If you do one thing this summer, pick up a package of grains of paradise. Your grilled steaks will thank you. Also your fish. Also your potato salads. In fact, I think the warm, spicy, woodsy flavor of this little known West African spice is going to make a top-notch addition to just about all our favorite summer picnic foods. Now that I've discovered it, I can't get enough.
I originally bought my grains of paradise for a summer wheat beer that I was planning to brew. Crushing the grains with my mortar and pestle released the most heavenly aroma — a heady combination of black pepper, cardamom, lemon zest, and something warm and woodsy that reminded me of walking through the forest on a summer afternoon. If you crack one between your teeth, the flavor follows in much the same order as the aroma.
I only used a smidge for my beer, so the rest of my spice bounty is now residing in my spice drawer. It will be going on everything grilled or roasted this summer: a dry rub for steaks and kebabs, whisked into marinades for fish and vegetables, and patted onto chicken thighs. It is also fantastic in salads of both the leafy green and the grain varieties — play up the spice's citrusy flavor and use it in a lemon vinaigrette.
I've also heard of people using grains of paradise with fruit desserts, like apple pie and cobbler. Given its notes of cardamom and clove, this is something I definitely want to try. Peach cobbler with a hit of spice? Grilled pineapple sprinkled with grains of paradise? Yes, I see some tasty dessert experiments in my future!
Typically, you'll want to grind the grains of paradise before using them, though you can use the whole spice in soups or braises for a milder flavor. They're very dry and break down easily with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder. You can also fill a spare pepper grinder with grains of paradise and have it always handy! Toasting the spice before grinding it also helps boost its flavors and aromas.
Look for grains of paradise at specialty food stores and brewing supply stores. You can also find it online:
• Grains of Paradise from The Spice House
Have you ever cooked with grains of paradise? How do you like to use this spice?
(Image: Emma Christensen)