Unpacking Foreign Ingredients In A Massachusetts Kitchen

May 10, 2013
Originally published on May 10, 2013 8:10 am

This is the second installment of NPR's Cook Your Cupboard, a food series about improvising with what you have on hand. Got a food that has you stumped? Submit a photo and we'll ask chefs about our favorites!

Laurel Ruma, an NPR listener from Medford, Mass., didn't realize quite how much she had gathered up from her travels until renovating her kitchen last summer. She unearthed things like harissa, chickpea flour and black chia seeds.

She submitted these items to Cook Your Cupboard, and we were pretty stumped, too. So we called up Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born, London-based chef with a chain of restaurants, a food column and a few best-selling cookbooks. Here's what he suggests:

Chickpea Flour: Make Fried Cauliflower

It's a delicious, gluten-free flour with a bit of a nutty texture.

Make a batter with half chickpea flour, half all-purpose flour, an egg, some water, garlic and lots of spices: ginger, cumin, ground coriander, mustard seed, turmeric and curry powder.

Coat the cauliflower in the batter, fry and serve with a tamarind dipping sauce.

Harissa: Make A Salad Dressing Or A Marinade

The North African paste is made with dried chilies, garlic and cumin.

"It's one of the most amazing chili pastes around. It's aromatic, it's strong," says Ottolenghi, "and it's also one of the most versatile ingredients that I can think of."

For dressing, whisk a bit with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Drizzle over salads and you get that "intensive fire-y flavor of harissa," he says.

You can also use it to marinate fish, lamb or vegetables and then roast, grill or bake them. Or just smear it over flat bread like pita and put it in the oven until it dries out — leaving you with a spicy, flavorful toast that goes great with a drink.

"It just gives the most fantastic aromatic flavor to your food," Ottolenghi says.

Chia Seeds: Health Hype?

"There are not many ingredients in this world that I can say that I really don't like," Ottolenghi says, "and chia seeds are one of them."

"The health brigade likes making porridge out of them because they're very good for you, they're full of calcium and phosphorus," he says. "But I really find the texture very off-putting. It's quite slimy and gelatinous."

Combine All Three: Indian-Inspired Fritters

Mix the chickpea flour batter above and add some chia seeds. Stir in vegetables — maybe green beans, cauliflower or some green chilies.

Dip the batter with a spoon into hot oil, so you get balls with all those flavors. Mix the harissa with yogurt, and dip the fritters in the sauce as they come out of the oil.


Ottolenghi says he can relate to Ruma's dilemma. He, too, returns from travels with mystery foods.

"So you end up having to create some kind of mix of cuisines," he says.

He recalled recently feeling stuck with "an English eccentricity": a jar of pickled walnuts.

"Basically those are walnuts that have been picked at an early stage before the shell has developed," Ottolenghi explains. He had no idea what to do with them — and they stayed in his fridge for a long time until he had an idea: Make a salsa with pickled and dried walnuts, drizzle over roasted squash and serve with cheese.

"So you've got the sharp and nutty flavor of the nuts complementing the rich flavor of the cheese, and all that goes really well with the vegetables," he says.

It was a random use for a random ingredient, he says, but it ended up really tasting good.

Want to join the Cook Your Cupboard project? Right now we're asking for a condiment you haven't figured out how to use. If you've got some pickapepper sauce or black eyed pea relish, go to npr.org/cupboard and show us a photo. You'll get guidance on what will complement your condiment from fellow home cooks, and you might even be chosen to come on the air with a chef.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


And it's time again for Cook Your Cupboard, which is our new food project on MORNING EDITION. You submit photos of food in your kitchen - stuff lying around in the cupboard, in the refrigerator; stuff you don't know what to do with. And then you get to come on air to get advice from a famous chef, if your submission is chosen.

Today's famous chef is Yotam Ottolenghi. He's an Israeli chef with a chain of restaurants in London that specialize in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. He is also the author of the best-selling book "Plenty." Welcome to the program.

