Sunday 13 January 2008

zucchini & basil salad w verjuice & currant dressing

Jonas and I made this salad for our Christmas buffet. Although it’s served cold, the richness from the basil and the sweetness from the currants would still work well on a winter Christmas table.

We grilled the zucchini on the BBQ (a kitchen grill works just as well) but the interesting touch in this salad is the verjuice.

I guess it’s not really a herb or vegetable, but I thought it might be interesting to focus on verjuice for this week's WHB.

Verjuice is a nifty little ingredient and has been the subject of much fuss in Australia over the last few years, even though it is an old ingredient and was used in 42% of recipes in Medieval Europe.

Verjuice is an acidic juice made from unripe fruit. These days it’s mostly made from grapes, but in the past the English were very fond of crabapple verjuice as well as varieties made from plums and gooseberries.

It’s funny to think that “the verjuice, the pomegranate juice, the bitter orange juice, the mustard and wine compounds . . . were the acidifiers of 16th and 17th century Europe". These days it’s all lemon juice and vinegar.

In fact it was the introduction of the lemon after the Crusades that signalled the beginning of verjuice’s downfall.

I guess, like most things, food fashion is cyclical and we’re seeing a emergence of verjuice, orange juice and pomegranate in our cooking.

Zucchini & Basil Salad w Verjuice & Currant Dressing
Recipe from Vogue Entertaining + Travel Dec/Jan 08. Serves 8.
70g currants
80ml (1/3 cup) verjuice
125ml (½ cup) olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
¼ cup torn basil leaves
8 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise 4mm thick
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1. Combine currants and verjuice, cover and leave 2 hours or overnight.
2. Combine olive oil, paprika and garlic. Season and then reserve half.
3. Preheat grill to high.
4. Lay zucchini in single layer batches, brush with the olive oil mixture and grill for 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Transfer to serving platter.
5. Combine reserved olive oil mixture, white wine vinegar, currants and verjuice to form a dressing.
6. Scatter basil and spring onions over zucchini then dress with verjuice and currant mixture. Serve immediately.

The word verjuice is from the Middle French vertjus which translates to "green juice". This is in reference to its immaturity, rather than its colour, since it can be produced from both red and green grapes.

Verjuice can be used to replace the acidic content (lemon, vinegar) in salad dressings, deglaze pans after roasting, poach fruit, drizzle over seafood and as a cordial with soda water.

The benefit of using verjuice is that it doesn’t impact the flavours of accompanying wines as much as vinegars and lemon juice.
Unfortunately, and supposedly to place it as a gourmet product, it seems to be sold in small quantities for high prices (A$10 for 750ml). For further information on pricing and tasting notes on the various qualities of some Australian verjuice products, this article was very useful.

I remember there was often a bottle of verjuice in our fridge when I was growing up. When I was about 13 there was a moment of thirsty desperation when I tried to drink it straight and recoiled at the sourness. It definitely needs to be mixed with something.

Although I don’t recall seeing verjuice in Italy (I never looked for it, mind you), apparently it’s called agresto there, argraz or agrazada in Spain, abghooreh in Iran and hosrum in Arabic.

Australian gastronomic celebrity, Maggie Beer, has been a huge advocate for verjuice and even produced her own brand and a cookbook showing people how to use it. It was her encouragement that peaked my mother’s interest in the mid 90s.

More recently, Maggie produced a pretty pink drink using verjuice from cabernet grapes. It’s called Desert Pearls and is a non-alcoholic beverage with a “champagne bead” and “mouth feel of a good wine”. She says it has the “delightful aromas of rose petal and crushed strawberries are complemented on the palate with green tea characters that finish crisp and dry with citrus and sour cherry flavours”. I’ve only ever seen it in one or two shops, but I’m eager to get my hands on some.

WHB is hosted by Vani from Batasari, a food blog focusing on recipes from Andhra (India). I had a look around her blog today and there are loads of yummy things to try!




  1. Anna, thank you for this wonderful post. It is very informative and of course, yummy! Love your blog.

  2. This sounds like a fantastic dish! Of course I'd love any dish that has zucchini and basil, two of my very favorite flavors. I've never seen verjuice here, but I do remember reading about it somewhere (on a blog, I'm sure!) Wish I could try it.


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