You can't make ash without kashk . That irrefutable fact was on the mind of the young Persian as he frantically rummaged through the dairy section of the Porter Ranch Alpha Beta. He was sent there by his wife, he explained, for some--how do you say it in English?-- kashk . He studied the sour cream, but it wasn't what he was looking for. He contemplated the yogurt. Still not quite right. A fellow shopper showed him a carton of half-and-half. Not even close. How about cottage cheese? No, no, no! He finally gave up his search and left the market empty-handed. There would be no ash tonight. Too bad the luckless shopper didn't know about Discount Produce in Reseda, a small Persian grocery that stocks several brands and sizes of kashk (a yogurt-based product used in a thick Iranian soup called ash ). The market is also crammed with big bins of grains and seeds, chickpea flour, grape leaves, delicate rice cookies, Afghan bread and rows of Middle Eastern canned goods.
Many markets in the San Fernando Valley specialize in rare spices, exotic fruits, unusual cuts of meat and other difficult-to-find ingredients essential to cuisines of faraway lands. Although such grocers cater to immigrants hungry for home cooking, Americans who roam the stores' aromatic aisles are sure to find foodstuffs they never knew existed, as well as inspiration for future menus.
The following is a sampling of nearby ethnic markets, compiled with the assistance of local cooking teachers, cookbook writers, chefs and immigrants who know the real thing when they taste it.
Look for: fresh feta cheeses, fresh filo dough (much easier to handle than frozen), olives, many brands of olive oil, herbs and spices, rice-flour cookies and flat breads.
Armenian Grocery Store, 18598 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 881-6278, and 22776 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 225-1854.
Bamdad Bakery & Deli, 8968 Corbin Ave., Northridge. (818) 993-7469.
Sunland Produce, 8255 Sunland Blvd., Sun Valley. (818) 504-6629.
Look for: biscuits, scones, jams and jellies, English-style sausages, beef and pork pies, sweets, McDouglah's English flour, pickled onions, Branston pickles.
The Cambridge Cupboard, 22456 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 225-7316.
Look for: maiz (corn), harina, (flour) , pan dulce (sweet bread) and other baked goods, South American soft drinks, bottled water, wine, chicharrones (pork rinds) and hot fried bananas.
La Plaza Market (foods from the Caribbean and Central and South America), 19245 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge. (818) 701-5005.
Look for: calabazas (a squash), plantains, chiles, black beans, chorizos (sausages), Cuban smoked bacon, Cuban espresso, spices.
Food Bag, 11350 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 506-0911.
Havana Market, 1024 E. Colorado Blvd., Glendale. (818) 246-2913.
Spector's Market, 2407 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. (818) 841-0132.
Look for: cured cucumbers (similar to big pickles), sweet-and-sour red cabbage, boiled potatoes in jars, yellow pea soup, fish in tomato sauce, liver pate, Danish sausage, Danish cuts of meat.
The Danish Butcher Shop, 1414 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank. (818) 846-6231.
Danish American Farms, 16212 Parthenia St., North Hills, (818) 893-6334.
Look for: marzipan, Dutch salted and honey licorice, chocolates, mild medium and aged cheeses (Gouda, farmer and caraway), bakery items such as honey breakfast bread and speculahs (gingerbread cookies), Dutch coffee, and herring and mussels in jars. Also, Indonesian spices, condiments and sauces such as tamarind, coconut juice and coconut milk, and Indonesian bahmi (noodles) and nasi (rice).
Ann's Dutch Imports, 4357 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. (818) 985-5551.
Look for: sourdough bread, croissants, baguettes and other French breads.
Golden French Bakers, 6521 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys. (818) 785-1184. Also, 1100 S. Central Ave., Glendale. (818) 507-0039.
Look for: sausages and special cuts of meat such as chicken suelze , kassler (smoked pork chops), meat sliced for rouladen ; cold cuts; dumplings; potato pancakes; sauerkraut; mustards (sweet, spicy, extra-hot and Bavarian); white chocolate and hearty breads.
German Deli and Restaurant, 23115 W. Lyons Ave., Newhall. (805) 255-9790.
Schreiner's Fine Sausages, 3417 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale. (818) 244-4735.
German Cold Cuts International, 6019 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills (818) 883-8051
Look for: grape leaves, pine nuts, fresh herbs, fresh filo and olives.
