May 20, 2013 Respond
Outdoor produce area.
I like how foreign grannies shop. They poke, they prod, they know exactly what they are looking for and woe to the vendor who doesn’t get it right. Granny-watching — a completely innocent pastime, I assure you — is one of the reasons I love going to Super King Market in Glassell Park. There, foreign grannies (and their families) from around the world converge to shop for interesting and affordable produce, cheeses and meats, packing the store’s aisles with carts crammed to the brim.
Super King’s produce section is not to be missed. I always make a beeline for the mountain of Persian cucumbers and extensive (and cheap!) selection of fresh herbs before exploring the seasonal specials like verdolaga (purslane), fuzzy fresh almonds and bright green fresh garbanzos. Next to the produce section is the largest array of spices I’ve ever seen in a supermarket, with huge bags of any dried herb or spice you might need for Middle Eastern, Latin or Indian cooking, fresh and inexpensive enough for even the most discerning granny.
The yogurt section is also exciting, if you’re the type of person who gets excited about yogurt. I am, so I’m always happy to see the many brands of all-natural, whole milk yogurt, just tart enough to be eaten plain or with a drizzle of honey for breakfast. I haven’t even branched out into the world of yogurt cheese and yogurt drinks yet, but when I do, Super King will be waiting for me.
I always take a deep breath as I leave the yogurt section and plunge headfirst into the cheese and cured meats corridor that runs along the back of the store, which is always ALWAYS an insane jumble of people and overstuffed shopping carts. On weekends it feels like rush hour on the 405-101 interchange; on weekdays it is only slightly less grim. If you are braver or more patient than I, you will take a number and wait to place your order. I usually just head over to the refrigerated cheese aisle and grab a tin of feta in brine.
I’m trying to be better about knowing where and how my meat was raised, so I usually avoid the butcher’s counter, which is nearly as crowded as the cheese counter. On my first visit to Super King, I overheard one of the butchers, an Armenian man in his 60s, say, “Next…next… Is anyone waiting?” No response. “Oh my god,” he said softly, acknowledging the miracle that is an empty butcher’s counter at Super King Market.
Instead of meat, I buy breads. Various types of dark Russian bread line the shelves below the meat cases and across from the bakery counter are stacks of lavash, pita bread and those enormous rounds of flat, yeasty Armenian bread. Yum. The bakery itself sells an impressive number of different baklava as well as dainty French-style sweets. A separate bin holds big sugared Mexican pastries.
After browsing the deli counter for tabbouleh by the pound, hot-from-the-oven lahmajune (Armenian pizza) and whole rotisserie chickens, it’s time to brave the checkout lines, which are always less daunting than they first appear and also give me the opportunity to do some cart-peeking — another completely innocent pastime — at the people around me. Once I saw a man buying only bananas, an entire cart filled to the top, and on my last trip saw someone with two plastic bags impossibly fat with fresh garbanzo beans, like cartoon money sacks minus the giant dollar bill sign.
The best thing about cart-peeking at Super King is that everyone is buying whole foods — chard and olive oil and loose mate tea and pomegranate molasses and crema and pickled grape leaves — so you can only imagine the meals that will come from what they’re buying. Have you ever had the depressing experience of standing behind some lonely soul in a supermarket line on a Friday evening, watching him buy three packets of Top Ramen, a jar of Skippy, a frozen Lean Cuisine enchilada and a six-pack of Bud? Suddenly his whole weekend cracks open in front of you, quivering and too vulnerable, an egg you never meant to break. Standing in the Super King line is the opposite experience for me, full of wonder and curiosity at the meals in the making all around me.
Unlimited granny-watching and cart-peeking: now do you understand why I love this place?
April 1, 2013 Respond
Today is my birthday. But I promise this post is not just a thinly-veiled attempt to get nice birthday wishes in the comments (HINT, HINT). It’s also about vegetables.
