Sunday, April 11, 2010

You go to the kitchen with the foods you have

Yesterday I set out to make a fresh Mediterranean salad. Light, fresh, with a zing – and low fat. Seemed like a reasonable idea. Here is the recipe.

We have a somewhat fancy boutique grocery store about a block from our apartment so I went there to gather the ingredients. Nothing too exotic. But I guess there is not much demand around here for things like Dijon mustard…

Here is what I could not find at the store: A fennel bulb, feta cheese, Dijon mustard, cannellini beans, and sunflower seeds. So I got creative and thought about substitutions. I substituted leeks for the fresh fennel; fresh, crumbly ricotta for the feta; regular mustard for the Dijon variety; simple white beans for the cannellini beans; slivered almonds for the sunflower seeds.

Blah – The best laid plans…

It’s time to adopt a new strategy. From now on I’m going to stock my pantry with ingredients I find along the way and then work from there. There are a few fancy food stores I’ve discovered, although I rarely see an ethnic food store. Adjacent to the flower market Luiz frequents in Rio are some wholesale food suppliers that carry some pretty out of the ordinary things (I’ve gotten Japanese soba noodles there in the past). I’ll think of it as a scavenger hunt.

Exploiting local ingredients for new and unusual dishes has long been a strategy as well. But I must admit the local palate seems rather narrow. But then, we used to live in the exceptionally international San Francisco Bay Area where every grocery store had an extensive international foods section – not to mention the City’s many ethnic neighborhoods with mom and pop grocery stores targeting the local crowd. Those days are gone.

I definitely have to work on those substitutions…

4 comments:

Danielle said...

aww... I feel your pain! San Francisco (California in general) spoiled me too, food-wise. I tried to make thai papaya salad with "substitutions" and failed miserably.

My technique has been to just find Brazilian recipes and pig out on international foods when I go back to CA to visit.

Hope you guys are doing well!

Stephanie said...

So seriously, my mouth literally watered at the mention of feta cheese...

Whenever we move out (which is a laughable phrase these days) I think Im going to be a frustrated cook...

And by the way, Im always impressed when you talk about cooking because it always looks so healthy and fancy...

Glad you are enjoying sleeping under the blankets too! Heaven! And also VERY glad you guys are doing okay, we've been watching reports on the TV...

And you asked me (a long time ago..im slow sorry) what school I was working at. A school called Number 1!

Jim said...

Danielle - We went to a so-called Thai restaurant in Leblon, Rio and as soon as we walked in (and smelled the air) we knew it was not going to be what we knew to be Thai. Sigh. It was good - but not great.

Stephanie - I must admit the photos are not always from my own camera. (Google images...) I hope your experience at Number 1 continues to be rewarding.

Quentin&Heather said...

Jim, for sunflower seeds, look in the market where they sell the bulk rice and things, or at a pet shop that sells bulk pet food. We found sunflower seeds there, meant for putting out for birds.

I feel your struggles, though! Still adjusting and learning to cook with what we have....it's a journey!

(my blog is on track to re-open on Saturday...just FYI)