21 April 2011

Blackberry Lemon Balm Vinaigrette

We have lemon balm growing in our herb garden that we inherited from our friends' garden, as they had quite the surplus of it.  It tastes the way it's named: lemony.  It grows strong and quickly, and clipping off stems from the plant encourages more growth.  Since we added it to our herb collection, I have used it exclusively for sweet tea.  Adding several stems of the balm to your pitcher of tea gives it a light, lemony taste that's not as sour as actual lemon.

Lemon balm in our herb bed.
I clipped a few stems for my co-worker, April, who had never worked with this herb before.  It wasn't a huge surprise.  Lemon balm is one of those more "abstract" herbs.  Heck, I had never even heard of it until just a couple of summers ago when we were given the herb.  The only "balm" I was familiar with before that was the kind that comes in a cylindrical tube that you apply to your lips when they're chapped!  I told her how I used it in my tea, but she asked, "So what else could you use this herb for?"

I had just read in my herb cookbook that it was great for vinaigrette dressings.  I shared the info with April and started thinking about how I might incorporate this citrusy herb into a dressing myself.  Last night, the experimenting began!

***REMEMBER: I don't usually follow recipes because it's all about experimenting!  Don't be afraid to play as you go.  If you are unsure about amounts (since I don't typically list them), be sparing and add as you taste your concoction.  You know what you like.  Make it yours.

Ingredients I Used:

  • roughly 1 c. blackberries (mine were frozen from last year's harvest, but you can use fresh)
  • sugar (as much as you want to sweeten the berries)
  • honey (either in addition to the sugar or as a sugar substitute--I used it supplementally)
  • juice from large lemon
  • 3-4 stems of lemon balm, finely chopped
  • canola oil
  • raspberry balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar, if the raspberry flavor is hard to find)
  • sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste
Materials I Used:
  • sauce pan
  • silicone spatula
  • medium-sized glass bowl
  • cheese cloth or fine-mesh sieve
  • cruet
Heat the sauce pan to medium-high with the blackberries and sugar in it.  As the sugar melts and the berries begin to break up, add the juice from the lemon.  (It acts as a preservative in both color and flavor, so don't worry about it overpowering the flavors of the berries).  If you are using honey, you can add it at any time.  Allow to cook--stirring often--for about 20 minutes.  If the berries and sugar get too thick--like toothpaste--add water to thin it out.

Meanwhile, cut up your lemon balm on a clean cutting board.  Add to the glass bowl.  Pour in canola oil (if I had to guess the amount I used, I'd say between 1/8 and 1/4 cup) and lightly mix.  Add balsamic vinegar (this will be roughly double the amount of oil you used) and mix again.  Cover the the glass bowl with the cheesecloth (secure with a rubber band) or place sieve across the top (depending on what you have in your kitchen).

Once the blackberries and sugar are syrupy thick, pour into the cheesecloth/sieve.  You can use your spatula to press the liquid into the bowl, or let it drip (this will take forever, so I recommend pressing).  This rids the dressing of annoying seeds.  Add sea salt and pepper to taste.  Pour everything from the bowl into a cruet and give it a hard shake.  It should store well for 7-10 days.

The finished product!  I love the dark purple color of blackberry.

We used our dressing on fresh-cut mesclun and rocket salad from our garden.  It made the perfect sweet-tangy side dish at dinner.

And there you have it: blackberry lemon balm vinaigrette!  The berries and sugar make the dressing sweet, and the balsamic vinegar gives it a kick.  The chopped lemon balm adds color and a slight citrus flavor to the mix.  Give me a shout if you try this recipe!

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