal of non-dairy ingredients does NOT compromise flavor and only increases the health-factor. I’ve had great results so far and look forward to learning more about vegan cooking.
If you are not yet acquainted with the yumminess of balsamic vinegar, the method is similar to a wine. The authentic process calls for a concentrate from crushed grapes to be stored in a wooden box and aged or fermented for a minimum of 12 yrs. Balsamic was created in Modena, Italy (where most of the balsamic vinegar still comes from today) over a thousand years ago. Creating this elixir was passed down through wealthy families and given as an heirloom to newlyweds. Balsamic was not as popular or as accessible worldwide until the 1980’s. What we buy at the store is not “real”, authentic, balsamic just like the bottle of $3 cinnamon is not “actual cinnamon”. It’s interesting to note that “balsamic” is derived from the word “balm”, which refers to something that has soothing and healing properties. The vinegar itself has been known for its healthful qualities (it is from a grape, after all, and everyone by now should know about the many benefits of grapes thanks to polyphenols and antioxidants). I love learning new things and found most of this data from http://www.modenabalsamic.com/ where you can also purchase authentic balsamic vinegar.
Hope you are inspired to add some “sexiness” to your next meal!