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Podcast Episode 13: Very Vanilla with Beth Nielsen

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“Plain vanilla” is anything but. In this episode, we chat with Nielsen-Massey’s Beth Nielsen about the different varieties of vanilla, plus some surprising ways to use vanilla in your cooking. Our editors also share their favorite things to do with radishes.


What We’re Cooking Now: Radishes

Nancy points out that radish greens are also delicious, as long as you use them up quickly. In this pasta recipe from the May issue of Fine Cooking, she combines the greens and the roots. In the same article, she also spotlights an hors d’oeuvre of watermelon radishes with lemony ricotta dip and a daikon-chicken soup.

Chris is particularly interested in making roasted radishes, and these recipes for Honey-Roasted Radishes and Roasted Radishes with Chive Butter are great ones to start with.

Kathy loves pickled radishes, like this Korean banchan (or side dish) of pickled daikon.


Choosing and Using Vanilla with Beth Nielsen

Beth Nielsen is vice president of culinary for Nielsen-Massey. Appropriately, she has some surprising culinary uses for vanilla extract and other vanilla products. But first we chat about how vanilla is grown and how the different curing processes and terroir impact the flavor profiles of varieties from around the world.

Vanilla Varieties

In our test kitchen we did a side-by-side tasting of different varieties of vanilla: Madagascar, Tahitian, Mexican and more. Learn more about the different flavor profiles that come from these sources.

Curing Process

Vanilla is the most labor-intensive plant to produce. The orchid flowers on the plant must be hand-pollinated (the bees that originally pollinated the flowers are now extinct), and each flower only blooms for about 16 hours a year. The bean the orchid produces looks like a giant chartreuse string bean—only once it’s cured does it look like the wrinkly black bean we use for cooking. The curing process generally involves blanching, then drying in the sun.

Favorite Savory Ways to Use Vanilla

Beth Nielsen suggests a bit in a pasta sauce, where you might usually use sugar; it has the same function of cutting the acidity, without adding sugar.

Nancy likes to use vanilla in a vinaigrette.

Beth suggests adding a bit to balsamic-glazed brussels sprouts.

Nielsen-Massey also makes a vanilla-bean paste, which is thicker than the extract, with vanilla seeds throughout. Beth suggests brushing the paste on most any protein (such as fish) before grilling it. What else do you do with vanilla bean paste? It’s great when you want to see the flecks of vanilla bean (for instance, creme brulee, ice cream, or other custards) but without the effort of scraping actual seeds from the bean.


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