I know many people see it as a tedious chore, but I love the process of buying groceries. When I lived in Paris, grocery shopping was basically my hobby. This led to several dangerous discoveries, like crème de marrons and this one store brand guava jam from Franprix that I was addicted to for a while. To this day, whenever I’m back in Paris I wander the aisles of the Monoprix on rue du Temple for old times’ sake. In addition to its purely practical applications, grocery shopping is a great way to observe local particularities. In France it’s the seemingly infinite varieties of yogurt and yogurt-like substances (caillé de brebis may be the greatest dairy product known to man). In Kazakhstan, the most striking thing about grocery stores is the almost complete lack of fresh produce.
Relative to their American and European counterparts, the produce sections of Kazakhstani grocery stores are virtually nonexistent. Initially I found this quite confusing, but it actually makes a lot of sense. It’s not that the entire population of Almaty is courting scurvy by eschewing vegetables (although traditional Kazakh cuisine does consist primarily of meat and dough). The grocery store is just not the place to buy them. Instead, most people rely on the bazaar or on the many produce stands that dot residential areas and bring their wares in from wholesalers on the outskirts of the city (or sometimes from their own gardens).
Overall all this system works pretty well, but it means that I don’t always have time for proper produce shopping, since (despite my best efforts!) I don’t always make it to the bazaar over the weekend and I no longer live in a building with a courtyard vegetable stand. Fortunately for me, one of the few things the produce section of my local grocery store currently stocks more or less reliably is sorrel. So this is my Almatian version of what to make for dinner when the bazaar is closed and you have no food at home. I like it so much that I’m sure I’ll find other occasions to make it, too!
Sorrel Salad with Lentils and Potatoes
Serves two as a main dish and four as a side
1 bunch sorrel
½ cup dry lentils
1 bay leaf
1 pound/450 grams waxy potatoes (about four small-ish potatoes)
1 medium onion + ½ tbs cumin
1 tbs olive oil
Turmeric and Parsley Vinaigrette
2 tbs parsley, chopped
2 tbs Dijon mustard
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
½ tsp turmeric
¼ cup olive oil
Bring the lentils to a boil in one cup of salted water, with the bay leaf. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, adding water as needed to keep the lentils covered until they are cooked through. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes. In a medium pot, cover them with about an inch of water. Add salt and boil for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Drain and set aside.
While the potatoes and lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add cumin seeds and cook until they’re fragrant and start popping. Add onion and fry until it starts to brown.
Mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Wash and roughly chop the sorrel.
Combine lentils, potatoes, onions, and vinaigrette. Mix well, adding in sorrel.