Giving the Gift of Flavor

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I love giving food-related gifts during the holiday season. They are fun for everyone, from food connoisseurs to your friend whose idea of cooking is boiling water for pasta. I try to give gifts that are tasty, healthy and encourage the recipient to try something new. While everyone indulges a bit over the holidays, it’s great to help others prevent cancer through healthier food and fitness-related gifts.

One of my favorite ways to flavor and season vegetables is also turning into one of my favorite gifts to give. Working with individuals trying to lose weight, I often hear people talk about how much they dislike vegetables. Flavored balsamic vinegar and olive oil can change that.

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Why olive oil? It’s rich in antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and including it in your diet can help lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. However, since olive oil is also high in calories, highly flavorful oils – like lemon or walnut – can boost the taste of your food with small amounts.

Vinegar is my favorite condiment to season just about everything – I add it to salads, roasted veggies, chili and tomato sauce. Vinegar is low in calories but still has such a powerful taste that it’s a great addition to meals in place of high-fat dressings, butter or salt to help prevent that infamous holiday weight gain. I like to use fruity vinegars, like fig and raspberry, on their own as salad dressings.

There are a myriad of specialty oil and vinegar shops popping up around the country carrying basic flavors like basil olive oil, to more extreme ones like maple or lavender balsamic vinegar. You can usually buy the bottles in a variety of different sizes, and even sample them before you buy. You can also have some fun and infuse your own!

Put together a small gift basket and include a card offering food pairing suggestions for your selected oils and vinegars – below – and a ribbon, and you have a unique, and healthful gift.

How to Make Your Own:

To infuse you own olive oil, use 2 Tablespoons of a flavoring you like (finely ground herbs, citrus zest or nuts all work well) per cup of olive oil. Heat the oil in a stovetop pan with your mix-in for about 5 minutes at reach a low simmer, then allow it to cool completely before straining through a cheesecloth into a glass bottle with a cork or screw-top.

You can use the same process with vinegar, and if you’re using fresh fruit (like berries or figs), you can even increase the amount to about ¼ cup fruit per cup of vinegar. Try different types of vinegar like white, apple cider or balsamic.

Note: Do not leave any herbs/flavorings in the oil unless it will be used immediately to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

How to Pair It:

Here’s a sample card I would make to go with my gift bottles of flavored oil and vinegar:

Toasted Walnut Oil

  • Pairs great with seafood, lightly drizzled over steamed vegetables or used to cook lean meat
  • Match with maple balsamic vinegar on a spinach salad with sliced strawberries

Maple Balsamic Vinegar

  • Marinate meats or drizzle over roasted brussels sprouts
  • Combine low-fat ricotta, raspberries, and a tsp honey and top with a small amount of this vinegar for a healthier sweet treat

Apple Cranberry White Vinegar

  • Use this as a dressing for a beet, mandarin orange and goat cheese salad topped with a sprinkle of walnuts
  • Sprinkle over ½ a cored pear or peach and grill to get a sweet and tangy dessert

What flavor pairings would you suggest?

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her @SonjaGoedkoopRD on twitter.

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    Author: Sonja
    Thanks to Sonja Goedkoop for guest blogging.

    Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is the lead registered dietitian at Zesty, Inc. She is passionate about helping others improve their health through diet and physical activity and believes eating nutritious food should be easy and taste great. You can follow her on Twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.

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