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Unpacking Foreign Ingredients In A Massachusetts Kitchen

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This is the second installment of NPR's Cook Your Cupboard, a food series about improvising with what you have on hand. Got a food that has you stumped? Submit a photo and we'll ask chefs about our favorites!

Laurel Ruma, an NPR listener from Medford, Mass., didn't realize quite how much she had gathered up from her travels until renovating her kitchen last summer. She unearthed things like harissa, chickpea flour and black chia seeds.

She submitted these items to Cook Your Cupboard, and we were pretty stumped, too. So we called up Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born, London-based chef with a chain of restaurants, a food column and a few best-selling cookbooks. Here's what he suggests:

Chickpea Flour: Make Fried Cauliflower

It's a delicious, gluten-free flour with a bit of a nutty texture.

Make a batter with half chickpea flour, half all-purpose flour, an egg, some water, garlic and lots of spices: ginger, cumin, ground coriander, mustard seed, turmeric and curry powder.

Coat the cauliflower in the batter, fry and serve with a tamarind dipping sauce.

Harissa: Make A Salad Dressing Or A Marinade

The North African paste is made with dried chilies, garlic and cumin.

"It's one of the most amazing chili pastes around. It's aromatic, it's strong," says Ottolenghi, "and it's also one of the most versatile ingredients that I can think of."

For dressing, whisk a bit with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Drizzle over salads and you get that "intensive fire-y flavor of harissa," he says.

You can also use it to marinate fish, lamb or vegetables and then roast, grill or bake them. Or just smear it over flat bread like pita and put it in the oven until it dries out — leaving you with a spicy, flavorful toast that goes great with a drink.

"It just gives the most fantastic aromatic flavor to your food," Ottolenghi says.

Chia Seeds: Health Hype?

"There are not many ingredients in this world that I can say that I really don't like," Ottolenghi says, "and chia seeds are one of them."

"The health brigade likes making porridge out of them because they're very good for you, they're full of calcium and phosphorus," he says. "But I really find the texture very off-putting. It's quite slimy and gelatinous."

Combine All Three: Indian-Inspired Fritters

Mix the chickpea flour batter above and add some chia seeds. Stir in vegetables — maybe green beans, cauliflower or some green chilies.

Dip the batter with a spoon into hot oil, so you get balls with all those flavors. Mix the harissa with yogurt, and dip the fritters in the sauce as they come out of the oil.

Observations

Ottolenghi says he can relate to Ruma's dilemma. He, too, returns from travels with mystery foods.

"So you end up having to create some kind of mix of cuisines," he says.

He recalled recently feeling stuck with "an English eccentricity": a jar of pickled walnuts.

"Basically those are walnuts that have been picked at an early stage before the shell has developed," Ottolenghi explains. He had no idea what to do with them — and they stayed in his fridge for a long time until he had an idea: Make a salsa with pickled and dried walnuts, drizzle over roasted squash and serve with cheese.

"So you've got the sharp and nutty flavor of the nuts complementing the rich flavor of the cheese, and all that goes really well with the vegetables," he says.

It was a random use for a random ingredient, he says, but it ended up really tasting good.

Want to join the Cook Your Cupboard project? Right now we're asking for a condiment you haven't figured out how to use. If you've got some pickapepper sauce or black eyed pea relish, go to npr.org/cupboard and show us a photo. You'll get guidance on what will complement your condiment from fellow home cooks, and you might even be chosen to come on the air with a chef.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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