Giddy like a girl on summer break, I rolled my cart into the international grocery store. I had an hour to myself. I was entering heaven-on-earth.
Workers in the bustling family grocery store unpacked boxes and boxes of produce, stacking it in bins for self-service. Where should I start?
Naval oranges and pomegranates were the first welcoming sights. Piles of tender apricots—a rare treat—perched next to blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries so fresh they looked like they would burst.
Crisp lettuces, like dainty bouquets, sat at the ready. Slim, thin-skinned cucumbers beckoned, along with fresh dill, for pickling.
Vegetables from underground offered their robust, earthy goodness. Should I choose turnips, rutabagas, carrots, or parsnips? This time, it was turnips—with four oversized heads of garlic. Soup was on my mind.
A walk around the u-shaped deli counter tantalized my eyes and taste buds with promises of briny and oily olives, multiple varieties of feta cheese, meat and spinach pies, freshly chopped tabbouleh, silken hummus, and stuffed grape leaves.
To sop up the goodness, there must be bread. My choice this time: a Middle Eastern flatbread so large it was folded four times to fit into the package and so thin you could almost see through it!
Thinking of my pantry, I grabbed cracked bulgur wheat for summer salads and dried chickpeas for homemade falafel.
Bystanders may have noticed me swaying to the Middle Eastern music as I shopped, adding to my glee.
The lively atmosphere moved me to contemplate unfamiliar tastes: a bit of lemongrass or cassava root, or a bulb of fennel. It is always fun to try new items.
I settled on a prickly green bitter melon—looking up later what to do with it. (I found that its most popular use is in stir-fries. Sliced in half and nibbled, the melon lived up to its reputation of most bitter fruit or veg on the planet.)
For my sweet tooth, I piled my cart full of nougat candies, dried dates and figs, and bright green shelled pistachios.
Oh, and I threw in an inch-thick stack of parchment paper for $2.50. Sheet pans covered.
This market is known for bringing Middle Eastern delicacies at fair prices to the locals. For thirty-plus years, workers greet their customers with bold smiles. They routinely restock the fresh and unusual produce, offering tastes from around the world.
What a vibrant assortment of foods! Thanks to the Creator for his bounty. Thanks to the purveyors of the food and drink we enjoy!
Is it time for your own grocery shopping adventure? Find the local ethnic market, farmer’s market, butcher shop, or corner groceria. Ask the locals what they eat and how to prepare it. Venture outside the norm.
And when you get home—happy, tired, and hungry—you will need food. A no-fret recipe is Lemony Rice and Lentils. It is mild enough to be the backdrop for your market delicacies, yet far from flavorless. An easy blend of onion, garlic, and coriander (laced with lemon) brings the hearty rice and lentils alive.
Enjoy the new tastes and the sheer abundance of good food!
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
Chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts would like you to meet their cousin: the lentil.
Part of the legume family, lentils are disc-shaped and flat. Their color can be black, tan, yellow, green, red, or orange.
As rice and pasta form the base for many delicious recipes, lentils do similar duty. With a mild, beany flavor, they perform well in meaty stews, vegetable curries, shepherd’s pie, and even cold salads. Seasoned and pressed into cakes, lentils make a mighty fine burger substitute.
Lentils are inexpensive, full of protein, and cook up relatively quickly—in about 30 minutes. Let them simmer a little longer and they will happily puree into a smooth soup or sauce.
In a pinch, grab a can of organic lentils, already cooked. Sauté in garlic and olive oil, and you’ve got a quick side dish.
You can’t go wrong with lentils.
Lemony Rice and Lentils
- 4 c. vegetable stock
- 1 c. brown rice
- 1 c. uncooked lentils
- 1 T. coriander
- 1 t. onion powder
- 1 t. garlic powder
- 2 t. salt
- 1/4 t. pepper
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Pour broth into a 5-quart saucepan or stock pot. Stir in rice, lentils, and spices. Add the lemon zest, but reserve the juice. Cover rice and lentil mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, with the lid on.
Turn off heat. Stir in lemon juice and let rice and lentils stand, covered, for 10 minutes more until tender.
Bitter melon photo courtesy of Lothar Bodingbauer on Unsplash