You see, one of the gifts I received was a CSA box from the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative, one of my favorite farmers market stands. I am always happy to support the group of people who fifteen years ago took a hopeless plot of land in South LA and transformed it into a huge community garden — only to lose it all in 2006 to a developer now planning on using the land for a Forever 21 warehouse. (See the 2008 Academy-Award-nominated documentary The Garden for the full story.) But I never knew they had a CSA program.
All I had to do was show up at the Atwater Village Farmers Market on Sunday and tell the friendly SCFC volunteer my name, and I was handed a big box filled with organic vegetable goodness. It really did feel like a gift, opening up the box and pulling out my bounty:
Head of purple lettuce
Bunch of huge carrots
Bunch of spring onions, white and purple
One summer squash
One round zucchini
One scalloped squash
One bitter melon
About a pound of beans, green and purple
Bunch of beets
Bunch of purple amaranth
About a pound of new red potatoes
Handful of papalo (Bolivian coriander — I am totally unfamiliar with this)
Handful of unidentified herb
They offer a few different pricing options on their website, the most flexible being the $15 weekly box — only $15 for all of that! — as well as 16 pick-up locations all over the city. At the market I bought a mixed bag of summer fruit to supplement the vegetables and now I am set for the week.
I will definitely be buying South Central Farmers’ CSA boxes for myself in the future. It’s an appealing option for those weeks when I don’t have the time or energy to wander through the market on a Sunday morning or when I want to shake things up a bit with some ingredients I wouldn’t necessarily choose on my own. Or just when I want to open up a box of surprise vegetables and pretend it’s my birthday all over again.
March 7, 2013 Respond
Buying beans and grains in bulk. It sounds about as appealing as a patchouli-drenched hippie sitting on your couch and clipping his toenails, but I can’t help it — I love buying beans and grains in bulk. Lucky for me, Naturewell opened a few months ago in Silver Lake, not far from my apartment, so I have access to all the lentils, barley and quinoa I could possibly want. This may not excite you. But if you find yourself oddly pleased or even mildly intrigued by this news, then please read on.
The store itself is clean and bright, and manages to pack a lot into a fairly small space. Narrow bins hold all manner of bean, grain and pasta, as well as various types of flour and healthy-ish snacks like trail mix and chocolate-covered raisins. One refrigerated case carries specialty dried fruits — something I haven’t seen before in a bulk goods store — and another offers cold drinks, mainly every flavor of kombucha imaginable. Shelves tucked under the counter hold a large selection of herbs and spices, priced higher than those at Super King, but good for those times when you don’t actually need a bag of mustard seeds the size of a chubby chihuahua.
If buying beans and grains in bulk leaves you cold, you still might want to visit Naturewell for their juices and smoothies made to order. I’m usually too hopped up on coffee from Intelligentsia to think about drinking a carrot, so I can’t speak for the juices, but they all look terribly fresh and nutritious and seem reasonably priced. Of course if I were you, I might decide to instead get my juice at the pupusa joint across the street, where a giant freshly-made jugo is a mere $3 and you can get a cheese and loroco (a type of flower) pupusa for just a couple dollars more. Yes, I choose melty cheese over a scoop of immunity booster. So sue me.
Despite all that, I’m happy Naturewell is in the neighborhood. My collection of repurposed pasta jars are filled to the brim with enough beans and grains to see me through the zombie apocalypse in style. Assuming there is running water. And gas, for the stove.
….Huh. Time for Plan B.
3824 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
February 14, 2013 Respond
One Saturday soon you may find yourself craving paella and a little day trip. On that Saturday I suggest you get in your car and, with a good and hungry friend, head down the 110 toward Harbor City, home of La Española Meats. You won’t be entirely sure where Harbor City is and, during an engrossing conversation in the car, will realize you have not been paying attention to the exits at all and did you pass it? You will turn around, head back toward the 405, realize that no, you did not in fact pass it, turn around again, then resume your drive and the engrossing conversation.
But don’t worry about the delay. It will only help build up your appetite for paella.
When you park outside La Española, an unassuming building on a dead-end street, your friend will ask you with some incredulity if you have brought her to a warehouse. Actually, you have: the market supplies many of the upscale food shops and tapas restaurants in Los Angeles. But on Saturdays they make paella. There are tables and chairs outside under a cheerful awning, and bambu veneerware plates of paella for a mere $8.50. Big families who clearly have been coming for paella on Saturdays for years sit chatting and eating. You hear that sometimes someone brings a guitar and there is music and maybe a little dancing, but today there will be none.
But that’s okay because: PAELLA. Your Styrofoam takeout container will be loaded with saffron-tinged rice, the plump grains hiding chunks of tender meat and seafood. On the side, a plate of sliced crusty bread, olives and charcuterie. To drink, an orange-flavored Spanish soda called Kas, because that’s what the man inside recommended. You and your friend will get kind of quiet as you start to eat. The filtered sunlight, the briny olives, another bite of paella: Saturday lunchtime bliss.
After eating, you will head inside to check out the market and also the sandwiches, because someone at the table next to you was eating a long, narrow sandwich that looked really freaking good. You and your friend will debate getting a sandwich, decide against it — it really was a lot of paella — and instead sample the various cheeses and cured meats, striking up a conversation with the man who recommended the orange soda. You’ll find out he is the warehouse manager, that he drives all over LA making deliveries to the shops and restaurants which buy the market’s imported products. “Wait — I’ll give you something!” he’ll say after a couple minutes of conversation. You will wait, hoping he returns with a wedge of sheep’s milk cheese or wizened chunk of salume.
Instead he will hand you two thin aerosol cans. You and your friend will look at them. Deodorant spray. Spanish deodorant spray. “I hope you aren’t saying we need this,” you’ll quip and then you’ll all laugh. It will seem to mark the end of the conversation and the two of you will say your goodbyes. As you are leaving, you hear him say to one of the women he works with, “That was the only thing I could give them.” Cheese and cured meats it is not, but you’ll still appreciate the gesture, even if you do end up slipping the can into the box of things going to Goodwill in hopes that it will help out some smelly soul.
And anyway: PAELLA. It will be impossible to not leave La Española happy. I dare you.
25020 Doble Avenue
Harbor City, CA 90710
January 15, 2013 Respond
Inspired by Eating LA’s report on the Alhambra Farmers’ Market, I made my way over to my old stomping grounds last Sunday to check it out. My first boyfriend in college used to live a couple blocks away from the market, but as the kitchen of the house he lived in was a dismal, grease-yellowed room used only by the creepy guy down the hall who seemed to always be hanging around in a dirty bathrobe, we didn’t cook much and never stopped by for produce.
We should have. It’s a small but vibrant farmers’ market with two rows of produce sellers connected by a few tables selling prepared foods. The selection is surprisingly varied, thanks to the large Asian population in the area. I was tempted by a long table covered by stacks and stacks of bundled pea shoots and spent a long time looking at the unfamiliar greens labeled only in Chinese. (At the same table, the woman next to me was shown a box of large, straw-speckled eggs — goose eggs maybe? — which she touched gently and with approval. She bought two.)
The highlight of the market for me was Ana’s Farm, which sells whole free range, sustainably-raised chickens for less than $4/lb. The catch? They still have their heads and feet attached, so unless you are serving the chicken Asian-style, some butchery is required. I bought a 3 1/2-pound chicken and a carton of eggs, a steal at $3/dozen. I ended up roasting the chicken (more on that in a later post) and have been eating the eggs all week, marveling at how golden and flavorful the yolks are.
Prices in general are much lower than at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, my usual Sunday stop, and that includes more than just the produce. Flowers are especially affordable, between $2 to $3 for a big bunch, and there is a table selling beautiful bonsai for as little as $12 each.
