Using Aleppo to Za'atar from Kalustyan's
Editor's note: Please welcome Serious Eats community member BaHa, aka Barbara Hanson, who will be checking in now and again with dispatches about the various little one-of-a-kind food stores and markets in New York. Here is her recipe for A-Z chicken made with spices from Kalustyan's in Murray Hill. --zach
When Kalustyan's was founded in 1944 (sixty-three years after Chester A. Arthur took the presidential oath of office in the same Lexington Avenue building), the focus was on all things Indian, which might still seem true as you first walk inside, and your senses are met by the toasty, familiar smells of curry, Telicherry pepper, and cumin. Look a little further, though, (don’t miss the bin of dried guava, which looks improbably like sliced bologna) and you’ll find the shelves stocked with food from well over forty countries, ranging from Pakistan, Iran, and Lebanon to England, France, and Germany (food, thank goodness, knows no politics). You’ll also discover such hard-to-find items as coconut scrapers and Puck Cream, which is not a sports emollient but a creamed honey from Dubai.
If you, as I do, make a distinction between “food” and “ingredients,” you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of both here. Kalustyan’s carries its own line of chutney—sweet, mild, and hot—that is the best I’ve ever had (and takes a grilled Cheddar sandwich to a whole other continent). There are countless homemade breads in the front, and takeout foods much beloved by local office workers in the back. But the biggest draw here is the spices (thirty varieties of dried chilies and chili powder alone), pulses, and rice. The later two stretch the length of an aisle and are extraordinary in variety, culminating mid-aisle with the ambiguously named rice bean.
The spices—all 1321 of them—include two that I turn to again and again. The first is Aleppo pepper, a crushed pepper from the Syrian city of the same name, carries moderate heat with an undercurrent of toasty fruitiness. ( I use it so often that it sits alongside the salt and pepper.) And the other is za’atar, a spice blend with many variations, but typically including thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and oregano. Its uses are not as universal as Aleppo, but the two go well together- as in this recipe for "A-Z Chicken". (If you’re interested in more recipes using these ingredients, check out Poopa Dweck’s recent book, Aromas of Aleppo.)