Bitter, sour, salty, sweet. What some say are the four elements of flavor. Most folks wouldn’t be inclined rank sour at the top for getting kids to eat the good stuff. But think about it: lemonade would be dull with no acidic edge. A tomato without tart would be flat and forlorn. Sure it’s a balance of sweet and sour, but they thrive with each other, each one defining the other in counterpoint.
Not that a five year old would put it that way. They’d say something a bit less pretentious. Like: Interesting. And: Yummy.
Which is exactly what my five year old and her best pal said after I gave them a snack of some rustic bread and plate of extra virgin olive oil with a dot of balsamic. Upon further interrogation, my girl said: “The inside part [the balsamic] tastes like mushrooms.” I’m taking that as a complement, having seen her wolf down a cup and half of sauteed criminis in 70 seconds flat. I’m thinking next snack time, we’ll bring out the crudite (some carrots, celery, jicama if the market has it) and a plate of olive oil and balsamic and see how it goes over. A sprinkling of kosher salt can’t hurt. Bitter, sour, salty, sweet. You need them all. But tart is an art.
Olive Oil and Balsamic Dipping Sauce
The first time you do this, you feel a bit like a cheesy waiter at an Italian-style tratorria in a suburban mall. But once you get over that, it feels pretty good. It’s cheap and has big impact. Just make sure you pour the vinegar slowly, or else you’ll end up with too much tart.
-1 saucer or plate with a bit of a bowl to it
-olive oil, enough to come within a couple of inches from the edge (kids dip with a bit more abandon than adults, so leave some room for sloshing)
-balsamic vinegar (not the super expensive, super aged stuff), enough to make a pretty little bullseye in the middle)
-some bread cut into rough little dippable hunks (make them small to discourage double and quadruple dipping; better yet: give each kid their own little saucer)
-your favorite crudite sprinkled with salt. Keep in mind “salad” originally meant “salted”; vegetables especially benefit from a bit of the saline treatment.
Cut it up. Plate it up. Live it up.