Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tracking Down Exotic Ingredients in the Albany Capital District

Dan and I had a delightful day in Albany poking around the Historic Albany Foundation Warehouse and Silver Fox for historic hinges and other architectural parts for our perpetual home renovation project. We found a few treasures and then wanted to hunt down some lunch and to explore a couple of the ethnic food markets we found on this cool list.

When you explore the world of gluten-free cooking, there are always some funky ingredients and special flours that require detective work, but we found two fantastic local markets that provided us with bags of inexpensive, yet hard-to-find, ingredients for many kitchen experiments to come.

We ended up first at Lee's Market, at 1170 Central Avenue and had a blast. It was not as hard to search for gluten-free foods with new allergen label requirements, though Dan made sure to bring his reading glasses Not having a working knowledge of any Asian language is a little daunting when scanning labels in Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and other unfamiliar Asian alphabets, but we had plenty of time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we prowled the shelves. The fresh produce was just great, with lots of Asian greens, unfamiliar fruits and interesting-looking knobs and tubers in abundance. Lee's has a pretty fishy smell from the seafood counter, where logy crabs waved their claws slowly in the air from baskets on the floor and many varieties of fish and shellfish languished on crackd ice.

Next time we would bring a cooler to scoop up some cleaned squid or something from the freezers and refrigerator cases, though we will avoid the numerable varieties of wheat gluten, to be sure. Sweets lovers will love the aisles of Japanese candies and biscuits, but we mostly stocked our shopping cart with condiments, flours and canned goods.

Lee's was a fantastic shopping bargain. We filled six grocery bags for $62 and found many things to experiment with since the prices were so cheap: bay leaves, sweet potato starch, mung bean flour, bonito flakes, shallots ($1.25 for a small sack of about 25 shallots!), rice noodles of all kinds, pickled ginger, nori, various kinds of flavored and fried tofu, and sesame oil (12 oz. for only $3.00, instead of $4.50 for a smaller bottle!). Here's some of our Lee's Market Treasures:

We were excited to check out one more ethnic market before going home and headed further east to India Bazaar at 1321 Central Avenue (near the renowned Kurver Kreme ice cream stand). This was another bargain spot, this time with no meat or fish counter, but with a lovely selection of exotic vegetables: bitter melons, fresh curry leaves, okra, a bodacious assortment of eggplants and loads and loads of spices and all kinds of lentils, beans and other pulses. Interestingly, there were only male shoppers in attendance and everyone seemed to fall silent when we entered the shop, but the shopkeeper was friendly and helpful and gave me some cooking tips for those yardlong beans I grew last summer.

Again, another bargain, with four bags for $48, as displayed here by your friendly Bollywood hand model:

That night I was somewhat overwhelmed playing around with all my new toys, but I ultimately selected a crisp bunch of a flowering pac choi variety which I wokked up with a brown sauce. Pac choi is an Asian green that has fleshy stems and dark green leaves and is a great cool weather garden crop. It is a member of the cabbage family and is rich in fiber, calcium and Vitamins A and C. I've grown other varieties of bok choy in the garden and they are ridiculously easy to grow, as long as you harvest them before the hot, humid weather sets in, as they tend to bolt.

Without further ado, here's my recipe for using this architecturally-beautiful, healthy, tasty, Asian vegetable:

Braised Pac Choi with Mushrooms

1 (1.5 lb.)bunch pac choi (bok choy), washed and trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
6 dried shitaki mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, liquid reserved
4 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 (one inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 Tbsp. peanut oil

3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
1 cup vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Mix together soy sauce, honey, sesame oil and vegetable stock (use mushroom soaking liquid as part of vegetable stock). Mix cornstarch with a couple of Tablespoons of this sauce in a separate bowl and blend until smooth. Mix back into remaining sauce and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallots and ginger and stir fry several minutes, or until ginger and garlic are golden. Add pac choi and stir around wok several minutes or until wilted. Chop mushrooms and add to pan and stir fry another several minutes. When greens are crisp-tender, add sauce and stir several minutes more, or until thickened.

Serve over hot rice.

Serves 6.

I've been busy with some other new ingredients from our Albany foray and will post some other recipes soon. In the meantime, I'm sending a bowl of this saucy pac choi to Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook, and which is now permanently headquartered at Haalo's tasty blog, Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. Susan will have a roundup of posts featuring veggies, fruits and herbs after the Sunday evening deadline, and I always learn a lot and bookmark a few recipes from this event.


Maria Verivaki said...

i love p[ak choi, but it's not available here in hania. i love to have it at chinese restaurants

Susan said...

Love bok choy, but unless I make a special trip to an Asian market, I'm usually out of luck.

Delicious flavors, Rachel! Thanks for your WHB recipe!

(P.S. - I like shopping in those markets, too. The bargains and variety are amazing.)

Arlene Delloro said...

What a fun day for you! I love bok choy. I've treated it like escarole and sauteed it in olive oil with just some crispy slices of garlic. I've also used hoisin sauce, water chesnuts, and mushrooms to make a veggie stir fry. Yours looks delicious!!!! When does your bookstore reopen? I'm ready for a trip to Saratoga.

Joanne said...

I love ethnic food markets. I'm always looking for new things to try.

Gloria Chadwick said...

Sounds like you and Dan had a really fun day food shopping. I love your pac choi stir-fry. Looks delicious!

Simply...Gluten-free said...

Looks great!

Check out my latest post for a free give away of a great book on gluten

Alicia Foodycat said...

What fun! I love coming home with stuff when I have no idea what to do with it!

Laurie Constantino said...

My favorite thing to do when I travel is go food shopping - sounds like you've got the same itch!! And what a successful shopping trip you had - it sounds very fun.