Athenian Market, 17024 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 363-1160.
Look for: imported meats, sausages and salami, Hungarian paprika and spices, square pasta, Hungarian bread.
Otto's Import Delicatessen, 2320 Clark Ave., Burbank. (818) 845-0433.
Look for: teas; pita bread; spices; nuts; grains; dried beans; imported soft drinks; several varieties of rice in 44-pound bags, including basmati (a high-quality, fragrant, nutty-flavored rice); hot snacks and pastries such as burfi , made of milk, sugar and nuts, and chum chum , made of cheese, nuts, sugar and coconut powder.
Bombay Spiceland, 8650 Reseda Blvd., Northridge. (818) 701-9383.
House of India, 24420 Walnut St., Newhall. (805) 259-6453.
India Sweets & Spices, 22009 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. (818) 887-0868.
Look for: Irish sausages, bacon, sausage pudding, Irish butter, jams, Euro-Irish packaged soups, Bewley's Irish creme coffee, seven brands of tea, chocolate, cookies, Tayto (potato) chips, soda bread mix, crackers and shortcake.
Shamrock Imports, 7945 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 764-3935.
Look for: Imported prosciutto (a kind of ham), sausages and other meats, specialty herbs such as the Greek oregano used in Italian cooking, fresh cheeses, pine nuts, olives, olive oil, breads, pastries, imported and homemade pastas and semolina flour for making pasta from scratch.
Bauducco's, 2839 W. Agoura Road, Westlake Village. (818) 991-4670.
Domingo's Italian Grocery and Deli, 17548 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 981-4466.
Guiliano's Delicatessen and Bakery, 9631 Reseda Blvd., Northridge. (818) 886-5006.
Italia Bakery & Deli, 11134 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills. (818) 360-2913.
Italia Deli and Bakery, 5657 Kanan Road, Agoura Hills. (818) 991-4838.
Joe's Italian and Mideastern Market, 13246 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks. (818) 995-6944.
Maria's Italia European American Deli, 22620 W. Lyons Ave., Newhall. (805) 259-6261.
Monte Carlo Delicatessen and Restaurant, 3103 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. (818) 845-3516.
Paisano's, 26111 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita. (805) 253-1990.
Look for: Tahini (a sauce made of sesame seeds), tabbouleh, falafel, baklava, Arabic breads, Arabic coffee.
Dar Lebnan, 9233 Reseda Blvd., Northridge. (818) 993-6697.
Look for: a wide variety of fresh and dried chiles, corn husks for tamales, nopales (cactus leaves), tomatillos, chayote and other unusual vegetables, meat cut for carne asada and carnitas , fresh cilantro, harina , freshly ground masa , banana leaves, Mexican soft cheeses, difficult-to-find herbs and spices such as achiote and epazote and fresh tortillas. Some stores also carry South American foods, especially products from El Salvador.
Carniceria Mexico (formerly La Cocina Mexico Market), 21001 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. (818) 992-3239.
Tianguis, 315 San Fernando Mission Blvd., San Fernando. (818) 361-3063.
Sabroso Market and Deli, 19714 Vanowen St., Canoga Park. (818) 346-8442.
Tresierras (a large, full-service grocery store with locations also in Pacoima and Sun Valley), 24316 N. San Fernando Road, Newhall. (805) 255-3345.
Vallarta, 327 Palmdale Blvd., Palmdale. (805) 266-1398.
Look for: egg roll wrappers, lemon grass, many types of vinegar and soy sauce, jackfruit, fresh bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, bitter melon and other difficult-to-find produce, kimchi (pickled cabbage and radish), quail eggs, duck eggs, coconut milk, seaweed, noodles of every size and shape, unusual canned goods. Most Asian markets carry products from several countries, including the Philippines, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.
Asian Ranch Supermarket (mostly products from the Philippines, but also China and Japan), 13722 Sherman Way, Van Nuys. (818) 781-0385.
Bangluck Market (Mostly Thai and Vietnamese), 12980 Sherman Way, North Hollywood. (818) 765-1088.
California Supermarket (Korean and Japanese), 9136 Sepulveda Blvd., North Hills.
Intra Thai, 1361 E. Colorado Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-8209.
Jet Set (Japanese), 18110 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 886-8239
Manila Bay Seafood (mostly Philippine products, but also Thai and Chinese), 13555 Roscoe Blvd., Van Nuys. (818) 782-4844.
