Let’s Cook: Exotic IGA

Let’s Cook: Exotic IGA

by Alison Boyd & William Sertl

The Idea

We celebrate our farmstands and love to boast about swordfish caught off Montauk, but in winter, when those options aren’t available, we can still shop local. At the IGA, for instance, you can find everything you want to cook a splendid meal without resorting to gourmet shops or mail-order ingredients.

​The IGA is small, too. Easy to get around. That’s important, as wherever we shop, it seems people keep taking our cart. We like to leave the cart in a central location, fanning out on separate forays to gather armloads of supplies to bring back to the mother ship. Less-thoughtful shoppers often see our sometimes sparsely populated cart and think it’s theirs for the taking. At the six East End IGAs, it easy to find the offenders, cut them off, and shout “hey, that’s my cart,” to the delight of small crowds pulsing with schadenfreude.

​Independent Grocers Alliance was founded in 1926. Its first franchised store opened in Poughkeepsie. Three years later, there were 1,500 stores in 36 of the then 48 states. Today, IGA has 5,000 stores, all individually owned, in some 30 countries, including Russia, China, Japan, Australia, and South Africa, to name a few. You can’t get more local than Andersons Foodland in Papua New Guinea. Or Schiavoni’s Market in Sag Harbor.

The Plan

Not only are you shopping locally at the IGA (or should we say the IGG-uh?), you can source everything for our Exotic IGA Menu from one of the stores out here. But don’t overlook King Kullen, a 32-branch Nassau and Suffolk-only chain, with company headquarters up-island in Bethpage—call it local-ish. King Kullen claims to have opened America’s first supermarket (Jamaica, Queens) in 1930 and is still family owned. It is represented in Southold and Southampton, each New York’s oldest English town, with a medium-size store in Cutchogue and a hangar-size one in Bridgehampton. Should someone steal your cart at the South Fork store, alert the manager or call 911. Do not attempt to track them down yourself.

Tapas Bar Garlic Shrimp

Our dish, reminiscent of the classic served throughout Spain, uses frozen shrimp from the supermarket. Don’t be put off by “frozen.” All shrimp arrives locally that way, even at the finest markets. You’d have to be down at the docks in Maine, South Carolina, or along the Gulf Coast when the boats returned with their catch to guarantee fresh. Or catch it yourself.

1½ lbs medium frozen shrimp, uncooked,
peeled, and de-veined
7 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil (with 2 Tbs of your best
oil reserved for the end)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs paprika, I tsp chili powder, mixed
together in a small bowl
I cup white wine

Place a double layer of paper towels on a baking sheet and set shrimp out in a single layer to thaw (about three-to-four hours at room temperature). Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy skillet. When oil is hot, add shrimp, lightly salt, and flash cook on each side for about 30 seconds. Remove from pan and set aside. Reduce heat and add 3 more tablespoons olive oil to the pan, plus the garlic. Cook gently for about 1 minute before adding the paprika-chili mix, cooking for another 2 minutes and stirring constantly to prevent the garlic from browning. Turn up the heat and immediately add the wine and some salt. After coming to a boil, simmer for a further 3 minutes until slightly reduced. Return the shrimp to the pan and sauté until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Make sure shrimp are thoroughly coated with oil and wine the entire time. Turn off the heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. (As any Spaniard will tell you, the higher the quality of oil, the better the dish. Break out the good stuff for the finishing touch.) Serve immediately, making sure you scrape up all of the flavorful pan juices.

Wine-Braised Lentils

High in cholesterol-reducing fiber, low in calories, and almost fat-free, lentils are possibly the world’s healthiest thing to eat. A legume, like peas, they are packed with protein, B vitamins, and minerals. Our wine-braised lentils make a great side or even a light supper when topped with a fried egg, and they’re just as good at room temperature. We use brown lentils (avoid the orange-colored, quick-cooking kind), but green lentils work just as well if you cook them a little longer. Lentils trace back to pre-historic times. They are mentioned in the Bible. Unlike tofu, they taste good.

I cup brown lentils, rinsed well and carefully picked over
I bay leaf
4 cups water
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil (with 2 Tbs of your your best oil reserved for the end)
I medium yellow onion, finely diced
Two ribs of celery, finely diced
I large carrot, finely diced
I large clove of garlic, minced
2 tsp tomato paste
I cup red wine
I cup chicken or vegetable stock
I tsp fresh Thyme, chopped
I cup plum tomatoes, chopped and with juice
Fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Add lentils, bay leaf, and water to a small pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet, add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté over low heat for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and salt and cook for another 2 minutes before stirring in the tomato paste. Cook on low for a couple of minutes, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of water if the mixture starts to stick. Turn up the heat before adding red wine. Boil for one minute, turn down heat, and simmer for a further 2 minutes before adding the lentils and any leftover cooking water (no more than a quarter cup). Simmer the wine with the lentils for about 2 minutes before adding the stock, thyme, and tomatoes. Simmer for a further 10-15 minutes, adding extra stock if needed. At the end, add a few grinds of black pepper and, if needed, extra salt. (Keep an eye on the lentils in the final couple minutes. They turn mushy very quickly.) Remove from heat while they’re still al dente. Transfer the lentils to a platter or individual serving plates, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Tahini Dressing

It’s not the squash that lands this dish on our Exotic Menu. It’s the tahini, a condiment from ground sesame seeds that’s the base for all kinds of Asian and Middle Eastern dips, from hummus to baba ganoush. We use a mortar and pestle to blend the dressing in the traditional way, but a food processor will also do the job.

Tahini Dressing

I large clove of garlic, peeled
1/3 cup tahini
Juice from half a lemon
Water to blend

Place garlic clove in a heavy mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt; pound until creamy. Slowly add the tahini (stir before adding if oil has separated) and blend well. Add the juice and enough water to achieve the consistency of heavy cream. Salt to taste and set aside in a small bowl.

Butternut Squash

I large butternut squash peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tsp allspice
I large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
3 Tbs olive oil

Place the squash on a heavy baking sheet and toss with allspice, garlic, oil, and salt. Roast at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes until just tender. Serve warm or at room temperature; drizzle tahini dressing on top.

Chocolate Valentine Cream Pots

Here’s our homage to St. Valentine of Terni, the third-century saint who is credited with establishing the idea of Medieval courtly love, which had everything to do with chivalry but nothing much to do with you-know-what. If serving on February 14, you can decorate with those little hearts that say “Be Mine.” Make it on any of the other 364 days of the year, and you can still celebrate love, chivalry, and whatever else comes to mind.

2 cups heavy cream (with ½-cup reserved for topping
at the end)
8 ozs bittersweet dark
Optional: Vanilla essence or liqueur (like Grand Marnier)
Special equipment: about 8
½-cup ramekins

Break up the chocolate and place in a food processor. Pulse until chopped into very small pieces. Place two cups cream in a small heavy saucepan over low heat and bring to just below a boil (small bubbles will appear at edges of pan). With the motor running, gently pour the hot cream through the feed tube of the processor and blend until the chocolate dissolves. Add a pinch of salt and, if you want to enhance the flavor, a dash of vanilla essence or a teaspoon of liqueur. Pour the chocolate mixture into ramekins and cool at room temperature before refrigerating for at least 6 hours (or up to several days, covered with plastic wrap). To serve, whip the remaining half cup cream and add a dollop to the top of each pot. Grate additional dark chocolate on top if desired.

Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork, where she cooks frequently with William Sertl, Culture Editor of the Beacon and former travel editor of Saveur and Gourmet magazines. Every Thursday, before their spouses arrive for the weekend, they dine out and plot their next home-cooked meal.

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