From Spam to Lamb - What Really Goes on in Food Writer's Kitchen

What happens when you don't really have a dinner plan firmly in mind, wake up from a nap a bit groggy, and discover a new Asian grocery store all in one day? 

I was so excited to discover Reliable Market in Union Square, Somerville. Actually, it was my wonderful husband who did the research and found it. One would think I would have done so, ages ago when Kotobukiya closed (see Sayonara Kotobukiya). But no. We are coming to the end of our Koda Farms rice (still the best in my opinion) and with the closing of the Porter Square store we were running out of options. Sure there's Chinatown, but what if I want more than Kikkoman as an option for Japanese soy sauce? What if I want Japanese rice? What if I want somen or other things like Kombu or kaiware (daikon sprouts)?

After the dispiriting experience last weekend when we found the Super 88 stores are on their way out (an Asian grocery with NO rice? Hello?), we had begun ruminating about the lack of good, Asian grocers. Doc took the initiative to find the Reliable Market. It's Korean owned and operated for 25 years.

Korean owners means we have the:

Wall o' kimchee:

 

As well as TONS of other Korean food supplies. It was clean, well-organized, and fully stocked. I'm very happy.

We were excited to find some Koshihikari rice which is thought by many to be a superior rice. As compared to my beloved Koda Farms rice, I would say they look similar in terms of whole grains vs. broken (to my naked eye) but this rice is not organic, nor do I have any idea if there is a family farm that my purchase supports. For those of us in the Boston area, I just want to share this market as an option for buying most of what we used to find in Kotobukiya.

Look at this great listing of ethnic stores in the Union Square area. Just missed the tour, but one can do a self-guided tour easily enough. I'm definitely going back for my curry leaves in the Indian store and urad dal...I know there's a bus that goes into Union Square but I've heard it can be tricky to find your stop. If you're heading to Union Square, you can find directions here. Looks like the 86 Sullivan Square bus from Harvard Square will get you there. I walked from Central once, (for the ONCE dinner) it seemed too long to recommend that as a route!

Another find there was the Macchu Pichu restaurant with their famous Peruvian Chicken. Make an afternoon of it, grab lunch then groceries. Or, stop by Ronnarong for some Thai "tapas". This Union Square Main Streets website is packed with fun and useful information about this community. It's really changed since my first visits there, let me tell you!

Getting Back to the Spam & Lamb

The uninitiated might not know that Spam - the canned "luncheon meat" which is the butt of so many bad jokes - is actually an upscale delicacy in Korea. I'm not even talking the drought-starved North, in the cosmpolitan South Korea, spam is a treat. At Christmastime, elaborate gift boxes are stacked in the high-end stores. I kid you not. Don't believe me? Read Stars & Stripes Spam I Am.

My own history with Spam goes back at least as far as when we lived in Hawaii. Fried Spam sandwiches were a great treat. (w/yellow mustard, please. White bread, of course, lightly toasted.) Like Scrapple, the Pennsylvania Dutch version of downmarket forcemeat, Spam gets a nice little crispy crust when you fry it. Coupled with the fatty, porky, salty goodness...well, no matter how gourmet you may think I am, I will not turn my back on Spam. Besides, in a weird way, I think it represents a whole hog utilization philosophy that even the biggest food snobs ought to be able to get get behind. And we probably DO get behind in Spam, if you know what I mean. Best not to think to hard on that.

So this weekend Doc came home with some gorgeous lamb chops and I totally forgot about them. We came home from our Reliable Market shopping and loaded with a bag of fresh rice, fresh kimchee (is that an oxymoron?) and takwon (that hideously yellow, delicious pickled daikon)- it wasn't even discussed or debated. Out came the rice cooker. As I assembled "our" dinner, I realized that Doc would not find much to eat in the spread I was preparing. In fact, the cold tofu with ginger and Tamari, the pickled daikon, the kimchee are all things he doesn't eat. So I started casting about for a suitable protein for the poor boy to have with his rice. All I could find in the cupboard was Spam. 

Now, he likes Spam well enough so I couldn't understand his disappointment when I announced it was on the menu. Other than the fact that we didn't have an array of panchan (pickled sides) to accompany his rice and Spam meal. Oh yeah, and other than the fact that we had GORGEOUS LAMB CHOPS in the fridge! Just butchered the day before, they were beautiful. More caffeine, please.

We munched on our crudite and Green Goddess dip while the aroma of freshly steamed rice filled the house, and I set about preparing the lamb chops. I set aside the panchan and tofu for a weekday lunch sans husband.

Dinner ended up a rather odd, global assortment of things: 

  • Crudite of vaguely Franco-American origins (hey, there was a good bit of Tarragon involved, that counts. And Fennel for dipping along with radishes, carrots, green beans.)
  • Japanese Koshihikari rice.
  • Lambchops with an improvised chimichurri-like condiment. I deglazed the pan with red wine, thickened with cold butter, so there was a little pan sauce. In truth, it was the chimichurri that really made the chops sing. 
  • Spanish wine: Don Ramon Campo de Borja 2007. 75% Grenache (Garnacha) and 25% Tempranillo, this wine was perfect for the lamb chops: rich, berry like fruit (almost like a Zin) but not as hefty in alcohol nor mouth feel, it was still full-bodied enough to stand up to the lamb.  

The "one-world" profile of the meal made me realize that the flavors involved, while originating in various corners of the globe, (Europe, South America, Japan) combined in a way that all of these cuisines would recognize. A small amount of richly flavored meat, a beautiful, simple starch. A piquant salsa/relish/condiment. Umami in the Green Goddess dip provided by a touch of anchovy paste was another cross-cultural connection. The name for the savory flavor, umami, comes from the Japanese language as it was a Japanese scientist who discovered it.

Chimichurri 

In honor of the attempted universal language (is there anyone reading this who is old enough to remember this Kumbayah period in American education?) - I give you:

Esperanto Chimichurri

Place in small food processor, blender or mortar and pestle:

  • one handful of fresh herbs - oregano leaves, mint, parsley
  • one large clove of garlic, rough chopped
  • two small cloves of black garlic, rough chopped
  • S&P, olive oil to desired texture
  • top with sherry vinegar to brighten.

Serve with lamb chops or be really adventurous and try with fried Spam!

 

  •  For an authentic chimichurri and short ribs recipe, please visit my friend Rebecca Caro's gorgeous blog: From Argentina with Love. See Florencia's Chimichurri.