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Losing the meat doesn't mean losing the rich, smoky flavor.

By David McCann
February 23, 2021
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Here's the thing — I am completely obsessed with smoked salt. So obsessed, in fact, that I use a little tabletop indoor smoker to make my own. That allows me to vary the amount and variety of smoke I introduce into the salt. But there are all sorts of smoked salts available if you're not geeky enough to make your own. A couple of my favorites are Dragunara Bonfire Smoked Sea Salt and Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt from Bourbon Barrel Foods ($13.99, amazon.com). 

 One of the side benefits of smoked salt is that it allows me to trick my palate into believing that a number of dishes that I love — and that feature different types of smoked meat — can be made meatless. Now, I am not even remotely vegetarian, but I don't think it hurts anybody to be mindful of their weekly meat intake. So this helps me to do my part for the planet and for my body without losing the taste that I so love.

What is it about the smell of smoked food that is so appealing? Is it summer? Is it childhood? Or does it just taste great? Whatever the reason, I just can't get enough, so…

I truly love long simmered greens, such as collards, with a smoked ham hock. But I have discovered that if I use smoked salt and a bit of olive oil, I get both the unctuous texture and the deep smoky flavor without all of the pork and fat. So this can be a frequent dish, not just a "special occasion" one.

Many of my soups and chowders begin with, not surprisingly, bacon. But smoked salt gives that same savory boost without all of the meat and fat. Another favorite of mine is a pot of black eyed peas. And I don't always have to use those ham hocks; I just reach for my smoked salt instead. 

I made a quiche a few weeks ago, and it happened that I somehow had no bacon… not even hidden in the dim recesses of the freezer. So instead of salting the dish with plain salt, you guessed it! And it worked marvelously.

I love sauteed potatoes. I probably make them at least 5-6 times a month. One of my variations contains bacon, ham, or prosciutto. But a recent batch contained only smoked salt, and the diners were perfectly happy. As was I. 

And believe me, any pasta sauce that typically requires bacon… wow! Look, I will even admit to doctoring up some not-great supermarket bacon with a little smoked salt.

The above ideas are just the beginning. Try swapping in some smoked salt in any of your favorite meaty dishes, and see what you think.

I would never tell you that you need to eliminate meat from your diet. But if everything that you read is causing you to consider eating a bit less, this is a substitution that really works.

You can even use a smaller amount or bacon etc., and just substitute a bit of smoked salt. But I'm convinced that, once you start, you'll come up with a million ideas that will surprise both of us.