Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ethnic Markets and Cookbooks

Ethic groceries are a luxury of modern life. For $10, you can walk out with a slice of somewhere far away -- a sauce, a spice, a cheese. For immigrants, that slice can be a taste of home, but for anyone else, it is a chance to explore without paying for an airline ticket.

This is a brief summary of three markets that I have come to like -- Mexican, Middle Eastern and Asian. I hope to return to each in detail and visit an Indian market in Columbia, but for now, I paired some with cookbooks that would help you take advantage of the things that you'll find.

(Update: I profiled three more markets, including an Indian one, in May. Or check out a comprehensive list of organic and ethnic markets.)

Mexican: Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia

Lily's is a small, professional market at the end of the shopping center with the Express DMV and Sushi King. It has well-stocked shelves and a butcher in the back. Although there is a small amount of produce, the shelves are mostly cans, jars and packages labeled in Spanish and English and sold by national or international brands.

Terrific for finding Mexican staples like masa, the soft and crumbling cheeses, and both thin and hand-made tortillas. There are some unique items like fresh cactus, but mostly, it is Mexican brands of things you know -- sodas, cookies, chipotle peppers, beans, etc. There is a broader selection of Goya products, including recaito and several types of refried beans.

Buy a copy of any cookbook by Rick Bayless and see if the butcher can hook you up with something new. In Mexican Everyday, Bayless cooks mostly with fresh vegetables and simple recipes. I prefer it. But in earlier books, he preached an authenticity that probably calls for some visits down Lily's Market's aisles.

(Update: I had an old address here. Lily's is at 6490 Dobbin -- in the same shopping center as the DMV.)

Lily's Mexican Market
6490 Dobbin Center Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: The DMV off Dobbins Road just south of Rte 175. Look for the intersection with a Blockbuster. The shopping center with DMV, Lily's and Sushi King restaurant is across Dobbins from the Blockbuster.

Blog link to Lily's Mexican Market: http://www.toomanychefs.net/archives/001848.php

Greek and Middle Eastern: Aladdin in Laurel

Start with the bread, olives and yogurt. Aladdin is a small shop steps from Rte 1 in downtown Laurel. The shelves are mostly cans, bottles and bags, but you can start with fresh pita and lavash breads, including a whole wheat lavash that tears into delicious strips to be dipped in Greek-style yogurt or eaten with spicy olives. The yogurt is thicker than American yogurt, mild but somehow more flavorful than Dannon.

I don't have a Middle Eastern cookbook, but the shop is a no-cook dinner party waiting to happen. For $30, you could assemble a feast and unpack it right to the table. Fill bowls with with those olives and yogurt, then faugment the table with feta or Kashkaval cheese, baba ganoush and hummus. You can buy the dips canned, or you can buy the ingredients -- tahini, chick peas, even canned eggplant. Add a can of foul, the Egyptian-style fava beans, and six people could graze with a bag of bread. Dessert could be some figs or baklava (fresh from Canada or refrigerated from a Greek bakery apparently in Cleveland).

On top of the ready-to-eat, you can buy basic ingredients for your own cooking -- lentils, bulgar, lupini beans, rose syrup, pomegranate molasses. There are juices, including a Marco Polo brand pomegranate/sour cherry. There is an entire wall of spices (including black, dried lemons that I want to learn how to use) and a freezer with spanakopita and other heatable treats. Try the spicy samosas. I cooked them over high heat in a Pam-coated frying pan rather than deep-fry them as the package suggested. Spectacular flavor. The type of spiciness so intense that I stopped reading my newspaper, but still full of flavor and not discomfort.

Aladdin Food Mart
308 Main Street
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR: Downtown Laurel off U.S. 1. You can take Rte 216 East from I-95, then turn left at the light on Main Street.

Asian: H Mart in Catonsville and Lotte in Ellicott City

These supermarkets -- or at least the H Mart -- are worthy of long posts extolling their value and giving some suggestions. The H Mart is better, but both offer an enormous array of fruits and vegetables, large seafood sections, and an encyclopedic selection of Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai packaged goods -- sauces, rices, noodles, canned vegetables and fruits, etc. Lotte really excels at prepared food -- marinated meats and panchan -- that you can buy in whatever amounts you want.

Buy Thai Food and Cooking by Judy Bastyra and Becky Johnson. Great recipes that taste like the food I ate in Thailand. Great pictures, and I am often suspect of any cookbook that invests so much in the showing. An opening section describes and shows various rices, noodles, vegetables, etc. You can carry it through the H Mart and pick up everything you need except maybe kaffir lime leaves, which should be available online.

800 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: Rte 40 just west of I-695. If you are driving from HoCo, you'll see a Starbucks and a FedEx at the end of the shopping center. Turn right immediately after the Starbucks. If you miss it, just turn right at the next intersection.

Lotte Market
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: On Rte 40, just west of Rte 29. From Rte 29 south, you take the Rte 40 East exit, then stay in the left lane on the exit ramp. That takes you into the shopping center.

No comments: