A friend came back from a Tahitian vacation bearing some unexpected travel souvenirs: vanilla beans. The spindly, black pods are actually the fruit of the vanilla orchid, which grows in tropical climates around the world. Vanilla bean's flavor, as you’ve likely experienced, is rich, sweet, and fragrant. I’m a big fan, but have always turned to the tiny bottles of liquid extract on those rare occasions when I actually bake. So, what’s a non-baker to do with a few prized pods?
Turns out vanilla is surprisingly versatile, and adaptable not only to sweet recipes, but savory ones, too. When using the actual bean, the vanilla flavor is remarkably complex and rich, and a little goes a long way. After trimming off the very ends, split the bean in half lengthwise using a small, sharp knife, then scrape out the teeny-tiny black seeds with the back of the knife or a spoon. One vanilla bean yields about 1/2 teaspoon, which is roughly equivalent to 2 teaspoons of liquid extract.
Try adding a dab or two to your next smoothie, or stirring a bit into your morning yogurt bowl or hot oatmeal as it cooks. This fruit salad recipe calls for a syrup-style dressing made with fresh vanilla bean, and it’s delicious. To experience vanilla’s savory side, add some of the seedy pulp to the pot when making a pumpkin or squash soup. Vanilla rounds out the flavor of the gourds and adds a tasty element of intrigue.
Don’t throw out the pods once you’ve scooped out the seeds; when tucked into a jar of sugar, the vanilla flavor permeates the crystals and gives your sweet stuff extra oomph. You could also add a pod to a bag of loose black tea leaves or coffee beans for a decadent effect, or toss one into a simmering pot of hot chocolate or mulled cider. And if you enjoy an adult beverage from time to time, try plunking a pod into a bottle of vodka or rum and experimenting with different vanilla-infused cocktail recipes.
Aurelia d’Andrea’s passion for travel is deeply intertwined with her love of food. Whether in Perth, Prague, or Phnom Penh, she always gravitates toward local markets in search of edible treasures, and takes pleasure in re-creating tasty travel memories at home in her tiny Parisian kitchen.