Just got back from Jon's Marketplace, this crazy multi-ethnic grocery store at Hollywood and Vermont.
It's in an interesting borderland of hospitals, an art park and the big Scientology center, a swath of land that lies between the snazzy, celebrity packed Los Feliz neighborhood and the interesting side of Hollywood (with Zankou, Arclight, Amoeba...).
Shopping carts are not allowed to leave the store, which means they don't need to have employees lurking in the parking lot gathering them, and they don't need to worry about people taking them beyond the lot itself. There are a few homeless people in that part of the neighborhood.
The employees speak no English and are extremely nice. Everyone in the store is a little older, a little foreign-er and the stuff in there is considerably cheaper than your average grocer. The bell peppers are also a little smaller, the meat displays are at least 30 years old and today's promotional sample was Hot and Spicy Ramen bowls. I was served by a very bored young woman who was slapping around a small microwave next to a stack of styrofoam bowls. The cheap, awkward to eat soup was hot and spicy, and each bowl is 440 calories. I took 2 for a dollar.
Today's finds at the store are all the things you could find in my mom's kitchen growing up: barbari bread, pita bread, Persian sour cherry jam, pomegranate syrup, bulgarian feta cheese, royal basmati rice, dried fava beans, Lea&Perrins. There's also King Kelly California Orange Marmalade, which I accept no substitute for now that I'm back in California and spoiled for access. It's less bitter, fresher and more local than Dundee's.
There's also a slew of Goya products that make me feel like I'm back in New York: their Manzanilla olives are small, firm, green and perfectly briny but not too salty. Capers and roasted peppers, to stock the pantry.
I realized recently that hummus is the only Arab food that I regularly make, though my Persian pantry should be amenable to a lot of crossover. I have this really beautiful cookbook called "The Arab Table," and in it was a recipe I've been wanting to try because it uses one of my favorite ingredients: eggplant.
The Munzallet Bi Aswad seemed like it might be a forgiving recipe because author May Bsisu says it's "prepared slightly differently from one country to the next." The version she makes (and I made this afternoon) is the Syrian version, which is flavored with pomegranate syrup and served over white rice.
Basically, I roasted some eggplant, topped it with browned ground meat, onions and garlic, on top of that a layer of tomato slices, and on top of that sliced green bell peppers. Cover it all with blend of beef stock and pomegranate syrup. Bake in the oven for an hour, which is what I'm doing now. I'll post pictures after it's ready for supper.
(Update: I messed with the recipe, adding 2 tsp pomogranate syrup and 2 tbsp tomato paste, inspired by my friend Amanda's recent story about a fix her mom suggested to a completely different recipe. Gave sauce much more body and flavor. )