Great question! Well, my friend let me tell you why. I like to control the ingredients in my food and that is especially true when it comes to salad dressings. They are notorious for having a lot of sodium and chemicals in them to make them shelf stable. Who needs that when I have a whole variety of oils, vinegars and condiments in my cabinets to make them all.
I love olive oil. I use it to cook with, to make dressing, to pour over food when I plate it or heck, just dipping bread into it.
There was quite an olive oil scandal 5 years ago. It was incredible to me that there was such a “fake Fendi” vibe around olive oil. This article not only talks about the scandal but also lists olive oils that are authentic.
Can you really have too many? If you like to cook, I say go for what you can afford. I always have 2 and sometimes 3 types in my kitchen at all times. My preference is to have a general cooking one, a salad dressing one and a more expensive finishing oil.
I like avocado oil for its high smoke point. The avocado spray oil is fantastic for baking. Sunflower oil, grapeseed oil (also great for cast iron pan seasoning) and peanut oil are also nice oils to have on hand.
For seasoning and a little more flavor there are some really good and some not so good oils. You want to find a brand that understands how to really capture the flavor without it tasting fake and chemically.
I am typing this on the first day of fall so the walnut oil is yelling to share it first Fine, I will. I love tossing roasted Brussels sprouts in a vinaigrette made with walnut oil, a little balsamic vinegar and toasted walnuts for the perfect fall dish.
Truffle oil. Hmmmm, where to start? Truffle oil can be used and be wonderful or it can come across “fake” tasting. There are so many oils out there with varying quality and truffle oil falls into that camp. My favorite brand for truffle oils is Monini.
White truffle oil, to me, has a milder flavor and is a bit more versatile. I use it in my Farro with Roasted Onion and Brussels Sprouts recipe and it isn’t over powering. It makes a great dressing when mixed with balsamic vinegar.
Black Truffle oil is a little more pungent and packs a flavor punch. I use less of it vs the white version but can be the replacement in a pinch.
I don’t know what it is about sesame oil but I love it! There is a slight nuttiness about it that makes my heart sing. I love it on pasta salads and in asian style dishes. One of my favorite ways to use it is in my Blackened Beef with Asian Noodle salad. You throw some toasted sesame seeds in it and you are off to the races!
If you want to start with 3 basic vinegars, I would go with this trio. Red wine, white balsamic and apple cider.
Red wine vinegar is that basic vinegar that is used in a lot of Italian dressings and marinades. It has the perfect tang that is so good, you would even put it straight on your salad with no oil. It is reasonably priced and I always have 2 bottles in my cabinet.
White balsamic vinegar is a gateway vinegar to the ‘gourmet” style vinegars. It is not as strong as its counterpart, balsamic vinegar, but still has some of the same qualities. It is a nice mild vinegar to use in both dressings and marinades. I usually get mine at Trader Joes and they call it Modena because that is the city in Italy that it originates.
Apple cider vinegar is a huge basic in my kitchen. Not only can you cook with it but you can use it for health benefits. I always get the kind with the “mother” in it for those extra probiotics. Make sure you shake it before use.
I like to add layers of flavors to my dishes. A lot of flavor can come from oils, vinegars and some bottles of magic ie Worcestershire sauce.
In my opinion, champagne and sherry vinegars are interchangeable in recipes. Now, for clarification purposes, I would not say their purest forms are interchangeable! Champagne and Sherry couldn’t be more opposite in taste but they are both a level of elegance and I think their vinegar counterpoints are just that. A good example of this is in my Corn Gazpacho recipe. The vinegar brings that subtle acid flavor that rounds out the flavor of the soup.
Herbed vinegars are a great way to add flavor of both vinegar and the herb. My favorite variety is Tarragon vinegar. I use it in my Blue Cheese Dressing that I make primarily for dipping chicken wings in but it is also good on salad. You can also make it yourself! You can keep it or make some for gifts. Here is a great blog post on how to do it.
Rice vinegar comes in a few varieties seasoned and unseasoned. As with most of my preferences, I go for unseasoned so i can control the flavors. Even though it is typically used in Asian style cooking it can be used in other recipes. My husband loves to cut up cucumbers and do a “quick pickle” by putting them in rice vinegar with some pepper.
Now, on to the king of vinegar the beloved balsamic of Modena, Italy! Woo Hoo! Since the purpose of this blog post is to help establish some ideas for stocking your staples, I am not going to do a deep dive on balsamic vinegar. I watched Stanley Tucci discuss it on his CNN show, Finding Italy and it blew my mind. The time and effort that goes into making truly aged balsamic from Modena is a revered business. Here is a blog post discussing it if you want to find out more.
I love using balsamic on fresh tomatoes sliced with some freshly ground black pepper, flake salt and a drizzle of this black gold. I include it in my Cherry Tomato Bruschetta with Burrata recipe and it makes those tomatoes shine.
There are a lot of condiments you can add in the sauce category to add flavor. There are a whole lot of hot sauces (that will have to be a post on its own) but I find the three things in my cabinet that i reach for the most are soy sauce, fish sauce and my favorite, Worcestershire sauce.
Let’s start with the 2 Asian sauces that I love. Soy sauce (or tamari if you have a gluten allergy) add a great amount of salty flavor to anything and everything. I love to include it in marinades for both beef and chicken. It is high in sodium so use with caution if you are watching your salt intake. Fish sauce is a newer love of mine. It is that funky, salty umami bomb of flavor that creates that “what is that flavor” question when you taste it. I have tried other brands but I always go back to Red Boat.
Now that you have all of this information what are you thinking about trying? Remember you do not have to have all of these things in your cabinet, especially if you are just starting to get comfortable cooking.
I would like to suggest an easy way to see how much flavor can be added is to try the recipe for Cherry Tomato Bruschetta and don’t add the balsamic vinegar. Take a bite, then add the vinegar. You will be able to tell the difference.
That’s a wrap! I hope you learned something new. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram. I saved the stories where I discuss these items.
If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them. Leave a comment below.
Happy cooking! Bon Appetit!