Sometimes you find a foodie treasure when you least expect it. There is a Middle Eastern grocery and fruit and vegetable store in my local shopping strip. It keeps late hours and is open seven days but I've never been a frequent shopper, instead using it mostly to pick up emergency supplies of milk or extra vegetables for dinner.
But lately I've started poking around in the shelves more and I've discovered a treasure trove of specialist ingredients that I thought I'd need to make a special trip across town to Sydney Rd to buy.
In the freezer section, I find bags of kataifi pastry, which looks like shredded fillo pastry and is used in Turkish and Greek cooking. I've recently collected a few recipes that require kataifi, so now I will be able to try them. On the shelf below the pastry are massive tubs of natural yoghurt, and smaller jars of haloumi cheese, as well as the usual staples of milk, cream and soft drinks.
In one row of grocery shelves, I find big jars of vine leaves and grape leaves next to tins of dolmades. Further along are bottles of rosewater, orange blossom water and sirop de roses (rose syrup). There's also bottles of varying sizes of another ingredient I have started noticing with increasing frequency in recipes: pomegranate molasses.
The shelves in the far corner are home to spices and pulses. The spices come in 500g bags and include cumin, zaatar, chilli, white pepper and turmeric. Next to the spices are one and two kilogram bags of beans and nuts such as mung beans, split fava beans, Canadian beans, kidney beans, dried black peas, fine and coarse burghul, pine nuts and almonds.
On the opposite shelf is some dried apricot paste, which I'm not sure what to do with, and some bags of an unidentifiable substance from Argentina. Around the corner are boxes of Turkish delight and chocolate. There is a shelf on the counter filled with baklava and there's also a section of hot nuts for sale.
My fingers are itching to fill up my shopping bag with all sorts of goodies but I limit myself to a bag of zaatar and a bag of coarse burghul. My favourite international food blog, Chocolate & Zucchini, recently featured the deliciously simple Zaatar Pita Chips, which I'm looking forward to trying. The burghul goes into a salad from Bill Granger's new book, Everyday Cooking.
200g coarse burghul
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed
2 green chillies, finely chopped
8 spring onions, thinly sliced
large handful of parsley, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (or use 1 teaspoon of brown sugar)
Cover burghul with hot water and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Drain, pressing out as much water as you can. Mix the burghul, chickpeas, chilli, onions and parsley. Stir and refrigerate. Mix together the garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses or brown sugar with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad and serve.
Next time I make this salad, I'll add some cherry tomatoes, which I think will add extra texture and flavour.
Bill serves this salad with marinated lamb backstraps but I've also had it with steak and parmesan-crusted chicken, both of which partner very well. It is also delicious on its own for a quick lunch.
Salad recipe adapted from "Everyday Cooking" by Bill Granger