As far as I know, Kalustyan’s is the best market in Manhattan. (If you can think of another contender, write me!) Mr. Kalustyan opened the shop in 1944, selling Indian spices and groceries. Now it’s owned by Marhaba International, and traffics in every South Asian or Middle Eastern grocery item you could possibly imagine, plus specialty foods from Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Open the door, you’re greeted by a pungent smell of many spices and the sight of glass jars stacked high, filled with all sorts of nuts, dried fruits and teas. Wander the aisles and find dried purple corn, nine different Thai chile pastes, rose petal jelly, Austrian pumpkin seed oil and fresh ginger cordial from the UK. The array of dried beans alone is staggering—a rainbow of daals, plus special bean varieties like Jacobs cattle beans, steuben yellow beans and red chori beans.
Handmade masala paratha: Find them in the refrigerated case at the cashier. There are lots of different kinds, including tasty methi (fenugreek) paratha, but I love the spicy, brick orange masala paratha best. Just heat it up in a dry skillet. (Kalustyan’s brand $3.99)
Black treacle from the UK is similar to blackstrap molasses. It’s got a dark, caramel flavor and is made with unrefined sugar. Mix it with equal parts soy sauce for a quick glaze that is good on meaty fish, chicken or tofu. (Lyle’s $7.99)
Mymouné rose syrup from Lebanon is made from just rose petals, sugar and lemon juice. You can add just a spoonful or so to simple baked goods, like lemon pound cake, or mix a drop or two into Champagne or a gin and tonic for a floral aroma. (Mymouné $7.99)
Rogelio Bueno mole concentrate is the best jarred mole available, with a complex, nutty flavor (I did a comprehensive taste test when I was at Chile Pepper magazine). Unlike homemade mole, it’s very easty to prepare: You just mix the paste with water, salt and sugar to taste, and simmer some chicken or pork in the resulting gravy. Kalustyan’s stocks the dark red mole (my favorite) green mole and adobo sauce. (Rogelio Bueno moles $4.99)
Dende (palm) oil has a distinctive orange color and is associated with cooking from the Brazilian state of Bahia. It’s often used in seafood stews—make a basic shrimp stew with plenty of garlic, tomato sauce, chiles and coconut milk and then add a few spoonfuls of dende oil to finish the dish. (Pirata $9.99)
Naga jolokia is the hottest chile in the world, recently cultivated in India, and very hard to find. Kalustyan’s stocks the whole chiles, dried. I don’t actually know what to do with these, but I bought a bag, and will let you know what happens! (Kalustyan’s $8.99)
Also in the dried chile section, you can find Indian stuffed chiles, which are delicious. They’re dried peppers stuffed with fenugreek, turmeric and salt. Fry them in a little oil and eat them as a snack. (Kalustyan’s $2.99)
In the refrigerator: fresh curry leaves. There is no substitute for curry leaves (they have nothing to do with curry powder) and fresh ones are hard to find. Here’s a recipe from the Indian state of Maharashtra (where Bombay is). My in-laws are Marathi and make this dish often.
Yield: 2 servings
2 large baking potatoes
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon turmeric
6 fresh curry leaves, roughly torn
1 green chile, sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seed
cilantro, to taste, for serving
Bring a pot of water to a boil, and quickly blanch the potatoes until slightly softened but still firm in the middle. Drain, peel, dice, and set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the mustard seeds, and let them sizzle for about 30 seconds. When the mustard seeds become fragrant and pop, add in the turmeric, curry leaves, chile, cumin and a generous pinch of salt. Cook the spices, stirring so that they don’t burn, for about 1 minute. Add the potatoes, and stir well to combine. Lower the heat, and cook until potatoes are tender. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary, and serve with cilantro scattered on top.
In the prepared foods refrigerator: spiced chickpea salad, eggplant salad and sautéed spinach with “snobar” (which turn out to be pinenuts), among other to-go treats. (Kalustyan’s $3.50 and up)
123 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016
Mon – Sat 10am-8pm