When I left, my bag included dandelion greens, turnip greens (with immature turnips attached), a couple oro blanco grapefruits and a bunch of French radishes. Except for a few of the radishes, I’ve eaten everything over the course of the week (even the dozen eggs!). I blanched the dandelion greens, mashed them up with some boiled russet potatoes and olive oil, covered them with panko crumbs and baked the whole thing, following a recipe by Mark Bittman. The turnip greens were added to a pot of oven-baked pinto beans, which I ate over turmeric-spiced rice. The grapefruits I’ve been eating for breakfast every morning and the radishes are good raw alongside lunchtime sandwiches.
But it’s the eggs I keep thinking about, the eggs and the chicken. I used to eat a hard-cooked egg every day for breakfast in Japan and was saddened, upon my return, by the colorless, flavorless eggs in the U.S., even the fancy organic ones. But these eggs — these eggs were good. Perfectly hard-cooked and dipped in a little salt and pepper, they transported me back to my little table on the tatami floor in my little living room. Now I just need to find a good source for super-thick Japanese toast.
One Perfect Hard-Cooked Egg
Place egg in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Put a lid on the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as water starts boiling, turn off the heat and set a timer for 7 minutes (5 minutes for a medium egg). When the timer goes off, pour out the water and cover the egg with cold water. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Crack, peel and enjoy.
Alhambra Farmers’ Market
Monterey Street between Main & Bay State
Sundays, 8:30am to 1pm
December 5, 2012 Respond
This is the week you have to stop denying autumn is over. Wrapped up in a new wool coat, you ride your bike in the frosty morning, snow-dusted mountains on the horizon, burrowing your chin deeper in your scarf. The leaves have fallen. Your scary fume-spewing kerosene heater is out.
But it’s okay. This autumn was a good one. Especially that persimmon tart.
Kaki flood the markets in autumn, especially in this part of Japan, which is famous for its persimmons. (It’s even rumored that perhaps the name of my town, Ogaki, once meant “big persimmon.” Which I think is far cooler than the present meaning: “big gate.” Boooring.) The kaki sold raw is almost exclusively amagaki, the rounder, more flat fruit which are eaten while they are still firm; in the U.S., they are often labeled as “Fuyu persimmons.” The longer, more pointed kaki, shibugaki — which are terribly astringent until they soften completely — are typically dried and sold later in winter, especially around New Year’s. The best part about this kaki glut is that it makes it possible to buy one persimmon for less than 100 yen (about $1), something you can’t say for apples. Thus, when the tart-baking urge struck, it was kaki I reached for.
A simple tart, it is nothing more than thinly-sliced fruit, sugar, butter and a sprinkling of spices in a basic crust. When baked, the persimmon pieces soften and meld together to become, after cooling, something gently chewy, kind of like a Japanese yōkan or a very soft Fruit Roll-Up. With some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, it will be so good you might, like me, be forced to make another one a few days later. Or, if the amagaki season has already ended, daydream about it through at least a couple cold bicycle commutes.
Kaki no taruto (Persimmon tart)
Makes 6-8 servingsFor dough:
1 stick (115 g) cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (155 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
3 persimmons, peeled, seeded and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 stick (55 g) cold butter, sliced thin
Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
Make dough: Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest lumps about pea-sized. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water evenly over and gently stir with a fork until incorporated.
When you squeeze a small handful of the dough, it should hold together without crumbling. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition until incorporated (keep testing). Don’t overwork the mixture or add too much water, or your dough will be tough.
Form dough: Divide the dough into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once across your work surface in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together with a pastry scraper and form it into a disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
When you are ready to assemble the tart, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 13-inch round and fit it into a 10-inch tart tin, trimming the excess. Arrange the persimmon slices decoratively on the pastry shell, overlapping them. Mix the nutmeg and ginger with the sugar and sprinkle on top of the fruit. Top with butter slices and bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the persimmon slices are lightly browned. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.