The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.

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The Argentinean housemate is the one who introduced me to the magic that is creamy sweet dulce de leche. She doesn’t judge me (nay, encourages!) when I whorl the stuff liberally on animal crackers with a sprinkle of sea salt—my go-to snack and instant gratification take on the decadent alfajores her grandmother indulgingly mails from Spain. And she risks life and limb by making the caramelized milk goodness in a pressure cooker with me—despite being convinced the cans will explode and we’ll be maimed for life (plus have to clean burnt milk off half the free world).

20080428-dulcedemembrillo-can.jpg She is a swell person, my housemate. And this weekend, she outdid herself by bringing home a large, flattish, cylinder of dulce de membrillo. (Truly, she has brought dulce into my life.)

“What’s that?” I ask.

Quince paste. Hang on, I’ll fix you some!” she responds. And in two blinks, she's sliced up some sharp cheddar, slivered the orange-red moon of membrillo after flipping it out of its tin, and assembled them atop crackers.

I pop one into my mouth, and it's like discovering the magic sweet-salt-tart combination of jam and cheese sandwiches again. Except now it's not just any ole' pedestrian jam. It's violet-y, vanilla-y, and pineapple-y all at once; and its flavors mingling with the curt saltiness of the cheese and toasty wheat bottoms has me smiling widely.

What to Eat It With

"It’s much better with a cheese like manchego or chèvre, but why wait till the next grocery run?" she grins.

We stand at the kitchen island, taking turns to sink a knife into the gradually waning moon. Since then, the wheel of dulce de membrillo has continued to shrink as we hack wedges off for spooning with yogurt, to fix more of those delicious open-faced sandwiches, and even to dissolve in hot water for a quince tea of sorts.

It wasn’t until the wheel was completely gone that it occurred to me to go looking for what other people do with theirs. I think this simple tart—a pastry base slathered with membrillo before being laden with apple slices—is brilliant, capitalizing on the floral, tropical notes that quince brings to the table and which go so well with apples. Phyllo almond cups with goat’s milk cheese and membrillo also sounds like an hors d’oeuvre offering I’d happily hover close to all night.

Quinces aren’t going to be in season for a while (they’re fall fruit), so you can’t make your own dulce de membrillo yet. You’ll also have to wait patiently before quince jelly, poached quince, and quinces grilled with lashings of honey, pine nuts, rosemary, and rum grace menus again.

But the great thing about quince paste is you can trot down to a Hispanic grocery and pick up a tin any time of the year (did I mention how good it is simmered down into a syrupy sauce and drizzled over cheesecake or even simply licked off sticky fingers?)—something the housemate and I are going to be doing a lot of.

About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.

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