One thing that cookbook authors don’t usually think about is what the home cook can reasonably find in terms of ingredients. If chile paste is what the recipe needs, then that’s what they’re going to put in the recipe and often they will offer no substitution. Chile paste was one ingredient I had difficulty finding for this Asian Beef Noodle Salad recipe. I also couldn’t find the noodles. I ended up using rice noodles instead of the bean threads the recipe called for. Our grocery store used to carry a good collection of asian ingredients, but now they mostly carry those dried meals that you just add water to. And they do not taste good. I found both the chile paste and the noodles at another store near one of the kid’s activities. In my post Thanksgiving post, I lamented the sorry condition of the grocery stores in Mr. Geeky’s hometown, where you could barely find produce. I wasn’t looking, but I’m sure you couldn’t find fresh herbs much less chile paste.
There are 2 stores where I’d be likely to find all kinds of bizarre ingredients–Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. The problem with both is parking. It is impossible to find parking at the Trader Joe’s. It’s next to the Farmer’s Market and there’s enough parking, I’d guess for maybe 50 cars. Way not enough. Whole Foods has even less parking and the way the lot is configured means there’s a traffic jam upon exiting. I swear my blood pressure goes up whenever I go to either place. I think the solution for me is to actually write or call the store manager of my current store and tell him or her that I want more asian ingredients. I’ll let you know how that works out.
There’s also the issue of seasonality. Technically, I think, nothing is in season here as far as produce goes, so I’m buying red peppers, knowing that they at best come from California and at worst come from South America. I don’t know which has the worst carbon footprint, but I think about it. And then there’s the issue of quantity. Fresh herbs at the grocery store come in huge bunches. A recipe calls for 2 teaspoons. You end up with tons of leftover dill or cilantro. In my house, it gets thrown away eventually. This has happened with lettuce and other produce that you have to buy in set quantities but of which you’re only using a small amount for a particular meal. I’ve tried to use some of those ingredients in lunches or other meals and it’s worked to some degree, but still it’s an issue. My solution for herbs is to plant them this spring. I had rosemary, basil and mint. I just need thyme, cilantro, and maybe a couple of others. At the farmer’s market, produce comes in smaller packaging or no packaging. I can get a sprig of lavender and not a whole bunch. Lettuce heads are smaller and most produce can be bought singly (true in the grocery store too of most things).
This week’s recipes include some beef and pork, which I’ve ordered from the farm and I’ll be picking up on Wednesday. Honestly, it’s not that much more expensive than the grocery store and I just feel a lot better about the product on many levels. I wonder, once spring rolls around, how much of my shopping I can do from the farmer’s market. If I organized my recipes by season, perhaps most of it. Sounds like a good challenge!