Awesome Abundance

Patel, or one of his children, is always to be found in the aisles offering tips, like how a spoon of green-chili-packed cilantro paste from a jar can be added to a base of sour tamarind chutney mix to make a perfect dipping sauce for pappadums--basically lentil-flour tortilla chips. "People always need recipes," notes Reshma Patel, Bhikhalal's daughter and a University of Minnesota business major who helps out on weekends: "We always try to have a couple of simple ones to recommend. For a lot of dishes, it's as simple as 'Fry an onion, add whatever, finish with lemon and fresh cilantro.'" (By the way, if you're wondering about the Patel grocery store that has opened next door to Asia Imports--it's a different family.) Chef Vranian's tricks include adding buttermilk, yogurt, cream, or avocado puree thinned with stock or water to pulses to give them a buttery texture.

When I introduced Vranian to Patel, and he got to exclaiming on all the things he couldn't believe Patel stocked in this quiet storefront halfway between downtown Minneapolis and Fridley, Patel rocked back on his heels with the air of someone who hears the same thing--even if it's a nice thing--every single day.

TABLEHOPPING:

Diana Watters

Location Info

Map

Asia Import Food & Video

1840 Central Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418

Category: Retail

Region: Northeast Minneapolis

CHECK YOUR PULSE: Call it coincidence, call it serendipity, but as I was working on this story, I received a package from the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, and so now I'm just bursting with nerdy lentil facts. Did you know that the ancient Egyptians thought lentils were an aphrodisiac? That Esau gave up his birthright for a soup of crimson lentils? That Esau ate those lentils with some bread, thus getting a complete protein while he was rooked?

There's more. Lentils save lives: One factor in heart disease is an abnormally high level of an amino acid called homocysteine. Lentils and other foods rich in B vitamins help clear homocysteine out of the blood. When lentils aren't busy protecting your heart, they're saving the unborn--they provide more folic acid than any other unfortified food, and folic acid prevents birth defects like spina bifida.

Or how about this: There's a port in Lewiston, Idaho. Really. Most dry peas and lentils produced in this country come from the Palouse, a farming region centered where Idaho, Washington, and Oregon meet, and each year nearly 200,000 metric tons of them head down the Snake River to the Columbia River and on to Portland, Ore., from where 75 percent of them are exported to 90 countries. From now on I'm going to feel like some cross between Jonas Salk and Carmen Sandiego whenever I whip up a pot of lentil soup--that superhealthy brew of ancient aphrodisiacs straight from the Snake River.

GIFTS YOU DON'T HAVE TO STORE: Classes at Cook's of Crocus Hill make good presents--not least because your generosity nets you a pal who knows how to cook snazzy treats. This season some of the best offerings include a class led by Marcus Samuelsson, the star chef of New York's Aquavit (February 15, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., $65) in which they'll be cooking everything from gravlax to chocolate ganache. Andrew Zimmern--famous locally from his stints at café un deux trois and Backstage at Bravo--is offering a couple of playful evenings like "Dinner and a Movie," in which he will prepare six courses including pan-seared quail with foie gras and caramelized pears while you sip vino and enjoy Babette's Feast (February 5, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., $100). Call Cook's at 228-1333 to register, or to request a course catalog of your own. Also note that if your gift list includes a popular course like the "Professional Approach to Basics" series, the most valuable present might be the promise to line up at dawn: For the most recent series of courses, registration began at 10 a.m. November 9, and by 10:17 all the evening courses were full. Cook's next registration day will be announced in January in their course catalog.

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