Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Caspian Market in Ellicott City

With all the new Middle Eastern markets, it was time to go back and look at one of Howard County's originals -- the Caspian Market in Ellicott City.

The term "Middle Eastern" works, but it doesn't truly cover any of these markets because they carry goods that run from Greece through India.  Caspian -- on Rte 40 in the same building as Tutti Frutti -- carries all of the basics like spices, bulgar, bread, and cheeses.  There are Iranian fruit rolls, Turkish soujouk, and Sadef kabob spices -- all worth checking out and all opening you up to making healthy, delicious dishes from Greek to Iranian.

Caspian stands out because it also sells produce and fresh halal meat, really packing the products into two small rooms.  Caezar International in Elkridge sets the local standard in terms of size and experience, but I didn't see much missing when I walked through Caspian.  My regular purchases are yogurt, grains, sweets, and sometimes the breads.  Most importantly, Caspian sells the pistachio nougat that remains one of my favorite finds in my HowChow trolling.

In addition, Caspian had two unique items that will draw me back -- saffron ice cream and two amazing bulk nut mixes.  The nuts are in the center of the store near the cash register.  I bought a scoop, and I wish I had bought five times as much.  Fresh nuts and dried fruit, and not the almonds and raisins that you get in most packages.  This was walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and macadamia.  Cheap walnuts taste horrible.  Every nut in Caspian's mix was delicious, and they came tarted up with sweet unusual fruits, including tiny figs.  An absolute revelation.

Go check out Caspian if you are anywhere near Rte 40.  If nothing else, get some bulgar, some yogurt, some spices -- and the holy trifecta of nougat, ice cream and nut mixes.  But there are many interesting finds for people who want to explore beyond the regular supermarket.  Try the lentils, the bulgar, the vegetables and then get a few quick ideas from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.  Or just ask Caspian's owners.  They seemed really nice, definitely the type who would answer questions and know what they're talking about.

The new Middle Eastern markets include Columbia Halal Meat Market in Elkridge and both Nazar Market and Pars Market in Columbia.  In addition, Caezar International Market in Elkridge expanded last year when it moved from its former home in Columbia.

If you're a gardener, you should also check out the seeds that Caspian is selling at the end of one of the aisles on the right.  They're Avand brand seeds from Iran -- basil violet, sweet fennel, rocket, cucumbers, sunflowers.  I bet they're interestingly different if you like to experiment in the garden.  I bought seed for my few square feet months ago, but I'd love to hear if anyone tries these out.

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