One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.
But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings! Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.
Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.
I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say, “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.
We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.
In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.
Pomegranate-Watermelon Salad with Mint and Rosewater
- 1 small watermelon, weighing about 3 1/2 pounds (or a wedge of a larger watermelon)
- 2-3 tablespoons of rosewater, depending on how strong a flavor you would like
- 3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- 4 tablespoons pomegranate juice
- 1-2 tablespoons fragrant honey (such as wildflower)
- 12-15 small to medium sized mint leaves, for garnish
- Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces
- Add the pomegranate seeds
- MIx rosewater, pomegranate juice and honey in a bowl
- Pour over watermelon and seeds. Mix well.
- Cover and chill for about an hour before serving.
As I started thinking about Cityseed’s fabulous farmer’s market in New Haven’s Wooster Square and as I looked through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken in recent weeks, I was struck not only by the vibrant colors, the luscious fruits and vegetables, but the remarkably diverse and colorful people who come to this special place Saturday mornings.
We’ve met so many wonderful people at our booth who genuinely care about food and are meticulous about the quality of ingredients they use in their everyday lives. My hats off to them. For those of us who live in or near New Haven, we owe a lot to market manager Rachel Berg, and her tireless staff for running this market so perfectly week after week and making these local and organic foods accessible.
I will be posting a photo essay on the market seasonally since it is such an integral part any foodie’s life; here are some moments of this past glorious summer and just a hint of autumn.
One of the things I just love about the market is that it is one-stop-shopping; you can and should pick your menus for the week based on what the local Connecticut farmers are harvesting that week.
I fell in love with beets this summer since they were so plentiful and were offered in so many colors; orange, white and of course that beautiful dark purple that turns a gorgeous pinkish lavender color when pureed with a bit of cream. We ate them in chilled borschts, we caramelized them for salads with avocado and goat cheese, and sometimes we just ate them roasted with a just a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse pepper.
There is also no better place to buy so many other herbs, vegetables and fruits as well.
Or ingredients for a refreshing salad of arugula, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions.
You can also pick up gorgeous wild flowers, sunflowers and the most spectacular dahlias to decorate your table with too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to pick up some of the finest baked goods in Connecticut at the Sono Bakery.
One of the reasons to go to the market, of course, is the people watching. It’s some of the best in New Haven. The shopkeepers and the customers have a lot of pizzaz and personality.
People find many ways of transporting their goods home too; most, of course, are environmentally friendly; You see re-usable bags and wheels of every kind.
Of course, pampered pets enjoy the morning at the market too. And why not?
I hope I’ve whet your appetite to visit the market, or one nearest your home. But I’m warning you; they’re addictive. Supermarket produce will never look the same again.
If you live nearby and plan to visit the Wooster market, please be sure to come by and say “Hi” to us next time you’re there. We’d love to see you. If you live far away, find your local market and get to know your local growers. They are wonderful people who care about the land and the food we eat.
For now, enjoy these last pictures of autumn’s beginning; I love all things apples and pumpkins, and I promise to have some recipes for you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, get out there and pick some apples or pumpkins. It’s good for you.
I’m going back into the test kitchen right now so I can come up with some great pumpkin recipes. I’ll be back soon!