Tracking Down Exotic Ingredients
Finding Middle Eastern ingredients is definitely a challenge in a small town like Napa, California. There are plenty of ethnic grocers in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it would require at least an hour's drive to get to any of them. I've researched online sources and found a couple of possibilities, such as IranStore.com and ParthenonFoods.com, I've also deliberately chosen some alternative recipes that don't call for too many esoteric ingredients.
Some of the recipes my friend Ali Rafiee recommended call for things like dried limes, pomegranate paste, reshteh noodles, and kashk, a thick whey, which is a dairy product that I assumed would have to be purchased fairly close to the day of the dinner. And since my 'Children of Heaven' Dinner & a Movie will happen so close to the busy Thanksgiving holiday, I didn't see myself driving into the city in search of exotic ingredients. Besides, the recipes with readily available ingredients sound just as tasty. As with any ethnic cuisine, it's always the way in which the ingredients are combined and prepared that give a dish its unique qualities.
I can buy saffron at Cost Plus here in Napa, and Chick Pea Flour should be available at our local heath food store. Tumeric and cardamom I already have, leftover from my Indian curry dinner last August. For the Aash-e Reshteh soup and the Gormeh Sabzi, on his visit to his favorite Persian market next week, Ali has generously offered to pick up a package of Reshteh noodles and some Kashk, which he says comes in a jar like mayonnaise and will keep until time to use it. In the event that he is unable to do so, I have chosen an alternative soup called Aash-e Gojeh Farangi, which calls for simple ingredients that I can buy locally.