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Kalustyan’s: The Crown Jewel of South Asian Delights, Plus: Easy, Tasty Sambar Soup

In the heart of Manhattan’s “Little India” rests the crown jewel of culinary delights: Kalustyan’s Specialty Grocery Store. Founded in 1944, it’s chock-full of authentic South Asian and Middle Eastern foods for both the discerning and novice chef to explore.

If you’ve never been, you are in for a treat. It’s a particularly lovely place for vegan grocery shopping. (They sell some meat, but not a lot of it and it’s mostly in the frozen section.) And for the daunted novice, their staff is knowledgeable and very helpful.

Spend some time strolling through the narrow rows of shelves packed with everything Middle Eastern, South Asian, and yummy! You’ll find bins of different kinds of nuts and dried fruit, which you can buy in bulk. Their jumbo dates are the best I’ve ever had. Dense and sweet, they are a satisfying morning meal with coffee.

A half aisle is devoted to different kinds of rice! There are condiments galore, a dizzying selection of cooking oils, and the spice section will blow your senses away. Arranged alphabetically, you can buy spices ground or whole in three, seven, or fourteen ounce bags; some are available in super-size five pound bags.

A refrigerated section displays tubs of their ready-made specialties, like hummus, baba ghanoush (best I’ve ever had), tabouli, grape leaves (awesome), chick peas with tomatoes, etc., etc.

According to their website, they have 30 varieties of dried whole chilies and chili powders, 50 varieties of beans, and 180 kinds of teas. Upstairs you can explore their 100+ selection of teas, many available in bulk. Sniffing the different blends–chai, jasmine, coconut, earl grey–is a kind of aromatherapy and I highly recommend it.

Oh, and did I mention they have a sandwich and olive bar upstairs? ‘Tis true. You can munch on a falafel & humus sandwich complete with crunchy pickle and watch the line of taxis jostling for parking below.

Recipe: Easy, Tasty Sambar Soup
One product I’ve recently discovered I’d like to single out:

MTR’s Instant Sambar soup mix ($3.99). Sambar is a South Indian traditional tamarind-based soup.

If you don’t have a lot of time or simply don’t know how to make Sambar (like me), this makes a very satisfying and tasty soup with a slight kick. Perfect for chilly weather.

I call it my ‘what’s in the fridge’ Sambar. Parboil potatoes, onions, tomatoes, or whatever else you’ve got on hand. I recently used potatoes, onion, green peppers, and frozen peas and it was awesome.

Strain out the veggies or pour through a strainer so the cooking water is captured. Add veggies to a soup pot. Pour in 3 1/2 cups of cooking water (add fresh water if there isn’t enough), add half a package of soup mix (about 1/2 cup). Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Serve. Yum!

Makes four generous meal-size servings.

Kalustyan’s is located at 123 Lexington Avenue on the north corner of E. 28 Street. Phone: (212) 685-3451.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by

    sri

    on #

    Another tru-blu sambar vegan here! Priya’s instant sambar is also good though they sell meat-based food too unlike MTR which sells exclusively vegetarian.

  2. Comment by

    bonald

    on #

    Kalustyan’s is a life saver if you’re looking for an elusive herb or spice. It was while poring over the many varieties of dried spices that I came across barley malt powder, a key ingredient in vegan twinkies. I had never seen it on a store shelf, though I had been looking for ages.

    They also sell some of the best olive oil you’ll find – the kind that you want to drink from the bottle… and if you’ve never been, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try the mujaddara. I also agree with Cat – some of the best baba ghannoush around.

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