What happens when you visit Astoria, Queens, with Carol Gillott, proprietress of the delectable Paris Breakfasts blog and master shopper of food markets worldwide? You discover hidden treasures unknown to the lay food explorer.
Lucky for me, Gillott is my aunt, and my curiosity about food is due in large part to the countless childhood weekends I spent tagging along with “Auntie Carol” on eating adventures in New York, to destinations that include the Union Square Greenmarket, Kalustyan’s, and macrobiotic restaurants.
Last week, I traveled to Greece by way of Astoria as Gillott, a longtime resident of this heavily Greek neighborhood led me down market aisles and up to deli counters, tasting everything from olives to apricots.
Our source of inspiration — and lunch — was Titan Foods market, where the bemused man behind the deli counter let us sample some of the eighteen varieties of feta cheese. When we asked if people really purchased all the different types of feta, he assured us that they did. “Everyone wants the one that’s made in his home town in Greece.” We chose a sharp goat variety from a mountainous region.
At the olive bar, a tall, grey haired man with a gentle smile was filling his shopping cart with quarts of olives. We asked him if he owned a restaurant. “Not anymore,” he replied. “I owned a restaurant in Sarajevo, but we had to leave because of the war. Maybe I will open another restaurant here someday.”
Before leaving Titan, we picked up some Greek yogurt. With a crisp cucumber from Gillott’s CSA, dill from a produce vendor, and a clove of garlic (not from China, Gillott confirmed with the cashier), we had the makings of the Greek yogurt dip tzatziki, an ideal condiment for summer.
Back at Gillott’s apartment, I made a batch of tzatziki, grinding the garlic with sea salt to mellow the flavor, as Gillott had learned from a French chef.
I’m looking forward to our next food outing, and am happy I still have a mentor to show me new culinary wonders in this ever-surprising city.
Makes 2 cups
1 large cucumber, seeded
1 bunch dill
1 clove garlic
2 cups yogurt
Salt and pepper
If the cucumber is waxed, peel it, but otherwise leave the skin on for color. Dice the cucumber and place it in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Pull the dill fronds from the thick stems. Mince the fronds and add them to the cucumbers.
Mince the garlic, then place it in a small mortar and pestle with a teaspoon of salt, and mash until it turns into a paste. Add the garlic to the cucumber and dill, and toss with a spatula. Add the yogurt, toss well, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. For the best flavor, allow the tzatziki to sit in the fridge for 1 hour before serving.