by David Cecelski
I love visiting Meredith College in Raleigh because I can walk across Hillsborough Street and explore the Al Baraka Market. Run by a very gracious gentleman from Syria, the little store carries Middle Eastern staples like olives, bulk lentils, Halal meats, and a large assortment of the region’s spices, as well as sublime delicacies such as grape molasses (try it on toast mixed with tahini, a very traditional recipe for avoiding colds in winter) and mamouls, little pastries stuffed with dried dates seasoned with anise or pistachios flavored with jasmine. But what really draws me to Al Baraka are the nuts. A young Afghani woman I know told me that Al Baraka’s nuts are the only way that she has survived her homesickness for her native land. They are really extraordinary: Turkish pistachios, Sudanese peanuts, almonds (roasted daily), candied hazelnuts, lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, and chili-coated peanuts called kri-kris, among many others. The proprietor’s favorites, he told me, are the lemon seeds. They have an exquisitely delicate taste. He taught me how to eat them in a way that gets the most flavor out of them, by sucking them slowly and gently separating the flesh and husks with my tongue and teeth. My own favorites are the roasted almonds soaked in lemon juice and, I would guess, a little salt and olive oil. The first time that I visited Al Baraka, he offered me a sample and I was just astonished at the flavor: it was as if a whole, unimagined world suddenly opened to me.