My Twitter followers were shocked–no, outraged!–when I announced last week that I’d never been to Kalustyan’s, the international foods store on Lexington Ave. in Murray Hill. Food52’s MerrillStubb’s Tweeted: “NO! (Can’t believe it.)” Savour Tweeted: “You haven’t been to Kalustyan’s? May be the #1 thing I miss most about NYC. That and Bemelman’s Bar.” JosePiano Tweeted: “WHAT?!?!?!? And it was even included on your Scavenger Hunt!”
Clearly, I’d ruffled a few feathers with my pronouncement. It was fortunate, then, that a few days later I found myself in that neighborhood and had a chance to remedy the situation.
Walking into Kalustyan’s is a bit overwhelming at first; there are aisles and aisles of flours, mustards, hot sauces, salts, and an outrageous number of spices.
I actually had a little shopping list with me because several of the chefs I’ve cooked with so far for my book have used obscure spices and I’d need them to recreate (and test) their dishes at home.
Let’s start at the front of the store. There in the window you’ll see jars of nuts and dried fruits; most notable here, I’d say, are the silver coated almonds:
Imagine how pretty those’d look in a bowl; and if you have a silver deficiency, that’d be the perfect thing to eat.
Also, I have it on good authority that these smoked & salted almonds are “pretty whack” [that’s a good whack, I think]:
I didn’t get a chance to buy any (I was too busy loading up on other things) but I’ll take that “whack” at its word.
Moving on, let’s study this shelf of waters. I’m not sure you can see but next to the rose water (a pretty standard flavoring in Middle Eastern desserts), you’ll see CORN WATER:
How might a chef use corn water? Perhaps in a soup? Or a corn-flavored ice cream? It’s a mystery.
I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly:
But if you are, there are plenty of choices. As there are choices of hot sauce:
Looking closer, check out these alluring names. Who among you dares to sample PURE DEATH?
There’s a nice array of chili sauces:
And, over here, enough salts to season every dish you make for several lifetimes:
[I picked up a big box of Maldon, always an elegant finishing touch.]
For the lazy ones among us, who read recipes that call for preserved lemons but who don’t have the 30 days we need to preserve them ourselves, this is a great secret to know about; Kalustyan’s preserves the lemons for you:
Now you can make all the recipes in Paula Wolfert’s “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.”
Look at all this mushroom powder:
Apparently, you can use that to coat a piece of meat to add extra flavor. [Note: I was actually touring around Kalustyan’s with one of the chefs from the book. He’s the one who told me that.]
He also told me that pink peppercorns….
…pair well with grapefruit.
And that’s the end of the pictures from my trip to Kalustyan’s!
But boy, were my Twitter followers right. That place is a food-lover’s dreamland; I ended up spending over $100 on spices, mustards (extra spicy Roland), lime pickle (Hey: what do you do with lime pickle?), salts (several kinds) and those preserved lemons. And my cooking has improved because of it too: I made a crazy spiced couscous salad the other day for lunch that was out of this world because of all the strange stuff I put in it (including chopped preserved lemon).
So thank you everyone who guilted me into going to Kalustyan’s; and now I’ll guilt the rest of you who’ve never been. Go now!