Friday, September 19, 2008

You never know what you are going to get (and a Mint Pesto Recipe)

One of the best things about traveling is the food. With a new country comes endless new dishes, new smells, and tastes potentially never explored before. As someone who lives abroad and moves country to country these culinary experiences are further enhanced as I learn to cook & eat traditional foods & dishes. But it's not all a mouth-watering experience. Shopping can be a long tiring task full of charades, misunderstandings, and wrong choices. Chris & I enjoy the out of the way places, but that means HUGE language barriers. Since we move around a lot we don't own (for budgetary and spacial reasons) a dictionary for every language. And, unfortunately phrase books don't usually cover substantial grocery shopping.

Finike has been especially entertaining. It's a terrific town, and one of the things I love about it is that it's not overrun with tourists. The flip side of that is that few people speak English (and I, sadly, speak no Turkish). There are two rather large grocery markets. Of course, I use the term large loosely, and am using the cruiser's definition of the word. Forget your big super-chain store; think maybe eight aisles - that's SMALL aisles (probably 1/4-1/2 the size of a big super-chain aisle). So, right off the bat your selection is limited - but it can be a good thing, since just about everything is in Turkish and if the store was much larger or had more selection you'd just waste your time trying to figure out what everything was. The good news is just about all packaging these days has some type of photo on - so it's shop by picture. Of course it doesn't always work - like when I brought home tomato paste thinking it was tomato sauce.

The hardest items are dairy & meat products. The yogurt & cheese selection is large, but they all look almost identical. The only way is to buy & try. I can tell you that they make some really thick yogurt and really salty cheeses - oh and watch out for what looks like fresh milk but is really some form of buttermilk (not so good for cereal).

Remember the days when all the meat was behind the butcher's counter? That's Finike. It's actually kind of nice - the meat is ultra fresh, and if you can figure out how to communicate, you can get it cut up to your liking. My first failure at the meat counter was chicken. Easy enough; I pointed at the chicken and said "chicken breasts". I wasn't paying much attention (my fault) and ended up coming up with chicken thighs - no problem, but not going to work for the fig & feta stuffed chicken breasts I was hoping to make! Next I wanted to try the lamb. There are a couple of small butcher shops that sell fresh lamb. The first time I stopped by I was lucky to have my friend Kimberly with me. The butcher presented a lovely leg of lamb to me with a huge bone jutting out. He asked "okay?". I started to say okay, thinking he was just asking before he de-boned the meat. Luckily Kimberly stepped in and with five minutes worth of head shakes and hand waving got it across that I didn't want the bone.

The second time I went for lamb I was hoping to get it minced (ground). I've seen minced lamb on the pides, so I know it must be possible. I asked first at the market - as I ordered my minced beef I pointed to it and said "lamb". He said "yes", but after he handed me the beef he just smiled. I tried again asking for "minced" "ground" "small" lamb all the while making huge hand motions. He still said yes but then added "new meat". I walked away with no lamb ... all I can figure is that he could maybe mince it, but I had to come back when they got a new order in??? I went from there to the next market and tried again. This butcher really acted like he understood. He picked out a piece of lamb, showed it to me and got out his knife. This is going to be great, I'm thinking. Until I see him take a huge swing at the lamb and cut a big chunk piece off - bone and all. He shows me the piece and asks "okay". Back to the hand gestures and head shaking; I at least get it across that I don't want the bone in it, but I never did get it minced. And when I realized that I was paying for the bone anyway I went ahead and asked for the bone pieces too. He must have thought I was crazy - why'd he do all that work if I was going to take the bone anyway!!!

My third attempt at lamb I wasn't giving up on the mince. After trying at market-one again I gave up and went back to the very first guy (to be honest I was thinking the guy at market-two would still remember me from the week before and taking the bone after he had worked so hard to cut it out and was slightly embarrassed to return to him so soon). But I struck out with the butcher. No amount head shaking, pointing, gesturing could get the guy to understand that I didn't want the bone ... forget about minced, at this point I was just going for boneless. I thought I had it at one point because he got out his big 'ol butcher knife, but then proceeded to only chop off the two-inches or so of meatless bone that was sticking out. But I'm stubborn and Greek Gyros were on the menu, so I came home with a huge chunk of lamb - bone and all, and had my first lamb de-boning experience. (Hint: have a really sharp knife and avoid your fingers at all costs).

Chunk 'o Lamb

There have been a number of other mishaps, but I think you get the idea. The key to shopping foreign is being flexible - be ready to change your supper plans on the spot!

And to not leave you without a recipe here is a quick and easy mint pesto that is to die for. Perfert for a lamb roast (stuff it right inside and spread on top) or as a condiment to BBQ'ed lamb. I found the flavor of this pesto really comes out nicely if you can let the pesto sit for 4 hours or overnight, but don't worry if you don't have that kind of time - you'll love it even without the wait time.

Mint Pesto
1/2 cup pistachios (shelled)
6 large garlic cloves
2 cups fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Chop pistachios and garlic in processor. Add the 2 cups mint and basil and chop finely. Add oil and vinegar and process until pesto is smooth. (Or do it like I do and just throw it all into the blender at the same time!)


AMIT said...

Oh nice yummy for those who eat.

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Welcome to My Galley, where you'll find an array of recipes and food bits. Having traveled to 23 countries in the last five years I lean towards Intl cuisines, but you'll find a few home-town favorites as well.
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