Eating for Life

DIY infusions: Fruit, herbs and spices add flavor to vodka, simple syrup or vinegar

tljungblad@kcstar.com

To achieve complex flavors without cooking, choose to infuse.

Traditionally, infusion is a process that involves soaking or steeping botanicals in order to extract their spicy, fruity and flowery flavors into the liquid, says Erin Coopey, a Seattle-based chef instructor (GlorifiedHomeChef.com) and author of “Infusing Flavors” (Cool Springs Press, May 2016, $24.99.)

“When we’re talking infusion, we’ve moved beyond putting lemon slices in water,” she says. “It’s about building flavors and using botanical combinations that allow for virtually unlimited culinary creativity.”

Fiery jalapenos find balance in a cool-as-a-cucumber liquid concoction that has sweet mango, tart blood orange and clean herbaceous cilantro notes. It’s about digging deep for ingredient inspiration to create a depth of flavor that uses complementary herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.

Infusion confusion is prevalent in today’s marketplace. Even bottled sauces claim to be “infused” with liquor.

“Infusion is a hot term in culinary circles,” Coopey says. “Manufacturers are mixing in unexpected ingredients and calling it an infusion, but often it’s not, in the traditional sense that involves a soaking or steeping process.”

Infusion is “in” when people are hitting the streets with infuser water bottles, drinking up the essence of fruits and vegetables, instead of imbibing juices, smoothies and sodas. But water isn’t the only liquid into which botanicals are infused.

Think outside the wine box (for sangria) and build infusions using simple sugar syrup, clear spirits and vinegars. Like any canning project, it’s essential to start with sterilized jars and lids and the cleanest, freshest natural or dried ingredients.

There is a profusion of infusion combinations, but these three flavor profiles — Cool and Caliente, Asian Artisan and Berry Good are cold-infused and stored in the refrigerator.

Don’t obsess over hulling strawberries, seeding oranges or removing herbs from their stems. Place cleaned botanicals into the liquids — pits and all — and chill out, allowing time to transform these flavor-filled fluids. Strain the infused liquids within 24 hours, and imbue dressings, sauces or drinks with these complex culinary combinations.

Mary G. Pepitone is a nationally syndicated home columnist and writes the weekly Come Into My Kitchen column for The Star. Karen Elizabeth Watts is a Dallas- and Kansas City-based food stylist and has worked in the food industry for nearly 30 years.

Cool and Caliente

1 bunch cilantro, washed

2 blood oranges, outside washed and sliced

1 fresh mango with pit, outside washed and skin slit

1 jalapeño pepper, washed, seeded and quartered

1 cucumber, washed and sliced

Asian Artisan

3 stalks lemongrass, washed, cut into 6-inch pieces and crushed

1 (5-ounce) package dried unsweetened coconut chunks

5 leaves Thai basil, washed

1 grapefruit, outside washed and sliced

4 whole dried star anise

3-inch piece gingerroot, crushed with the back of a knife

Berry Good

4 bay leaves, fresh or dried

1 sprig fresh rosemary, washed

3 sprigs fresh thyme, washed

2 limes, outside washed and sliced

1 cup mixed berries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, washed

Infused Vodka (or other clear spirits)

Makes approximately 12 (2-tablespoon) servings

1 (750-milliliter) bottle vodka

Botanical grouping of choice: Cool and Caliente, Asian Artisan or Berry Good

Pour vodka into a clean, sterilized wide-mouth quart jar. Add favorite grouping of botanicals to jar and screw lid on top and infuse for 24 hours in refrigerator.

Remove botanicals from jar, straining with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth as necessary. Place into a sterilized, wide-mouth quart jar and screw lid on top. Store in refrigerator and use within 1 month as a flavored vodka in beverage of choice.

Per serving: 136 calories (6 percent from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, trace carbohydrates, trace protein, trace sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Infused Vinegar

Makes approximately 12 (2-tablespoon) servings

3 cups white vinegar (or other vinegar of choice)

Botanical grouping of choice: Cool and Caliente, Asian Artisan or Berry Good)

Pour vinegar into a clean, sterilized wide-mouth quart jar. Add favorite grouping of botanicals to jar and screw lid on top and infuse for 24 hours in refrigerator.

Remove botanicals from jar, straining with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth as necessary. Place into a sterilized, wide-mouth quart jar and screw lid on top. Store in refrigerator and use within 1 month as a flavored vinegar in salad dressing or recipe of choice.

Per serving: 10 calories (none from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, trace sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Infused Simple Syrup

Makes approximately 12 (2-tablespoon) servings

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

Botanical grouping of choice: Cool and Caliente, Asian Artisan or Berry Good

In a large saucepan, stir sugar and water together. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat on stovetop, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

Pour syrup into a clean, sterilized wide-mouth quart jar and screw lid on top. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool completely. Remove lid and add favorite grouping of botanicals to jar. Replace lid on jar and infuse for 24 hours in refrigerator.

Remove botanicals from jar, straining with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth as necessary. Place into a sterilized, wide-mouth quart jar and screw lid on top. Store in refrigerator and use within 3 days as a sweetener for lemonade, tea or cocktail.

Per serving: 200 calories (none from fat), no fat, no cholesterol, 50 grams carbohydrates, no protein, trace sodium, no dietary fiber.

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