A disgruntled librarian packs it up and leaves fabulous New York City behind,
going on random global adventures,
while simultaneously promoting literacy
and spreading the love of the written word.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

spice free: adventures in cooking

i may have mentioned that they have a little problem here with the lack of spices.  it makes cooking rather difficult (not that i ever excelled in cooking) because everything winds up tasting rather similarly.  a few weeks ago i tried to make chili, which is something i can usually make well, and it wound up tasting like an italian style tomato sauce filled with lots of pinto beans.  not cool.

part of the problem is the lack of black beans.  they only have one kind of canned bean here.  in order to get black beans you have to buy them dry and then soak them for hours.  but i realized the larger problem was cumin.  you can add loads of chili powder to something (which i had to buy in a special "health food" store), but it does not necessitate chili.  so yesterday i went on a quest for cumin.  i'll be honest, i only looked in one place.

they have these stores called dieteticas which from the outside look like health food stores.  they have lots of rice cakes, teas,  spices, nuts and grains, but they also have lots of "specialty" items like chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free dulce de leche.  so it's not quite a health store.  it's more of a shit-you-can't-get-in-the-supermarket store.

so i went in and asked for cumin.  i tried to pronounce it real spanish sounding, because often they take non-spanish words and just pronounce them with a thick spanish accent.  like the time we tried to order shots of jameson and were told it was pronounced cham-ih-son.

moving on!

i received a small sachet of an unfamiliar spice, but i continued with the transaction in hopes that maybe it was cumin in some sort of raw form.  like maybe this is what cumin looks like before your grind it up.

not so.  what i actually received was a bag of rye seeds.  not helpful for chili making.  however, the bolshevik is either going to make rye bread with it or possibly try to distill his own icelandic rye-flavored death schnapps.

in the end, i had an okay chili with black beans, corn, tomatoes, crumbled veggie burger, carrots, celery, onion and garlic.  but it just needed some cumin.  so i got creative.  and let me tell you, when i get creative in the kitchen it usually is not good.  there is much eye-rolling from the bolshevik when i try to freestyle a recipe.

we have this little armenian store not too far from here that sells stuffed grape leaves and hummus and falafel mix.  and i thought to myself, "self .. there is cumin in falafel!"  i will admit it.  i added falafel mix into my chili.  i don't know if it gave the desired cumin effect, but it certainly didn't hurt.  but next time i go on a cumin quest, the first stop is the armenian store.  and hopefully i will figure out how to pronounce cumin by then.


  1. I dipped into my Time Out guide and found an entry for "El Gato Negro" at Corrientes 1669. As well as being a somewhat pricey teashop and restaurant, the place is acknowledged as the place to hunt down that elusive spice or herb missing from the supermarkets (also soy sauces, couscous, dried mushrooms etc)

  2. greg ... you had me at couscous.

    awesome, i've passed by el gato negro before but i just assumed it was only a teashop. i'll definitely stop by next time i'm nearby. thanks!