Where to find elusive ingredients in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area

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Local hiding spots for your favorite kitchen oddities

Golden Syrup

A fan of the Great British Baking Show, are we? If you’ve been whipping up flapjacks, biscuits and steamed puddings galore, you may have encountered numerous requests for golden syrup. Of course you could always substitute with something similar—honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses—but the varying flavor and consistency will affect your results. If you swing by the Bread Garden Market, 225 S Linn St, Iowa City, you’ll find Lyle’s Golden Syrup regularly stocked next to the maple syrup, and you’ll be almost guaranteed your dish will earn a Paul Hollywood handshake. Savory recipes using golden syrup abound, so worry not about sugary tooth rot.

Blood sausage

Blood Sausage

Looking for some blood sausage? Head to Ruzicka’s Meat Processing, 301 N Dubuque St, Solon where their team of butchers regularly prepares jelito. This non-smoked sausage of Moravian/Czech heritage is made of a mix of blood, spices and pork liver and is dark black-brown in color. Made fresh, but sold frozen in packs of two, these sausages can be baked in the oven and served whole or removed from their casings and cooked.



The odor of this tropical fruit has been likened to raw sewage, dirty gym socks, pig poop and more, and in southeast Asia it’s been banned from public places. Thankfully, the flavor is unlike any of these untoward comparisons. The pulp inside the spiny rind has been compared to that of a rich almond custard or creamy blancmange, though many are unable to overcome the smell to enjoy the taste. The Malaysian variety of this divisive fruit is available regularly at World Fresh Market, 2301 2nd St, Coralville. Take one home and try for yourself—perhaps you’ll find the aroma pleasant, as many do. Does this fickle fruit present an opportunity for debate? Maybe so.

Kala Namak

Kala Namak

Raw pink Himalayan salt mixed with charcoal, barks and herbs is sealed in a jar and fired in a furnace for a day, cooled and aged in order to transform it into Kala Namak, or Black Salt. The resulting salt has a pungent taste and smell, sort of sulfurous in quality. It’s a great secret ingredient for vegans looking for that eggy taste in their tofu scrambles or chickpea omelets, but is traditionally used in Indian recipes for the preparation of chaats, chutneys and raitas. A small package will set you back just $1.99 at Everest Foods Nepali Store, 5429 Center Point Rd NE, Cedar Rapids and will provide countless opportunities to spice up your standard-issue dinners.



If you’re on the hunt for the classic German digestive Underberg—cute little bottles wrapped in brown paper, filled with herby, anise-y liquour and fitted with collectable, rewards-earning tops, look no further than Brix Cheese Shop and Wine Bar 209 N Linn St, Iowa City. In production since 1846, this strong tasting bitters is intended to be taken all at once, like a shot, as a digestive. More and more it’s becoming an ingredient in well-crafted and balanced cocktails. Use it as a hangover cure, after a too-big meal or just because you like the hyper-bitter, medicinal taste. Stock your home bar with a collection of wrapped bottles and impress all your friends; just be sure to ask for everyone’s bottle caps before they leave. The green plastic tops can be redeemed for delightful prizes ranging from key fobs to engraved glasses and herbal motif china, which you’ll totally want.



Korean Bossam is a great party trick—the multiple sauces and sides and interactive serving format are sure to impress your guests—and it’s a meal that’s pretty easy to execute, all things considered. To really make the meal sing, don’t skip the ssam sauce. As the name might suggest, it’s a key component of traditional Bossam. You’ll need fermented bean-and-chili paste, which you can find easily at the Asian Market, 624 S Gilbert St, Iowa City. Visit often enough and the shop owner will make her own suggestions for different ingredients and recipes to try, plus there are plenty of interesting things on the shelf to catch your eye that are a worth a try.

Recipe: Slow-Cooker Beef with Gochujang and Hoisin

By Ari Ariel. Serves 6-8

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Blair Gauntt/Little Village

When it’s cold, I want stew. That means slow cooking. To make that happen on a weekday, I turn to my crockpot. Gochujang, because of its complex fermented flavor, is ideal in recipes with few ingredients, giving you lots of bang for your buck. To temper down its spiciness a bit I’ve added hoisin, another, much sweeter, fermented sauce. I like to use chuck in my stews, and I prefer to buy large pieces and cut it myself. Because of the long cooking time of this recipe, you want big chunks of beef, between two and three inches; usually pre-cut stew meat is much smaller than that. You might also note that I am not asking you to sear the meat before you put it in the crockpot. Browning is great but comes at a cost: it toughens your meat. With the deep flavors of gochujang, hoisin and beer, I don’t think it is necessary.

• 1 piece of boneless chuck roast, 2 to 3 pounds
• 1 head of garlic, cut in half lengthwise
• 1 inch piece of ginger, cut in half
• 1 cup gochujang
• 1 cup hoisin sauce
• 12 ounces stout or other beer
• 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon salt

Cut the beef into large chunks, between two and three inches each.

Place the beef in your slow cooker and add the garlic and ginger.

Mix all the other ingredients together and pour them over the beef.

Cook on low for 8 hours.

Taste and add salt if necessary.

Recipe: No-Cook Gochujang Sauce

This sauce is made by mixing together a few pantry items. It is simple, delicious and quite versatile. I put it on grilled or sautéed salmon, chicken or pork chops, and it makes a great addition to stir fries. If you grate your garlic on a microplane, you don’t even have to get a knife dirty.

• 1/4 cup gochujang
• 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon finely minced or grated garlic

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together until smooth.

Taste and add vinegar or honey as necessary to get the balance of spicy, tangy and sweet that you prefer.

If the sauce is too thick, add just enough water to bring it to a smooth consistency.

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