Change up your standard cookout fare with a combination of Caribbean and Latin American flavors. By adding sweetness and citrus to spicy grilled meats, fish, and vegetables your taste buds will feel like they are on a tropical vacation. Be sure to end your tropical feast with an exotic spicy fruit salad.
Tips to Balance Flavor
The most important part of combining sweetness and spice is balancing flavors. You don’t want a sickenly sweet flavor nor do you want palate-searing heat. Finding a sweet and spicy balance is easier than you think. Just follow these tips for perfectly flavorful sweet-hot fare.
1. Experiment based on your tastes. Because the sweetness of fruits varies, as does the heat factor of peppers, tasting and experimenting with different fruits and spices is the best way to determine what you like.
2. Spice modestly. If you are a heat novice, mild chile powder will likely work well for the spicy element of your sweet and spicy dishes. And if you have never made sweet hot recipes, experiment with different tropical ripe fruit for the sweet component of your dish – tropical fruit tends to pair well with hot flavors. For more spicy recipes, check out Seven superfood recipes with herbs and spices.
3. Counterbalance. Another flavor-balancing trick is to add an acidic ingredient such as vinegar, lemon juice, or another citrus component to dishes that taste too sugary. The acidity will counter the sweet ingredients. For too much heat, add maple syrup or honey to sauces and salsas (if you love salsa, read How to make a superb salsa).
4. Ripe fruit is ideal. The riper the fruit, the sweeter the taste. If you buy unripe fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, bananas, or mangoes, place them in a paper bag at room temperature for a day or two to hasten their ripening. If the fruit won’t ripen quick enough or doesn’t have the level of sweetness you desire, mix a fruit juice, such as pineapple juice, into your sauces or salsas. For more information on picking ideal fruit, read How to pick fresh fruit.
5. Presentation counts. If you are balancing your sweet hot flavors, you should also balance your finished meal on eye-appealing dishware. To highlight the gorgeous colors of your meal, serve it on light-colored dishes so the food takes center-stage.
Sweet and Spicy Grilled Recipes
Grilled Blackened Salmon with Mango BBQ Sauce
Makes 4 servings
1 cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 cup pureed fresh mango
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
4 tablespoons blackening spices
1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Combine barbecue sauce, mango puree, ginger, orange juice, and vinegar in a medium pot. Heat over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken.
2. Meanwhile coat salmon with blackening spices. Grill salmon 3 to 4 minutes per side or until preferred degree of doneness. To serve, spoon sauce on each of 4 plates and top with salmon.
Citrus Marinated Steak with Mango-Pepper Salsa
Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, divided
4 tablespoons minced green onion, divided
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound top round steak
1 1/2 cups finely diced fresh mango
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 red serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Whisk together 1/4 cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons green onion, water, ginger, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine meat and liquid in a large resealable plastic bag, being sure to fully coat meat. Marinate in the refrigerator for six hours or overnight.
2. Preheat grill to medium heat. When ready to grill, combine mango, cilantro, Serrano or jalapeno, 2 tablespoons green onion, and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
4. Remove steak from marinade and grill for 20 to 25 minutes or until preferred degree of doneness, flipping once. Remove steak from grill and season with salt and pepper if desired. Let steak rest for 5 minutes, then slice thin. Serve with salsa.
Spicy Fruit Salad
Makes 6 servings
1 cup orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup lime juice
3 mangoes, peeled and diced
1 pineapple, diced
3 peaches, diced
Chile powder (not cayenne)
Whisk together orange, pineapple, and lime juices. Combine mangoes, pineapple, and peaches in a serving bowl. Toss fruit with mixed juices. Serve with chile powder and salt on the side for your guests to season their salads to taste.