If your kitchen is anything like mine, the coronavirus outbreak has taken a heck of a toll on your spice rack. With social distancing protocols and restaurant shutdowns making nightly home-cooked meals the new norm for this once busy restaurant critic, I’m now out of everything from asafetida to za’atar.
Sure, the spice section at H-E-B is fine for the basics. I mean, the corner bodega a couple blocks from my house even stocks cumin and Mexican oregano. But for anything beyond the South Texas staples, I’ll either be paying too much or it won’t be on the shelf at all. Either way, that makes for a sad shawarma or curry night at home.
While San Antonio may not have a major spice store chain like Penzey’s nearby, we do have a solution that will spare you the hassle of waiting a few days for an online order to show up — not to mention save you shipping fees.
Tucked away near Interstate 10 and Wurzbach Road near the South Texas Medical Center, Ali Baba International Food Market has one of the best selections of spices at the best prices anywhere in the city. When you’re ready to replenish your pantry, it should be your first stop.
I made a rare venture out of my work-from-home abode today to get a flu shot and found myself magnetically drawn to Ali Baba’s parking lot after the poking and prodding was over. I recently had run out of a few favorite spices and needed to address the impending crisis.
I found what I was looking for, and at the right price. Aleppo chile pepper flakes ($3.99 for 7 ounces), a terrific substitute for red pepper flakes when you want less heat. I like to grind whole mace ($2.99 for 2 ounces) into spice cakes or toss a piece into homemade pickle brine. And trust me here: Finely ground mint leaves ($4.99 for 3 ounces) is what you want in lamb meatballs or as part of a rub on lamb chops.
Of course, I left with so much more. A large 7-ounce tub of turmeric for $4.99. Pink Himalayan salt in huge chunks ($3.99 for 11 ounces) perfect for grating over plates as a showy finishing touch. And one I’m particularly excited about, finely ground dried sour grapes ($3.99 for 5 ounces.) I can’t wait to try this on marinated and grilled vegetables and as a crust on pan-seared pork chops.
Ali Baba International Food Market is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at 9307 Wurzbach Road. More at 210-691-1111, alibabasanantonio.com or Facebook: @Alibabasanantonio.
In other culinary happenings, I recently dove into the often misunderstood wisdom shared by home cooks of the 1950s. If you’re looking for lighter calorie and lower carb recipes that double as flavorful entertaining appetizers and more, give any of the following recipes a try.
Paul Stephen is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Paul, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen