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The Magical Spice That Makes Vegetables Taste Like Bacon

Kids love Spanish smoked paprika—including my little vegetarian.

A dish of broccoli florets seasoned with pimentón de la Vera, with the word "SMOKY!" hovering over it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

When my younger daughter hit first grade, she finally made the connection between the chicken, bacon, and meatballs she liked to eat and the actual adorable animals they came from. She was not happy! While she’s never become a full vegetarian—she likes sushi and fish sticks and will down the occasional McNugget—she’s mostly steered clear of meat for five years.

But like many kid vegetarians, she also didn’t love … vegetables! A diet of nothing but rice, toast, and crackers did not seem like the way to go. I searched a lot of family cookbooks in search of vegetarian recipes that might entice a dubious 6-year-old (and her 8-year-old carnivorous sister). I particularly liked The Gastrokid Cookbook by Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans, which collected simple, flavorful recipes and gave them little twists and tricks to help them become more palatable to kids.

One secret in the book was completely revolutionary for our family: “the single most used spice in our houses after black pepper.” It’s pimentón de la Vera, Spanish smoked paprika. “It makes everything taste like bacon (that’s a good thing),” the authors wrote, and they were right! Its smoky, salty sweetness (when you get the dulce, not the picante) gives a little burst of bacony umami to anything you sprinkle it on.

Pimenton de la Vera

It turned out while my daughter didn’t want to eat actual bacon, the flavor of bacon was still plenty delicious. So I started sprinkling pimentón de la Vera on everything. Roasted potato wedges, as in this easy recipe from the blog Tamarind and Thyme, got even more addictive. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower, tossed with pimentón, gained a deep new flavor note. Mixed with Greek yogurt and garlic, pimentón made a savory sauce into which our kids were delighted to dip carrots and peppers. And it replaced adobo as our go-to addition when quickly heating up some canned black beans on taco night.

It’s also good sprinkled on grilled meat, of course. But I think of it as a magical spice for vegetables, making any leaf, stalk, or root richer, more flavorful, bolder—meatier, I guess, though I won’t tell my daughter that.

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