How to Find The Right Ingredients for Your Authentic International Recipes
You're all set to make an amazing, authentic recipe, just like dishes you fell in love with on your last international vacation. But then you head to your local grocery store with your ingredient list and can't find any of those special ingredients that will truly make the recipe taste like the real deal.
Sound familiar? It can be frustrating to find specialty ingredients at a mainstream supermarket, but it's not impossible. If you're looking to make your cooking more authentic, changing up your grocery shopping routine can help you procure all the right ingredients to make your next Mexican feast taste just like it did when you were eating it on your last vacation in Oaxaca.
Here are seven sources to help you find those authentic ingredients:
Scour the International Aisle: Many larger supermarkets have an international aisle where they stock imported ingredients and specialty items. So if you can't find the red lentils you need to make Indian Dal with the dried beans, check the Asian/Indian section of the international aisle.
Seek out specialty grocery stores: A natural foods store or gourmet grocer is often a better bet for finding more specialized ingredients, such as less-common chiles for your Mexican mole recipe. These types of shops are destinations for adventurous cooks who like to experiment, so it stands to reason they'd have a wider variety of options when it comes to imported ingredients.
Explore your city neighborhoods: Most larger cities have concentrations of populations of people from different ethnic backgrounds who've settled in certain neighborhoods. When you're looking to prepare authentic Caribbean, Latin, African, or Asian recipes, seek out grocery stores in neighborhoods where locals shop for the ingredients they'll need to prepare favorite dishes from the old country.
Head to your farmer's market: Local farmers often love to experiment with heirloom varieties or unusual species. If you shop for produce at a farmer's market you might be pleasantly surprised to find specialty products, whether it's the right kind of cabbage to dress Mexican fish tacos or the specific type of eggplant used in an Indian dish. Local butchers, too, are great sources for some of the more unusual cuts and parts that many folks tend to overlook, and which are often used in cuisines of other countries.
Shop a spice store: In many cases, having the correct seasonings can make or break an authentic recipe. Heading to your local spice store (or ordering from one online) can help you find the exact herbs and spices you need without having to substitute ingredients. For example, the Mexican herb epazote, while sometimes referred to as Mexican Oregano, isn't oregano; using oregano in its place in a recipe like Pumpkin Flower Soup, while it works in a pinch, won't give you the true flavor profile of epazote.
Plan ahead with mail-order: There is a growing number of online food stores that import and sell ingredients from all over the world. It may not help you for tomorrow's Mexican feast, but with a little planning, you can order just about anything online, from huitlacoche (a truffle-like fungus that grows on corn) for quesadillas to tamarind.
Hit up a restaurant supply store: Your local restaurant supply store is the go-to destination for restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines, so they need to carry the ingredients that the commercial kitchens stock, whether they're turning out Vietnamese Pho or Puerto Rican pernil. Check to see if your local store offers day passes or memberships to the public.