'Grocery Ninja' on Serious Eats

Grocery Ninja: Kumquats Are Grown-Up 'Mega Warheads'

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Kumquats. Photograph from orphanjones on Flickr Remember Mega Warheads or Super Lemon—those insanely tart, hard candies that made your eyes squinch and your lips pucker and your head go, "Oh my! Oh my!" and then "Ahhh..." when the intense sour finally gave way to sugary-sweet insides? Kumquat cross-section. Photograph from Splat Worldwide on Flickr I remembered them this weekend, when the boyfriend brought home a box of kumquats—tiny, pixie citruses about the size of my thumb and cute as all get out. The Chinese think kumquats resemble gold ingots, so my family always had ornamental... More

Grocery Ninja: Dried Persimmons Are a Taste of Honeyed Sunshine

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Hundreds and thousands! Photograph from Shenghung Lin on Flickr Drying hachiyas. Photograph from nineblue on Flickr Hoshigaki are tender, succulent, and moist. These are Hachiya (acorn-shaped) persimmons dried the traditional Japanese way—in the sun, with nary a preservative in sight. The taste is intense—concentrated persimmon flavor with honeyed overtones and perhaps the barest hint of cinnamon—but it's definitely the texture that gets to me. Hoshigaki have chewy, almost jelly-like insides that I distinctly remember my mom trying to con me of when I was a kid ("Sweetie, those dried-up persimmons don't look very good, why... More

Grocery Ninja: Tsokolate—Smokey, Nutty, Pinoy Hot Chocolate

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Sweet glutinous rice in Pinoy hot chocolate. Photograph from chotda on Flickr The boyfriend mentioned something interesting recently: Coffee breaks are the nonsmoker's smoke break. He wasn't referring to the communal pot of watered down joe most offices brew up in the morning and keep on a burner all day, though. He was referring to the process of pulling a perfect shot of espresso, frothing milk till it's just right, then bringing it all together in an earnest little cappuccino. I had never thought of it that way, but making coffee can be a meditative... More

Grocery Ninja: What to Do With Condensed Milk

My colleagues have never used condensed milk in anything other than the likes of lemon meringue pie, fudge, flan, and random candies. I have therefore taken it upon myself to spread the good word on condensed milk: its versatility, its economy, its utter gloriousness. More

Grocery Ninja: Yujacha, Korean Yuzu Tea

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Before I moved to the Bay Area (land of Ranch 99 and accessible Asian foodstuffs), I used to cart heavy glass jars of yucheong (yuzu syrup) on the 24 hour flight back from Asia. My friends would save their luggage space for practical things like textbooks (usually one-third the price of what you would pay here). But I would splurge all my luggage space on jars of this golden goodness. Because when the days are long and dreary, and when it seems like the weekend will never arrive, and that the work keeps piling up,... More

Grocery Ninja: Sambal Goreng Udang, Indonesian 'Furikake'

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. These are one of the most addictive snacks I've come across since Calbee Shrimp Chips—which is saying a lot, given that in my household, we go through maybe three jumbo bags of Calbee a week (and then go and run a 10K after, but that's another story). Sambal goreng udang roughly translates to "fried chile prawns" and is a traditional Indonesian dish. In the original, you bring together a rempah—a pounded, wet spice mix of shallots, garlic, fresh turmeric, galangal, lemon grass, belacan (fermented shrimp paste), shredded makrud lime leaves, lime juice, and coconut cream.... More

Grocery Ninja: Agave Nectar, Not Just for Hippies

Agave has a gentle, lilting sweetness. The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Photograph from Kenn Wilson on Flickr In my all-girl middle school in Asia, the cool girls were either naturally blessed with willowy figures or were striving (and darn close) to attaining the "ideal" BMI of 17. During this "I will fit into a size zero or die trying" period in my life, I completely cut out all added sugar (and fat) from my diet. This, of course, didn't mean I lost my sweet tooth. I simply replaced all the natural sugars in my diet with artificial sweeteners. I promptly... More

Grocery Ninja: King Oyster Mushrooms, aka 'Drumsticks on Trees'

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. The first time I spotted king oyster mushrooms at the market, I was with Mom, and she told me they were "Chicken drumsticks that grow on trees." I was seven. Of course I believed her. I was a pudgy kid—inordinately fond of braised duck, sizzling, hot plate venison, and the extra crisp, golden bits on the belly pork my grandma stir-fried with preserved mustard greens. A well-meaning aunt tried to put me on a diet while my parents were out of town, and the outcome was that I developed an abject loathing for all things... More

