I love my neighborhood. There, I said it....I. Love. West. Philly.
It's not a very popular position in my circle. Conscious West Philly-ites are not supposed to love West Philly. We are supposed to feel guilty about the gentrification, we are supposed to resent the "scene" and hate the Penn kids. I feel all of those things in varying degrees, But, it doesn't change a thing...I still love my neighborhood. Or, perhaps more accurately, I love the 1/2 square mile stretch of Walnut Street that I inhabit, aka "food-topia".
Take last weekend, for example. It a rare thing, but sometimes I feel uninspired to cook. It feels a lot like writers block; I try to dream up something delicious, but all I get is the equivalent of that terrifying blank sheet of paper in my brain. These bouts are normally cured by a trip to Mecca Market or the produce truck. I'll find something that is on sale and looks interesting and the rest of the meal will gracefully fall into place.
Last weekend, though, I was stumped. Tired and pre-occupied with Saturday nights adventure, I needed something simple for lunch club, and I didn't have time to go to 10 different stores gathering ingredients. I hit up the little Laotian corner store on 43rd and Locust and walked out with two green papayas, homemade tofu, palm sugar and a bag of tiny dried shrimp. You know, just a little jaunt to the corner store, a full 3 minutes away. And at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, I'm busting my knuckles on the grater, remembering how they taught me to make green papaya salad at the cooking class I took in Chaing Mai, Thailand.
And then, yesterday. I pop into the inconspicuous Super 7 corner store, directly across the street from my apartment. This is where I end up when my diet soda/chocolate cravings get the best of me. And I see khubz! Pita bread! Not grocery store-style, puffy, pasty disgusting pita bread, but proper Arabic pita. I nearly wet my pants. And then, I look around...tahini, sumac, haleweh, simsim, freekeh, cans of foul, cans of 'adas bil hamoud.
Someone went and dropped half an Arabic grocery store into the fake seven 11 across the street.
I wanted a quick dinner tonight, and I also wanted to send a clear message of appreciation to the owners of Super 7, letting them know that the Arabic food was a welcome and profitable decision.
It was so rainy and cold today that even I gave into the fact that it is getting to be time for soups and root vegetables. I made a big pot of 'adas, a super simple Lebanese lentil soup and rationalized that it was still summery because of all the fresh garlic stirred in. I wanted a hearty and interesting sandwich to go with the soup, so I popped into Super 7 and spent a full $4 on a can of sardines, some ultra-creamy buffalo milk feta, and a a few loaves of pita.
I have something of a fascination with preserved fish, and have been wanting to try sardines for a while. I loved the idea of a salty, oily fish spiced with harissa [incidentally, I think I've been obsessed with the idea of spicy fish dishes ever since I read Cereus Blooms at Night, a novel by Shani Mootoo. It is the most elegant and powerful use of food as a story telling tool that I've ever read.]
The result was a smoky, salty, toasty, crispy, chewy, pungent grilled cheese sandwich. Perfect with the homely lentil soup.
The whole ordeal took 20 minutes max and I have enough left overs for the rest of the week.
Hot Sardine Pita Toasts
1/2 block Buffalo Milk Feta
1 can Sardines
2 tbsp harissa spice paste
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 chopped parsley
Mix all the ingredients together, stir until it becomes sort of a chunky paste. Spread the mixture between pita loaves and cut into quarters. Heat a griddle or cast iron skillet and char them with the heat. Leave them on for as long as you like. I liked the burnt, crispy bits, but you may like them better when they are chewy and tender.
Lebanese Lentil Soup
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 c. red lentils
5 or 6 c. water, depending how thick you want it
1/4 lemon juice
fresh garlic, mashed
Rinse lentils. Fry the onion with a little of the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Once they are yellow and translucent, add the lentils, stir, and add the water. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes or until its soupy. stir in a whole bunch of salt and pepper, add the lemon juice and garlic, taste it, keep adding that stuff until it is yummy. Finish off with the rest of the olive oil.