Midopa (Korean and Japanese), 10642 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills. (818) 360-0377.
Mie 'n Cats Oriental Food (Chinese and Japanese), 44934 Beech Ave., Lancaster. (805) 945-2805.
My Hoa (Chinese, Vietnamese, Philippine), 7235 Reseda Blvd., Reseda. (818) 996-8383.
Pratunum Super Market (Thai), 8236 Coldwater Canyon Ave., North Hollywood. (818) 782-3877.
Sari-Sari Oriental Foods (mostly Philippine, but also Thai, Korean and Vietnamese), 26234 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus. (805) 253-5052.
Tai Lee Supermarket (Chinese, Taiwanese and Thai), 8326 Winnetka Ave., Canoga Park. (818) 882-4028.
Look for: fresh herbs (mint, dill, fenugreek and Persian basil) several types of saffron, Middle Eastern breads and baked goods.
Discount Produce, 6800 Reseda Blvd., Reseda. (818) 344-2959.
Look for: biscuits, lingonberry preserves, Swedish meatballs, Swedish coffee, cookies, chocolate.
Swede Shop, inside Ikea home furnishings, 600 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank. (818) 842-4532.
Take a Lesson
Colleges and cooking schools throughout the San Fernando Valley offer a variety of classes in international cooking for beginners and advanced cooks. Prices range from about $35 for one class to $135 or more for a series.
Here are some that offer regular courses. Call to find out what's cooking.
* College of the Canyons Community Services, Santa Clarita, (805) 259-7800.
* Cal State Northridge Extension, Northridge, (818) 885-CSUN.
* Everywoman's Village, Van Nuys, (818) 787-5100.
* Learning Tree University, Chatsworth, (818) 882-5599.
* Let's Get Cooking, Westlake Village, (818) 991-3940.
* Pierce College Community Services, (818) 719-6425.
* The School for Creative Cooking, La Canada Flintridge, (818) 952-6072.
* Valley College Community Services, (818) 988-3911.
So you hit the stores, and you bought the olive oil, the black beans and the egg roll wrappers.
And you don't have the faintest idea of what to do with your ingredients.
Cooking instructors recommend these easy dishes:
Cuban Black Bean Soup
Simmer black beans with chopped onions, bell peppers, oregano, black pepper and a bay leaf for an hour or until beans are soft. Mash beans slightly and add olive oil and vinegar to taste.
(Suggested by Cuban cooking instructor Josefina Alvarez.) Soft Tacos
Roll cooked, shredded chicken in soft, freshly made corn tortillas, along with chopped lettuce, shredded cheddar and jack cheese. Add salsa, made of diced tomatoes, green onions, jalapenos, cilantro and lime juice--all fresh.
(Suggested by Mexican cookbook writer Jacqueline Higuera McMahan.) Fried Banana Egg Roll
Here's a dessert from the Philippines that's popular and smells delicious. Roll a burro banana and sliced jackfruit in brown sugar and wrap in a thin egg roll wrapper. Fry and serve hot with coconut ice cream.
(Suggested by chef-caterer and cooking instructor Cecilia DeCastro.) Spaghetti Sauce
Saute two whole cloves of garlic in two tablespoons of olive oil. Add four Italian plum tomatoes cut in quarters and five or six fresh basil leaves. Cook over high heat a few minutes and add to pasta cooked al dente . Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve with crusty Italian bread.
(Suggested by Eva Somlai, who teaches Hungarian and Italian cooking.) Danish Sausage
Here's one for cholesterol non-watchers: Boil a Danish sausage in a small amount of water for 20 minutes and reserve the water. Then fry the sausage in butter. Make rich gravy by blending equal parts flour with melted butter--and whipping cream if desired. Add this mixture to the reserve water and whisk it while cooking. Add gravy coloring ( kulor ), available at Danish markets. Serve with small boiled potatoes and sweet-and-sour red cabbage.
(Suggested by Annie Barber, a native of Denmark and cooking instructor.)
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Mix cooked rice, pine nuts, chopped onion, dried dill and fresh parsley and mint leaves. Place the mixture onto grape leaves (purchased canned at Greek and Middle Eastern markets) and roll tightly into fat cigar shapes. Steam until done, about an hour.
(Suggested by Michael Turner, a cooking instructor who specializes in international low-fat, low-cholesterol cuisine.)