Smoke and Spice

There’s something about food with a smokey flavor that has near universal appeal. Bacon, dare I say it, comes to mind. Or the alluring scents of smoke and spice that fill the air at a summer barbecue. Maybe it’s primal.

In any case, it’s usually associated with meat. But it doesn’t have to be, right? After all, carnivores don’t have a monopoly on smoke and spice.  So how, I’ve been thinking, can I use smoke and spice to bring more and deeper flavor to my cooking?

The question was wandering around in my head when, a few weeks ago, I saw a package of grilled artichoke hearts at my local Whole Foods.  I bought them and, after a first tentative bite, quickly gobbled them up. I bought another package and shared them with The Professor, making sure to eat faster than he did. When they were finished, I flipped the package over to read the ingredients: artichokes, olive oil, salt, smoke flavor.

Smoke flavor?

I rummaged through my spices and found a small bag of “Mexican smoked salt” that I’d picked up at a great local spice store. I opened a can of artichoke hearts, drained them, mixed them with some olive oil and smoky salt and grilled them up.

My attempt to grill baby artichokes

They tasted OK, but not nearly as smoky as the ones that I’d bought,  so I continued the search.

Next I bought some smoked paprika, tossed it with some carrots and turnips and roasted them. The dish delivered some nice smokey flavor and a little bit of spice. It was definitely more successful than my artichoke hearts, though still … I felt underwhelmed. Next time I’ll add more paprika, I told myself.

 

Smoked Sweet Paprika

But before “next time” could come around, my friend Tom came over for dinner. Or, to be accurate, I convinced Tom to come over and make dinner. (He is a fabulous cook.) He suggested roasted fish and a salad of roasted sweet potatoes, black beans and corn with a chilpotle dressing.

I’d seen recipes that called for “chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce” before, though I’d never tasted them myself. But after one bite of Tom’s salad, I realized my search was over. What a mouthful of smoky spiciness!

Tom's Sweet Potato Chilpotle Salad

I’ve already incorporated chilpotles into my shrimp tacos and salmon cakes (more on those recipes soon) and am now actively looking for excuses to use the smokey little chilis. Suggestions welcome!

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