The other day, I was just minding my own business, break dancing around my kitchen, when I came across the same bottle of vanilla extract I’d purchased five years before. I started to look for cookie recipes on my phone when a wave of melancholy hit. Why was vanilla, the spiciest extract allowed in the Midwest, confined to baked goods? Who would save vanilla from oblivion?

Okay, so you still think vanilla extract is a one-hit wonder? Listen you goofy goober, it’s time to expand your vanilla repertoire. Everyone and their cousin uses vanilla extract when baking cookies. Quit humiliating your family, and embrace vanilla extract creativity. Because, what will really wow your main squeeze — not emotional vulnerability — is a little vanilla paired with a savory dish.

How to use vanilla extract in savory dishes

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kapernaros Nikolaos, the executive chef at Avlí on Park, a Greek restaurant in Chicago. Nikolaos uses vanilla regularly in his savory dishes.

“I use vanilla extract in savory recipes,” he said “I make a very nice orzo, I make a very nice risotto cake with parmesan and vanilla, Greek savory pancakes made with vanilla for the flavor.”  Nikolaos also pairs vanilla with white wines from Greece for an elegant drink option.

Vanilla also shines in grill marinades and savory sauces. Apply vanilla to any protein of your choice, from chicken to tofu. Chef Jose Garces, Iron Chef America winner, pairs vanilla grits with BBQ shrimp for an epic gustatory combination.

You can try a whole range of vanilla extract in savory dishes. I’m particularly excited to try Lobster Ravioli in Champagne Vanilla Sauce, Vanilla Vinaigrette, Lamb Stew with Vanilla, Vanilla-Braised Beef Cheeks, Vanilla Mashed Potatoes, and the list goes on. You can even put vanilla in your pickled vegetables to get really freaky.

How to add vanilla extract to cocktails

Give your Chilean Monkey Tail Punch that special vanilla kick to survive the holidays in style. Or, for a non-alcoholic version, try Vanilla Citrus Cider. Let’s be real. Anything paired with vanilla is better. I like a strong vanilla Irish coffee when it's rainy outside, and I’m reading an unusually violent murder mystery.

Vanilla extract substitutes

Maple syrup, almond extract, bourbon, brandy, instant coffee, or citrus zest work majestically when vanilla threatens your piggy bank. However, more and more chefs are turning to Pandan extract. Pandan extract comes from Southeast Asia and tastes like grassy vanilla, with floral and pine undertones.