YOTAM OTTOLENGHI: Hi. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: We're going to bring in, now, Laurel Ruma of Medford, Mass. ,outside Boston. She sent us a submission. Welcome to the program to you.

LAUREL RUMA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Pretty good timing for you, I guess, because you had just like - what? - renovated your kitchen, if I'm not mistaken.

RUMA: That's right. We actually took on a major project in August, and I have been slowly bringing in boxes of strange food that I picked up along my travels.

INSKEEP: You - what? - hear about different foods; people serve you different things; you check in local food stores - what do you do?

RUMA: Yep, all of those things. So when you come to Boston, the good place to go is the north end, where there are a number of Italian grocery stores. So while I was there, I picked up some chickpea flour. To my shame, I've hung onto it now for a while, and I just had no idea what to do with it.

INSKEEP: OK, so that is the first thing. Chickpea flour - what is it?

OTTOLENGHI: Basically, it's dried chickpeas that have been pulverized into a flour, and it's gluten-free. Chickpea flour has a wonderful flavor, and I particularly like using it in a - kind of Indian-inspired dishes; so for instance, fried cauliflower with mint. And I serve it with a tamarind dipping sauce. It's got garlic, many spices - ginger, cumin, ground coriander, mustard seeds, some curry powder - and some egg and water. And that mix of the cauliflower plus the batter with the chickpea flour is really, really, really delicious.

INSKEEP: Wow. I mean, as you talk, I can already just smell the Indian food.

OTTOLENGHI: (Laughing)

INSKEEP: This is the first of the ingredients that Laurel has come up with. You also have a couple of other ingredients that - mystery ingredients that have ended up in your kitchen.

RUMA: So also from the north end of Boston, harissa. I picked up a tube and promptly forgot about it.

OTTOLENGHI: Harissa is really, one of my favorite ingredients. It's one of the most amazing chili pastes around. It's aromatic. It's strong. So really, if you have one of these tubes that are imported from Tunisia, you can use it to marinade fish, to marinade lamb, to marinade vegetables; and then grill them or bake them in the oven. Really, it just gives the most fantastic, aromatic flavor. One other thing to do with it, it makes a wonderful salad dressing. I normally just whisk it briefly together with olive oil, with lemon juice, with some additional garlic, maybe salt and pepper; and it's just the best thing you can do.

INSKEEP: Laurel, are you getting some ideas there, in Medford, Mass.?

RUMA: Oh, absolutely.

INSKEEP: Pretty spicy as well, it sounds like.

RUMA: Yeah, love spice. Bring it on.

INSKEEP: Laurel, this is awesome. You have already taken us to India and to North Africa with random stuff from your kitchen, and you've still got one ingredient to go.

RUMA: So the last ingredient would be black chia seeds. And I know chia seeds are supposed to be very healthy for you, but I'm not really sure what to do with them.

OTTOLENGHI: Laurel, I have to tell you that you put me into trouble because there's not many ingredients in this world that I can say that I really don't like, and chia seeds are one of those ingredients. I really find the texture very off-putting. It's like - it's quite slimy. I don't know why anyone would eat that, but I guess...

RUMA: Well, I've been sprinkling them into my partner's oatmeal in the morning. So he'll have flax seeds and chia seeds...


RUMA: ...so he hasn't mentioned the slimy bit of it yet, so we'll see.


INSKEEP: Oh, well, that's another thing you can do with mysterious foods - just kind of...

RUMA: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...slip them into somebody else's food, and see what happens.


INSKEEP: Yotam Ottolenghi, thank you very much for taking the time.

OTTOLENGHI: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And we also spoke with Laurel Ruma of Medford, Mass. Thanks to you.

RUMA: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, you can submit your own baffling kitchen items, with a chance to come on the radio with a chef. Head to npr.org/cupboard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.