Maple syrup: Beyond breakfast

We all know maple syrup as a common breakfast accompaniment to pancakes, waffles, and oatmeal. But the delicious syrup’s versatility and health benefits make it a great ingredient for unexpected dishes as well. Its woody vanilla undertones and unique flavor adds a depth that’s unrivaled.

Maple syrup often is an easy swap for traditional table sugar. It makes a fantastic sweetener in coffee, tea, and smoothies. It’s also quite delicious as an ice cream topper. Sometimes when building flavor in a dish, sugar isn’t added for the actual presence of sweetness, but to cut acidity. Maple syrup is a great tool for this.

Maple glazes often combine maple syrup with citrus or vinegar and other herbs and spices. Thoughts of maple glazed ham, pork, chicken and fish come to mind or for vegetables such as carrots or squash.

When using maple syrup for a glaze it’s best to thin it out a bit with something that offsets its sweetness. My go-to options are either soy sauce or vinegar, sometimes with a little Dijon mustard. I’ll whisk those together then add some minced garlic or shallot and herbs. Pour the mixture on the meat, fish, or veggie before it goes in the oven.

Maple syrup makes a fantastic, addictive vinaigrette dressing for traditional green salads, chicken salads or vegetable slaws. A very simple vinaigrette traditionally contains a good quality oil with vinegar and/or citrus (3 parts oil, 1 part acid). I personally like to go a little heavier on the vinegar because I enjoy the flavor. Then the sky’s the limit for flavors: Add garlic or shallot, a citrus or fruit, an emulsifier such as mustard, salt, pepper, and a sweetener such as maple syrup.

Typically, all ingredients except the oil are whisked together. Then slowly add the oil as you continue whisking to thicken the dressing. This is the process of emulsification. If I make a dressing that I want more creamy than a vinaigrette, such as for a coleslaw, I typically add a little mayonnaise or yogurt and reduce or omit the oil.

Maple butter is another favorite place to use the sweet stuff. Recently I stumbled upon a recipe for spicy version that combines butter, maple syrup, and a favorite hot sauce such as tabasco or Sriracha. This would be excellent butter for basting food on the grill.

Occasionally, I make caramelized bacon. I brush a blend of brown sugar and maple syrup on the bacon slices then pop it into the oven to cook. The result is sweet and savory goodness.

I often opt for maple syrup over table sugar because of the surprising health benefits. For example, the antioxidant value per serving is comparable to raw carrot and cabbage. You get a surprising amount of manganese (100% of your daily amount in one ¼ cup!), riboflavin, zinc, magnesium and calcium—all naturally occurring minerals in the syrup. Boasting a lower rating on the glycemic index than traditional table sugar, it seems the obvious choice.

And it should be noted that pure maple syrup can not be duplicated artificially, though plenty of products on grocery store shelves claim to do so. Inexpensive pancake syrup is not the same thing. That ingredient list can be a mile long and often begins with corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup. Pure maple syrup has one ingredient, and it came directly from a tree.

Totally Local Grilled Maple Cheese

Maple grilled cheese

City Pages file photo

Maple grilled cheese

Grilled cheese with maple syrup? Yes, it is as wicked good as it sounds. This recipe is made entirely from local ingredients, many of which are found at the Wausau Winter Market at 212 River Dr., Saturday mornings. Nine Patch Farm bacon, Green Apron Bakery Italian sourdough, Blestoe’s blue cheese, Red Door Family Farm’s fire roasted maple syrup. If blue cheese is not your thing, you could easily swap it for something a little less pungent. But you need a strong flavored cheese to stand up to the sweet and savory combination of this sandwich— perhaps try for a sharp cheddar or a quality Asiago.

1 Tbsp. butter

2 slices sourdough bread, thick cut

4 slices bacon, thick cut

3 oz. blue cheese

2 Tbsp. maple syrup

Over medium heat, cook bacon in heated skillet or griddle until crisp (7-10 minutes). Remove bacon and wipe skillet of excess grease. Reheat skillet. Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread, then place on hot skillet, buttered side down. Place the cheese on both slices of bread and cover with a lid to melt cheese.

     When cheese begins to melt, drizzle it with maple syrup, then top with bacon. Close sandwich then cover for another minute or so. Remove from heat and cut in half. Enjoy.

     Other combination ideas for maple grilled cheese:

•   Brie, berry compote, and maple syrup

•   Caramelized apple, Swiss, and maple syrup

•   Sauteed cabbage, Gruyere, and maple syrup

•   Herbed cream cheese, bruschetta, and maple syrup