I am SUCH a fan of vinegar-based dressings. There’s something about the sharpness that makes even a basic salad come to life.
Thinking that sentence through, you’d be forgiven for jumping straight to an oily-Italian style concoction – but in fact one of my ALL-TIME-FAVOURITES for that kind of combination is a warm superfood salad with a yoghurt based dressing.
On a dreary day, when it *should* be sunny but isn’t,Â you can put it together quickly and still feel like you’re at least TRYING to eat something that’s vaguely appropriate to the season.
You can find the recipe here (though really, it’s so simple that you can barely call it that); but it’s essentially warm broccoli florets and green beans on a bed of (uncooked) spinach, with a yoghurt dressing, mackerel fillet, and sunflower seeds.Â Super simple, and super tasty.
Why am I telling you this? Well, John and Mary from StrattaÂ sent me a bottle of their award-winning elderflower vinegar a few weeks back. Poring over the helpful serving suggestions they included with it, I saw that they advise that it’s especially good with fresh mackerel fillets. I cheated a little and used store-bought ones for speed, but the theory still applies.
John and MaryÂ produce an award winning range of delights from their home in East Sussex, taking great care in sourcing their ingredients â€“ from their garden, from friends & neighbours, and from wonderful growers in Sussex and Kent. It’s a proper family affair.
It all started whenÂ Mary stepped out of a long career in teaching to launch Stratta in the summer of 2004. What had been a 25 year interest in the creation of delicious produce for family and friends using fruits, flowers and herbs now became all-absorbing. Such was the positive reaction of those who sampled the growing range on offer at Farmersâ€™ Markets and Fine Food Fairs in the South East that it became clear that one person alone could not meet the demand. In the summer of 2005, John then left his career in catering management to join Mary in their quest to make the best products possible.
I found Stratta via the 2015 Great Taste Awards list, where their elderflower vinegar won three gold stars (plus two golds for their Russet Apple Vinegar and one gold for the Quince Vinegar). In fact, sinceÂ 2005 they’ve wonÂ 24 gold stars in total (!), and in 2011 picked up ‘Golden Fork’ for Best Ambient Product for their raspberry vinegar.
To make the fruit vinegars, John and Mary steep soft fruits in white wine vinegar to extract the full flavour; then filter it and sweeten with natural, unrefined cane sugar. For the elderflower version, they climb down to a secret corner of the South Downs in summer to harvest the heavily scented flowers. As well as with mackerel, they also recommend using it as a cordial or a perfect partner for gooseberries.
The range of flavours is obviously very dependent on seasons and harvests; but can include blackcurrant, damson, rose petal, lavender, quince & bullace sweet vinegars, raspberry, redcurrant & fig balsamic vinegars, garlic, lemon & mint savoury vinegars, fennel seed, rosemary, & smoked garlic infused oils and Sussex pear, lemon in sea-salt, lavender & vanilla preserves.
I tend go to off-piste with my dressings; I still based this one on yoghurt, but added the elderflower vinegar, some lemon juice and a touch of garlic, plus salt & pepper. It was utterly delicious. Go easy on the garlic and the elderflower will shine through. It has a fairly strong taste, so can take being mixed with other ingredients, but there’s no need to overdo it. The vinegar itself is flavourful enough on its own. Next time I’ll be adding it as a finishing touch to some pan-fried fish, and I’m keen to explore how it works with cheese (tartlets most likely, with goats cheese & caramelised onion).