Coincidence sometimes has a scratch of serendipity.
I have been deep in the home-kitchen trenches the last few weeks, developing a load of recipes for Food & Wine. As I prepared for the final stretch late last week, I realized there were a few holes in my pantry. So I headed to the famed store Kalustyan’s while I was doing errands across Manhattan.
Kalustyan’s is a legendary shop in Kips Bay that sells a startling collection of pantry staples from across the world. I had obliterated my stash of juniper berries while making sauerkraut for the choucroute garnie party Brandon and I hosted, so those were on the list. I had read about an aromatic dried Egyptian mint available at Kalustyan’s that Louisa Shafia extols in her outstanding book, The New Persian Kitchen. Another Persian ingredient, dried lime; also white and black sesame seeds; dried Kashmiri chiles, both whole and powdered.
I wandered the shop, impulsively tossing a few individually wrapped chewy confections into my shopping basket as I waited in line. Some were made with nougat and apricot; others with pistachios and mastic.
There is a glut of good Indian food near Kalustyan’s. There is not even decent Indian food near where I live in Brooklyn. I wandered Lexington Avenue, then pushed open the door to a restaurant I had never tried, Pongal.
The thali I ordered had okra, lentil soup and undhiyu (a stew of sweet potato, eggplant and potato), each flavored with the signature spicy-sweet tastes of Gujarat, a state in western India. I began chatting with the couple next to me, as each of us tackled our oversized thali plates.
Both were born in Turkey. She had lived in New York for a few years; he moved here a month ago, having landed a green card on his first attempt. Happy luck, he said.
I asked him why he wanted to move to the States. His eyes brightened. He was an orchestra conductor in Istanbul. It was a fine life, but his dream of all dreams had him living in New York. There, he would become a jazz drummer.
Over his short few weeks in New York, he had already coursed the island of Manhattan, visiting jazz clubs from Harlem to the Village. Smoke, Blue Note, Smalls, Birdland, Village Vanguard. He has taken a limpid vision of the future, refracted it through the sooty prism of a fresh, unfamiliar place and sharpened it into a new reality.
The next morning, I craved Turkish food. When prompted, the couple had told me about their preferred place in Manhattan to eat manti, a Turkish ravioli I adore that is filled with ground meat and lapped with butter, pepper, yogurt and dried mint.
I fried a few eggs in olive oil warmed with sticky, salty Marash pepper purchased the day before at Kalustyan’s. I fork-whisked together a smashed clove of garlic with full-bodied yogurt, as I have done many times before when making a similar dish. When the eggs were cooked, I slipped them on a plate and worked some of that Egyptian dried mint through a sieve and onto the eggs, particles floating downward as the mint’s bright mustiness filled the air.
Too often, life seems fixed, implacable. As if I am solely bound to the path set directly before me. Then an amble through the aisles of a grocery store and a random encounter remind me that on any given day there are unforeseen detours on maps both newly written and remembered.
Turkish Eggs with Mint
The more intensely aromatic the dried mint, the better. If you suspect your mint has been lounging on a shelf for a long, long time, slap it awake by gently toasting it in a dry skillet. Pushing it through the sieve will also enliven it.
Maras or other mildly spicy, fragrant dried chile flakes
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until it thins and ripples slightly, like a lake in the early morning. Add as much pepper as you prefer. Crack the eggs into two sections of the skillet and season with salt. Cover and cook until the eggs are cooked to your liking. While the eggs cook, add some yogurt to a bowl. Chop or press a clove or two of garlic and add to the yogurt. Thin the yogurt with water until it has a slightly runny consistency. When the eggs are done, add them to a plate then drizzle yogurt over. Push the dried mint through a sieve so that the crushed mint falls on the eggs.