Grocery Ninja: Pandan, the Asian Vanilla

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Photograph from tisay on Flickr Chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and grilled. Photograph from doubtless on Flickr Before I knew vanilla, I knew pandan. Mind-boggling, I realize, but I was well into my teenage years before I set eyes (and greedy hands) on a plump vanilla bean, whereas my family had a pandan plant growing right at our doorstep. In fact, the corridor we shared with our neighbors was lined with pots of it—Southeast Asian cooks use pandan leaves to scent their dishes so frequently that it would be unthinkable to not have any on... More

Grocery Ninja: Kaya, Coconut Egg Jam

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. I believe the simplest dishes are also the easiest to mess up. Take the plain omelet, for instance, or just steamed rice—both are so clean of flavor, so unadulterated, that there's nothing for you to hide your mistakes behind. No cloak of smoky spices, no razzle-dazzle of MSG—just the purest expressions of egg and grain. And so it is the case with kaya—a rich, fragrant custard that South-East Asians like to slather, along with a generous dollop of salted butter, on their morning toast. Made with eggs, coconut milk, and sugar, there are many, many... More

Grocery Ninja: Chicha Morada, Peruvian Purple Corn Drink

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. The Russian housemate adores mulled cider. This wouldn’t be a problem except, come fall, my usually easy-going housemate morphs into a mulled cider dictator and gets monopolistic about fridge space – insisting that there is no room for any other kind of beverage. No oj, no soy milk, no nothing save for yet another jug of mulled cider. And while I used to love the stuff, palate fatigue is real… and I have no use for it on my cereal. Hence, this year, us housemates are plotting an intervention: employing the logic of gradually weaning... More

Grocery Ninja: Kiwiberries

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Many people love autumn—the gorgeous fall colors, plentiful apples, hot mulled cider, zany-shaped squash, leftover Halloween candy, etc. I'm no fall grinch, but I completely overdosed on apples as a poor grad student (seriously, I'm talking ten apples a day instead of real food), and am now wary of them. I'm sure my love affair with apples will revive one day, but meanwhile, I'm staying away from them until there's absolutely nothing left to eat in the fruit department. But in fall, what else besides apples can I add to my breakfast muesli—that would not... More

Grocery Ninja: Russian Blood Candy, Just in Time for Halloween

In my United Nations of a household, the Halloween tradition is for the housemates to contribute to a giant candy stash—so we have a pool of unusual, globetrotting candy to offer the neighbors’ kids. This year, I was ready to break out my childhood fave—chewy, milky, nougaty Chinese White Rabbit candy. But in September, four babies died and thousands of people got sick after drinking melamine-tainted milk from China. Tons of milk-containing products were recalled, and I had to feed my beloved White Rabbits to the trash. My housemates joke that I should have kept the candy and put them in a bowl with a sign that reads: Beware, Poisoned Apples. But I haven’t quite the same sick sense... More

Grocery Ninja: Umami Arsenal

Chinese eateries are often accused of being heavy-handed with monosodium glutamate (MSG)—that cheap, nasty chemical that makes food taste good but leaves hapless diners grappling with the dreaded "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." But, since not everyone in China has a headache, what do Chinese home cooks use to make their food delicious? More

Grocery Ninja: Dulce de Membrillo

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. 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... More

Grocery Ninja: Eating Acorn Jelly the Unorthodox Way

I know what you’re thinking. “Acorns? Why on earth is she talking about acorns? The weather’s just getting nice and balmy, and she’s featuring autumnal nuts? Bah humbug… it’s spring!” And so it is. But I promise you, this is a very springy kind of dish. It’s refreshing on a warm, sunny day, light on the palate, easy on the eye (and wallet), and will leave you feeling decidedly sprightly. More

Grocery Ninja: Japanese Genmaicha

How to Stretch Your Tea, and Eat It, Too 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. I don’t know about you, but filing my taxes has left me feeling kind of like the last prune in the bottom of the box—all dried out with icky crystallized sugar on top. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), rice recipes have been showing up everywhere—probably because everyone’s feeling a bit pinched on the money side of things, and rice is one of the most filling and affordable foods to be had for the money. I doubt you guys need another recipe on how to cook rice, but... More

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