Monday, November 11, 2013

The groceries, scrutinized


Tamarind - I may be singlehandedly responsible for clearing the tamarind stock off the shelf at The Wild Olive on 125th Street. Left unsupervised I could devour a box in one sitting, crack crack rip nibble chew. Crack crack a demented monkey. I like the cracking part and the ripping and the sinking of teeth into the toffee-like pulp. I even like the seeds, smooth and hard as mahogany, or black pearls.

The carrots and celery are vegetable staple ingredients, endlessly versatile. Grating or slivering or quick-pickling them in salads, chopping and slicing or just peeling them whole as the basis for stews and sauces and soups, an earthy side-kick for slow-cooked meaty dishes, a caramelized vegetable in their own right, the carrot as a warm, cumin-y salad, the celery sliced thinly and mixed with thinned mayonnaise and apples and celeriac for a composed bowlful of crunch.

I love Fage yogurt. It's always in the fridge. Eaten as dessert with chestnut honey and roasted almonds, stirred into sauces, whisked into vinaigrettes. I craved Mediterranean flavours and mixed it the other night with mint and garlic and chunks of those cucumbers, salted,  and scooped that up with pita bread.

Limes. Or lemons. Cannot live without. Uses too many to name. Or oranges - it's time. I held off for as long as I could, but it really is their season. (I refuse to acknowledge a season for limes.)

Scallions as helpful back up and backbone, raw or cooked.

Tomato sauce - I still call it that, even in this land of ketchup. We have to have a small bottle, and Heinz makes this organic one, now - for hamburgers. So it gets a squeeze about three times a year. Sometimes I use it as I would tomato paste. But the tomato paste is a staple, too. An instant extra layer of flavour.

The taco shells were a hormonal aberration. We ate this brand in South Africa, too, when I was little, and my mom would make them very occasionally. I loved the crack! of the shells and the contrast of the soft warm ground meat, just on the other side of the shredded cheese and irritant iceberg lettuce. I even use the instant spice packet that comes in the box. I know. But I do. It's the closest we get to junk food. At least for that meal, two nights ago, I made quick pickles - carrot and red cabbage -  to stand in for the iceberg, and topped it all with cilantro... I'll still go to hell but perhaps they'll give me bottled water.

I never, ever buy bottled water.

Well, maybe the bubbly stuff, for a party.

The pad thai noodles are useful. If you have tamarind paste lurking in the fridge, and decent tofu within walking distance. But the one thing I cannot find in this neigbourhood is fish sauce.

And at last - the broccoli rabe, lurking in the back. I eat it all alone. The Frenchman loathes the stuff. I can't really blame him. It's bitter and can sometimes turn on you and taste like fish (why is that?). But if you barely cook it at very high heat with soy and ginger and garlic and those limes and chile and a little's pretty good.

(Fortunately I don't drive my groceries home, but have to rely on arms. This could have been the post that never ended.)

And the new Harlem food shopping web is at last complete. Between The Wild Olive on 125th (tamarind, good pasta, pigweed, excellent kale and collards and interesting Jamaican stuff), Fine Fare on Lenox/Malcolm X Boulevard (organic fruit, coconut oil, good rice and flours) the newly discovered Best Yet on  Frederick Douglas Boulevard (good bread, cheese, divine brisket!) two wine shops and one good butcher, we are now well fed and even better exercised.


  1. Lovely post Marie : ) found myself nodding in agreement, especially with regard to lemons...! Hope you're feeling much better now x

  2. Oh I love food shopping too, most of our small groceries, butchers have gone they just couldn't compete with Asda Tesco to name but two, it's such a shame. I can remember not so long ago buying cheese which would be weighed on old fashioned scales and wrapped in greaseproof paper. I try to shop local but it's becoming more difficult.

  3. Thank you for the great explanation of why you buy what you buy...I've just recently discovered how versertile lemons are and love the fresh citrus bite they give chicken (and I'm sure other things). I'll be adding several of the items in your post to my shopping list!

  4. Well, the tamarind tip was helpful.But I can't eat them all -I wonder if they would survive a rip through the post?And "divine" is not a word I would ever have used for brisket.Good perhaps, but most that we see today looks suspiciously scraggy.

  5. Are those tamarind pods or a block of paste?

  6. Highly enjoyable trip to the market with you, though I'm still reeling about those taco shells.

  7. Try this: Broccoli rabe, farfalle, marscapone, onion, loose sausage, canellini beans, hot pepper flakes, and of course, garlic. The combination of the sweet, salty, creamy, and bitter makes it lovely.

    I think I started with a Giada recipe and changed it into this but I've seen a lot of variations of these ingrediants so I'm not that original ;-)


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