I feel like this is the summer of “vinegar.” Vinegar cooking methods. Vinegar ‘shrubs’ (basically vinegar and fruit cooked with sugar) to make drinks and cocktails. New or different ways to use vinegar. Making your own flavored vinegars. I seem to read something nearly every week with something related to vinegars.
A recent recipe caught my eye for the idea of marinating vegetables AFTER cooking rather than before. It was genius to me and I felt silly for not thinking about it myself. One of the good things about so many food blogs is that even when I don’t think I’d like a particular recipe, I often see a technique I might not be using or someone who is doing something just a little different and in a way that makes sense given what I know of cooking. It’s cool to know that even when you have solid kitchen skills, there’s always going to be a new way to think about an ingredient. Or a technique. Like marinating in reverse.
Sometimes a dressing on vegetables before they cook can either be useless for flavor or the ingredients can actually burn in the roasting (oven) or grilling (bbq) process giving an off flavor to the end result. In reversing the order of things — cooking the vegetables first and then tossing the warm vegetables in the dressing afterward — the flavors remain bright and clean and the tender vegetables or warm “tender” protein, like fish, absorb the flavors readily. I don’t think this would be as successful on things like chicken, pork or beef where you need a thicker sauce (like bbq sauce) to cling to the meat or you have to marinate before cooking. For vegetables and fish and tofu, they can take on a bit more flavor after cooking.
I did some experimentation. I grilled some eggplant recently with just olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once done, I drizzled on a bit of Japanese salad dressing I bought recently. The tender eggplant was smoky from the grill but it readily picked up the brightness from the dressing. It was tasty and got me looking for other ideas.
I ran across a recipe using this technique on the Real Simple site. The original recipe called for halibut and then used eggplant again. Maybe eggplant is one of the better recipes for this technique because it absorbs flavors well and has a lovely base flavor of its own. To begin with, I didn’t have halibut but I had some cooked shrimp in my fridge that I wanted to use up so I decided to make my dish a combination of eggplant and shrimp. The dressing is quite simple: vegetable oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, jalapeno, cilantro, salt and pepper. My proportions varied a bit from the original:
- 2 T. canola oil
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 2 T. rice vinegar
- 2 t. ginger (I like ginger)
- 1 small jalapeno (I don’t love things too spicy so I removed the stems and seeds)
- half of a store-sized bunch of cilantro (I love cilantro)
First I followed the recipe by mixing the eggplant with some oil and one tablespoon of soy sauce. After tossing quickly, I sauteed it in a hot pan but left the extra oil and soy sauce in the bowl. To the bowl, I tossed in my cooked shrimp just to give it a little start on flavor building.
The eggplant browned up nicely and quickly. When it was ready, I added in my shrimp and cooked only long enough for the shrimp to get warmed. I then took it off the heat, tossed in the dressing, and mixed it all together. I ate it as a side to cold buckwheat soba with a cold dipping sauce. The shrimp-eggplant mixture with this Asian-inspired dressing was bright and had a pleasing but also “forward” flavor that wasn’t diminished or altered by cooking.
The leftovers the next day were also delicious as “salad.”