Precious Commodities: Where to Find Ingredients for Extending the Table Cookbook

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook from
Extending the Table Cookbook. See bottom for quick links to each post in this series, with titles.

When living abroad, what foods “from home” do you crave?

Our friends who travel abroad frequently (or those who choose to live abroad for periods of time) likely have a lot of things they miss about home. Yet, whenever we ask what well-wishes or little reminders of home we can send them, they inevitably request peanut butter. It’s strange that a childhood staple we take for granted transforms into a precious commodity when it is not readily available.

This phenomenon became even more evident to Heather this past week as she joined the teaching team for Harvard’s Negotiation Institute. People from 37 countries gathered to learn more about how to “change the game” of negotiation from win-lose to win-win. One of the examples used during plenary involves two people deciding how to allocate between them three indivisible candy bars. A participant from India argued that she deserved the candy bars more because in her country, good chocolate was rare—a precious commodity.

We are admittedly spoiled in the United States and Canada that we can access foods from a variety of cultures and countries. Yet, this week, as we tried recipes that involved ingredients we hadn’t noticed in our “regular” grocery stores, we realized how challenging it must be for people from other countries to find inexpensive, familiar ingredients for their own comfort food.

12_GreekGreenBeans_ExtendTable-535Greek Green Beans

Our household loves green beans, so we decided to focus a few of our meal choices around them. The Greek Green Beans (p. 130) seemed the easiest, as the only “rare” ingredient was mint, and we’d often seen mint at our local chain grocery store. We were shocked, though, when we looked at the price! How could one family buy fresh mint for meals on a regular basis, when it is over $5 for sprigs sufficient only for one or two dishes? It made us thankful that we had planted mint in our new garden, and made us realize a bit more why so many of our global neighbors raise their own food instead of relying solely on grocery stores.

17_WhitePizza_ExtendTable-4022White Pizza

We found a similarly shocking price attached to the feta cheese we purchased for the White Pizza (p. 179). Fresh feta—the kind you think would be cheaper than the stuff packaged and marketed for mass consumption—was still more per ounce than we could imagine most families affording. We certainly savored every slice!

After making these expensive purchases, we stumbled upon an Eastern European grocery store hidden between a paper company and a Dominos Pizza—just down the block from where we’ve lived for two years. Sure enough, the feta cheese and mint were half the price. A good lesson to venture into “ethnic” food stores more often, and take a friend who speaks the language (or be open to making purchases based on visuals alone!).

16_BreadBowlCurry_ExtendTable-1920Bread Bowl Curry

This prompted us to explore other ethnic grocery stores in our area. We were intrigued by the array of spices in the Bread Bowl Curry (p. 174). We cook frequently with turmeric and cumin, but haven’t made anything with anise seed or cardamom pods. After striking out at our grocery store, we ventured into the Asian market down the street. Sure enough, the anise seeds (“fennel seeds” there) were plentiful—and cheap. The only challenge was that they came in a huge container. We’ll be seeking recipes that use fennel seeds for the next five years! Cardamom pods were not present at the Asian market, but the Indian market two neighborhoods over had a few varieties. Once again, they were far cheaper and more fragrant than the hip, foodie pods we might have found at a gourmet food store. Best of all, we could buy them one at a time instead of purchasing 200 in one container!

There were some ingredients in our “traditional” grocery store we did not expect to find there—a good lesson to keep your eyes open and your stomach willing to try new things. For instance, we were shopping for eggplant, determined to use the first fresh tomatoes of the season to make Eggplant Sauce for Spaghetti (183). When we finally found the eggplant, we were shocked. We could purchase Japanese, Indian, or Kazakhstani eggplant along with our now-seemingly-boring Florida Market eggplant. The availability of these rare varieties in the produce aisle we visit every week prompted us to plan a menu around the Iraqi Baked Dinner Moussaka (198) for later this week.

This journey has allowed us to try out our global neighbors’ comfort foods, as well as experiment with favorite ingredients in new ways. As with our More with Less challenge, we have become increasingly aware of our own default tendencies around food when we are busy or tired. Yet, with this challenge, we became more aware that many of our global neighbors cannot (or choose not to) default to restaurant food when they are hungry. Rather, they find community and comfort around cooking for themselves and for their guests.

This lesson will continue to inspire us in the weeks and years to come, as we share their stories—featured in the World Community Cookbooks—with our son and our guests. As we cook more than we eat out, we hope to weave our own stories into the global narratives of food and friendship.

Links to each post in this Six Weeks with Extending the Table series.

1. Extending Our Family Food Challenge: Six Weeks with Extending the Table

2. Extending Beyond Our Boundaries

3. Extending the Table: Honoring Dietary Restrictions

4. Jobs, moving, sickness, four-month-old baby: STILL time to cook?

5. Six Weeks with Extending the Table: A Move in the Right Direction

6. Precious Commodities: Where to Find Ingredients for Extending the Table Cookbook


To buy the new edition of Extending the Table with many recipes illustrated with color photos, click here. All of this post’s food photos come directly from the new Extending the Table.

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

This is the last in Ben and Heather’s special series, Six Weeks with Extending the Table.

Give them a shout out or quick hi, or any comment on what you enjoyed about this series!