More Persian food, Penzeys, and Yekta, a new-to-me, great market

I recently ran out of Aleppo pepper and have felt a vague sense of unease since. Whole Foods doesn't carry it, so for years Williams-Sonoma has been my source. Now they've gone and stopped stocking this marvelous, brick-red spice. Penzeys to the rescue!

Do y'all know Penzeys Spices? They have a good website and also a number of brick-and-mortar stores, they support environmental and civil liberties causes, and they carry a wide variety of dried herbs, spices, extracts and proprietary spice blends. For orders north of $30, shipping is free and prompt. 

For one or two bags of Aleppo pepper though, a trip to the store closest me is required, and while I sort of hate driving up Wisconsin Ave to Rockville, it is a chain-store shopper's paradise. Last Sunday after swimming, because my Aleppo-unease was growing mightier, I took the kids to Penzeys with me. The only thing I struck out on was dried rose petals which I wanted for several of the Persian recipes in Food of Life I've been salivating over.

"You know, you should try Yekta's. It's a Persian market just down the Pike," said a Penzeys employee. 

I hightailed it out of there so fast, I nearly left the kids behind. 

Yekta Market and Kabobi are adjoining structures in the same lot as Oliver's favorite place, Party City. The restaurant faces Rockville Pike while the market looks at the side parking area. I was in heaven immediately upon stepping inside as vats of nuts, bins of dried berries and racks laden with all kinds of tahini, rice, couscous, tea, herbs and spices, breads and sweets greeted me warmly. There are also refrigerated, freezer and deli sections.

Suffice it to say that we left with much more than a bag of dried rose petals.

Yesterday, after enjoying a Cinco de Mayo lunch of tacos and then making more for the boys' dinner, I pulled out the beef short ribs I'd purchased earlier this week (I adore short ribs), and started browning them while considering a Persian-inspired braise.

 veggie tacos, beans and brown rice

veggie tacos, beans and brown rice

I decided to use onions and carrots, red wine and beef broth, a hefty amount of advieh (a Persian spice blend that includes cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cardamom, and dried rose petals; mace and turmeric are sometimes added too.), pomegranate molasses, pomegranate arils, salt and pepper. After sauteeing the onions and carrots and then letting them stew in the red wine as it reduced, I added everything else, covered the pot and let things cook for about three hours.

Short ribs cannot be rushed if you want tender meat. The rib should slip out on its own, and three hours is usually the sweet spot for that. It is worth the wait because during a long, low braise, the gravy gets awfully flavorful!

Just before serving dinner, I used some of the braising liquid to cook the couscous, a gorgeous, fine-grain, whole wheat version I bought at Yekta. I also quickly broiled some asparagus that I'd drizzled with lemon and olive oil and made a caprese with sumac to give it a middle-eastern twist.

If I say so myself, dinner was sublime. I only wish I'd made something for dessert!