Durham is almost perfect

Jul. 22, 2014 @ 10:21 AM

My kitchen sensai, Chef Chrissie, has taught me many things.

He taught me the secret to truly great guacamole. He taught me how to make duck confit. And he also taught me that while Chicagoans are friendly and kind, they will not carry your luggage for you, no matter how much you struggle.

But one of the most valuable things he ever taught me was about buying ethnic ingredients.

When your supply of soy sauce or habichuelas (little pink beans) is running low, don’t go to your local supermarket. You’ll pay more for less variety and smaller sizes.  If you’re lucky enough to have access, shop at ethnic grocers.

Here in the Bull City, we definitely have access.

Last week Petey and I took a trip around the world, without passports, and never left Durham’s city limits.

First, we went to Li Ming's Global Mart (3400 Westgate Drive, Durham).  The Kid introduced me to Li Ming’s a while ago. I’ve never been to China, but it’s what I imagine shopping in Hong Kong might be like.

It’s a very big space. In the large produce section in addition to fruits and veggies that we’ve all seen, there is a big selection of exotic and sometimes unrecognizable items. One whole wall is sweet and savory precooked foods. In the back are multiple tanks with live sea creatures.

The aisles are jammed with jars, cans and boxes of sauces, rice and noodles. In the frozen department, I was looking for a very special, very specific item: Shanghai-style pork lumpia. They are a traditional food found in the Philippines. About the size and shape of a cigar, they look like a spring roll. They’re full of pork and spices. Every time I’m around them, no matter what vow of moderation I make, I cannot stop eating until they’re all gone.

Then a quick side trip to King’s Red and White (305 E. Club Blvd., Durham) where I grabbed some adorable little baby potatoes.

After that we went around the corner to Compare Foods (2000 Avondale Drive, Durham). I picked up one of my favorite cuts of meat—flap steak. It’s similar to skirt steak, delicious and cooks up in seconds.

That night we dined like royalty. (The lumpia is for tomorrow -- I can't wait.) I seared up the Adobo-seasoned steak in a smoking hot cast-iron pan, and tried a new way to cook the little creamers.

Herb-Roasted Baby Spuds

2 lbs walnut-sized baby potatoes, washed and lightly pricked with a fork

3 tablespoons garlic oil

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, lightly chopped + 3 sprigs

2 tablespoons fresh basil

1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon Kosher salt, and more for sprinkling

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425.  Throw oil, herbs, salt and pepper into food processor, and process until it looks similar to pesto.  Put potatoes in a large zip bag, cover with herb oil, and let marinate for an hour.  Put potatoes and oil into baking dish in one layer, and tuck in rosemary sprigs.  Sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip each, and bake for 20 more.

For a vegetable, I had some frozen peas. I added salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar. Then I nuked them ‘til hot. On the stove, I melted some butter.  I then put the peas, along with their liquid into the butter, and cooked them until the water was all gone, and a light sauce had formed.  It’s my new favorite way to cook peas.

As much as I enjoy ethnic grocers, I have noticed something that confuses me. I simply cannot figure out the system for shelving. One aisle will have a selection of items, and then all of a sudden two or three aisles later, they will have a few more of the same item from a different brand. What’s up with that?

Our Durham is such an awesome town.

I’ve always said we only need two more things to make it perfect. One’s a Krispy Kreme.  The word is that there will soon be one on Hillsborough Street. Hurray!

The other thing Durham lacks is a Sonic. No plans for one as far as I know. So, here is an official plea to the hamburger gods.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.