For local Astorians, below is my most recommended food markets in the area to find my recipes’ hard-to-find ingredients followed by a shopping guide.
Ajicito Dulce Peppers
These hard-to-find peppers can range in color from green, yellow, orange and red, with all colors of variations in between. They are most frequently found next to store-packaged garlic cloves and other specialty produce — either loose in a box or in small plastic cartons. Also nearby (and often mistaken for) are usually Scotch Bonnet and Habañero peppers which have a more elongated, lantern-like shape. Note the differences in appearance the picture below and do not be tempted to use these in place of each other.
Fresh Chipotle Peppers
Sure you can find chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce, but fresh chipotles are sold by weight and typically located in bins in the produce department. Once you are close by, their extremely smoky, fragrant aroma will help reveal their whereabouts. Other similar looking dried red peppers are nearby, but chipotles have a more stubbed shape and resemble large rasins.
Colby is a super basic cheese but really hard to find for some reason. Without knowing the specifics as to how it is made, all I can tell you is that it melts so much better than any cheddar, so in my humble opinion this should be used in every mac ‘n cheese recipe on the planet. Typically it is found in an orange cylinder formation in any deli to cut and purchase by the pound, but here in Astoria I only found it in pre-packaged (pictured above) at Greenbay Marketplace (located on 30th avenue and on Broadway). Most other mainstream grocery stores sell Colby Jack (which is marbled with Monterey Jack) but do not be tempted to use it as a substitute.
Culantro, Not Cilantro!
Look for Culantro next to the cilantro and parsley. It’s usually bound by rubber bands in bunches or in a flat foam-like tray wrapped in plastic. Many people will give up and use cilantro as a subsitiute, but if you remain persistent in your search you will be rewarded a unique flavor as well as praise from the most authentic of Puerto Rican cooks. It doesn’t always look very good due to improper handling, but do not let that discourage you. Buy it anyway. You absolutely NEED this!
Finding European butter is just a matter of shifting my eyes a bit, typically located alongside the other mainstream brands. Kerrygold and Plugra are some commonly found European butters; they contain a higher fat content and less water which helps eliminate the heavy grease-like texture in cakes baked with mainstream American butter brands.
Good fresh okra is difficult to find, however I came across these gems at Elliniki Agora market (below). Cooking with frozen okra from a freezer section doesn’t do this amazing ingredient justice. Using okra in a soup or stew is most common, but other applications do exist, such as frying or an okra salsa.
Some mainstream grocery stores might (unnecessarily) place Poblanos next to the bell peppers, but in an international and/or Latin-American market they are not kept in refrigeration — usually stacked in a pile or in a box within the vicinity of jalapeños. Use these roasted and mixed into a salsa, left whole and stuffed with mac ‘n cheese, or as fixings for tacos.
Also referred to as “Seville” orange, sour oranges are often overlooked due to their unsightly appearance. They range in size, have a more bumpy texture, usually marked with brown spots, and don’t appear very appetizing in general. You need not worry because these are not meant to be eaten raw as a snack like a typical orange. Instead, the juice is extracted and used in marinades. Because the juice content of each can vary quite a bit; it is difficult to know exactly how many you may need to purchase for your recipe. So, selecting sour oranges is a bit of a lottery. When gently squeezed they should be a little soft.