Savor the Flavor of Eating Right + Chipotle Vanilla Smoked Salmon

We all need food to survive. But food is about more than just eating.

In my opinion, life is better with food prepared with a focus on freshness and flavor, made with love, and taken in good company — even if the food is repurposed leftovers and the company is your cats. It’s about pleasure as much as fuel, embracing nourishing options and healthy practices, not restriction or austerity.

All of these things bring me great joy. To me, this year’s National Nutrition Month® theme Savor the Flavor of Eating Right matches my own beliefs that if you relish the present, you nourish the future. With a focus on making healthy eating synonymous with eating well, the theme encourages creativity and exploration of new foods, cuisines, and cooking techniques to keep taste buds happy.

Brined chipotle vanilla salmon

The recent release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines further promotes healthy eating through a variety of nutritious foods and mindfulness of portion sizes. Intended to help Americans eat more healthfully, this update focuses on more ‪‎whole grains‬, less ‎added sugar‬, and more ‎protein‬ in the form of ‪plant sources, like ‪‎beans‬, ‎nuts‬ and ‪‎seeds‬, as well as seafood.

This chipotle vanilla smoked salmon may seem an improbable pairing, but vanilla works surprisingly well in savory dishes. In this recipe it hints to natural sweetness in the salmon that together with a bit of maple syrup balances a smoky, spicy wake-up call from chipotle. Served alongside lightly cooked veg or mixed greens with lovely herbs, good extra virgin olive oil, this meal is as nourishing and satisfying as it is beautiful and flavorful.

What’s in it for me?

A 3-ounce portion of salmon* provides 22 grams of high-quality complete protein, about 70% of your daily value (DV) for selenium, and is a good source of several of the B vitamins, particularly B12 — for only 127 calories.

Salmon offers an especially hearty dose of omega-3 fatty acids shown to improve blood cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease, certain cancers, dementia and other age-related cognitive declines. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular are considered the most beneficial of the omega-3 fats, and studies suggest that regular consumption of DHA by expectant mothers is associated with decreased risk of postpartum depression, and may improve communication skills, visual acuity, and sleep patterns in their infants.

Chipotles, smoked jalapeños packed in a pungent, tangy adobo sauce, are high in vitamins A and C, and may help spike metabolism and stimulate digestion. Maple syrup provides natural sweetness as well as small amounts of manganese, zinc and provides anti-inflammatory polyphenols. The edible fruit of a particular orchid, Vanilla planifoliavanilla contains vitamins and antioxidant compounds that may promote sensations of calm and relaxation in the body. It’s also purported to be an aphrodisiac…

How, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat. Savor the Flavor of Eating Right by taking time to appreciate the pleasures, traditions, and social experiences flavorful, nutritious foods add to our daily lives. Slow down, enjoy each bite, and be thankful for what’s in front of you!

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… How do you savor the flavor of your meals? Have you ever used vanilla in a savory recipe?

Chipotle Vanilla Smoked Salmon
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Total cooking time with vary depending on the size of your salmon portion(s). Estimate approximately 1 hour per inch of the thickest part of your salmon. If using skinless salmon, place the side/fillets on the grill atop a large piece of greased heavy-duty foil to avoid sticking.
Recipe Type: Entree, seafood, fish, smoking, grilling
Makes: 8 servings
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 large peeled garlic cloves, smashed into a paste with the back of a knife or finely minced
  • 1 tsp ground dried chipotle pepper (or 1 1/2 to 2 tsp dried chipotle pepper flakes)
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, sliced open lengthwise, seeds scraped out (or 1/2 tsp toasted vanilla bean powder, see HGN Notes)
  • 3 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus more to garnish (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2-lb side of skin-on salmon, pin bones removed (alternatively 8, 5-oz skin-on fillets)
  • 1 qt wood chunks or chips, such as hickory, apple, cherry or alder, optional
  • Chipotle Vanilla Mop Sauce, optional (see HGN Notes)
  1. Mix oil, maple syrup, garlic, chipotle powder or flakes, vanilla seeds, thyme and salt in a small bowl. Place salmon on a wire rack set in rimmed baking tray and brush the flesh side evenly with the marinade. Refrigerate, uncovered, or loosely draped with a piece of plastic wrap, for 2 to 4 hours. If using the wood chunks or chips, place them in a large container of water to soak.
  2. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, and return the tray to the refrigerator, uncovered, while preparing grill.
  3. Preheat a charcoal grill for indirect, low-heat cooking -- about 225°F to 250° F / light ash (see HGN Notes for gas grilling instructions): Open the bottom vent of your grill halfway, and fill a large chimney starter 1/3 full with charcoal, about 2 quarts. Light. When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into a steep pile at one side of the grill. Drain the wood chunks or chips, and pour them directly on top of the coals.
  4. Brush the grill grate clean and coat with a high-smoke-point oil. Place the salmon, skin-side down, on the oiled rack, close the lid (vent open halfway) and cook 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the center of the thickest part registers 135 to 140° F and is still translucent when cut into with paring knife. (It will continue to cook once pulled off of the grill to rest.) In the last half hour or so, generously brush the Chipotle Vanilla Mop Sauce over top of the salmon. Re-cover the grill, and continue cooking until done. Alternatively, transfer the fully cooked salmon to a large rimmed tray, brush the sauce over top, and broil in the oven a couple minutes until the sauce is bubbly and begins to caramelize.
  5. When done, carefully transfer salmon to a cutting board or a large serving platter, and tent with foil to rest 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or after chilling with reserved fresh thyme leaves scattered over. Keeps in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days, or frozen, tightly wrapped, for several months.
HGN Notes
To make the Chipotle Vanilla Mop Sauce: In a small food processor or blender, puree 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, 2 Tbsp apple cider or sherry vinegar, 1/2 of a whole chipotle pepper in adobo + 2 tsp of the adobo sauce, and 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (or 1/8 tsp vanilla powder). Season to taste with salt. If too spicy, add a dash more maple; if it needs more tang, go for vinegar; if it's too mild, add more adobo sauce!

For gas grilling: Preheat the grill for indirect, low heat -- to maintain a temperature between 225°F to 250° F. Fold a large piece of heavy-duty foil in half. Transfer the drained wood chunks/chips to the center of the double-thick piece of foil, fold up the edges and crimp to form a sealed packet. Poke several holes in the top to allow smoke to escape. Alternatively, you could use a shallow disposable aluminum baking tray with a few holes poked in the bottom. Set the packet or tray on a grill rack directly over one of the burners under the grill grate. (If your gas grill has a smoking box, place the chips directly into the box.) Grill as directed in the original recipe.

To make your own toasted vanilla bean powder, follow my instructions here:

+ Swap honey or sorghum syrup for the maple syrup.
+ Use other fresh herbs in place of the thyme -- try rosemary, mint or sage.
+ Instead of vinegar in the mop recipe, use an equal amount of fresh orange juice and sprinkle in a pinch of fresh orange zest.
Nutrition Info
Serving Size: 8 portions Calories: 284 Fat: 11 Saturated fat: 2 Unsaturated fat: 8 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 8 Sugar: 7 Sodium: 720 Fiber: 0 Protein: 35 Cholesterol: 92

Recipe adapted from The Spice House.

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