As warm weather lingers, many of us find ourselves with an abundance of herbs. After making compound butter and chimichurri sauce, we often have more herbs than we can use at once. This is a great opportunity to make culinary gifts at home.
You may be familiar with chili-infused oil and tarragon-infused vinegar. But did you know that many herb flowers can be used to add flavor to condiments? Not only are the leaves and seeds of herb plants edible, many have flowers that impart delicious flavor as well.
The blossoms of French chives and garlic chives release a gentle onion flavor when added to foods. Blooms from the basil plant have the same slightly anise flavor as the leaves. And colorful nasturtium flowers have a mild peppery zest.
One way to extend the life of your herb harvest is to make infused vinegars and oils. This is a simple process with impressive results. The finished products are special enough to give as gifts, but you may want to keep some for yourself, too!
The first step to creating infused oils and vinegars is to pick healthy sprigs of herbs and herb flowers. They should be free of blemishes and chemicals, and washed thoroughly. Taste a little bit of each to get an idea of which flavors will pair well together. Choose two or three complementary flavors per bottle.
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The next step is choosing high quality vinegars and oils. Keep in mind that some extra virgin olive oils have a strong fruity flavor, so choose herbs that will not compete with the oil. There are a wide variety of vinegars on the market. Lighter choices such as apple cider, white balsamic, and champagne vinegars are a few options that will pair well with herbs.
Once you have selected all of your ingredients, place the liquid, herbs, and herb flowers in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store it in a cool, dark place. The herbs will begin to impart their flavors within a few days. For maximum effect, leave the herbs in the jar for 3-4 weeks.
After about a month, you will strain the contents of the oil or vinegar jars to remove the herbs and herb flowers. Discard the herbs and pour the flavored liquid into a jar that has been sterilized to ensure the longest shelf life of the contents. Be sure to add a festive label identifying the flavors of the contents.
Oils naturally slow the growth of bacteria and can be kept in a cool, dark place for 6 months. If refrigerated, the oil may solidify but this should not affect the flavor. Because vinegars are so acidic, they also slow bacterial growth. They will remain fresh in a cool, dark location for 4-6 months.
Including garlic cloves, citrus zest, and chili peppers adds an extra layer of flavor to herb-infused liquids. Keep in mind that these additions may shorten the shelf-life of your finished product.
Homemade gifts are a thoughtful gesture for birthdays, holidays, or thank yous. If you know someone who loves to cook, they will surely appreciate a gift from your garden. Easy to make, infused vinegars and oils are a delicious way to share the bounty of your harvest.