Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Low Carber in Indianapolis, Part 1

The Midwest isn’t the most low carb-friendly region in the world.  We Hoosiers love our starches – we can’t choose between rolls, biscuits or cornbread any more than we can choose between rice, noodles or potatoes.  Two-starch rule?  Hell, I’ve seen four-starch meals.

That said, Indianapolis is pretty darn workable for low carb, whether you’re shopping or dining.  So today we’re going shopping.

Meijer.  Large chain grocery/department store.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother naming a chain grocery store; we’re all familiar with them.  But I do need to point out a few very special things about Meijer.  First, many Meijer grocery stores in Indiana carry Fage Greek Yogurt.  The one across the street from me on the far west side carries House Brand Tofu Shirataki noodles in the refrigerator department right alongside the tofu.  They also carry low-carb tortillas and such.  They also have an outstanding produce department with an excellent selection of bulk nuts and low-carb veggies like jicama, chayote and daikon that can sometimes be hard to find.

The important thing about Meijer, however, is the store brand products, which are actually truly exceptional.  The Meijer brand cottage cheese is rich, creamy, flavorful, and contains NO dextrose or other funky ingredients.  The Meijer brand heavy whipping cream contains a single ingredient:  Cream (which also means it tends to clump up in your fridge, which doesn’t hurt anything; to the contrary, I love watching a lump of cream melt in my tea).  The Meijer brand boxes of beef and chicken stock are fantastic.  Ordinarily I make my own chicken stock (I’m not masochistic enough to make beef stock), but the Meijer stock is a pretty decent substitute for homemade.

Trader Joe’s.  I adore Trader Joe’s.  The moment you walk in the door, you find yourself in front of a refrigerator case with a gorgeous selection of cheeses at very reasonable prices.  TJ’s is a low carber’s dream, stocking things like almond meal, inexpensive and delicious almond butter, cultured butter, freeze-dried blueberries with no sugar or glycerin added, canned tuna in olive oil, and a TJ’s brand mayonnaise that won the Cook’s Illustrated taste test – it contains absolutely zero sweetener, and is actually cheaper than Hellman’s.  In the supplement section, there’s a wide variety of protein powders.  There’s a snack foods section with an incredible selection of various nuts and seeds.

Another standout at Trader Joe’s is the TJ’s brand sprouted low-carb breads, wheat, rye or multi-grain.  This is probably the best low-carb bread I’ve ever found.

There are two Trader Joe’s in Indianapolis:  One on West 86th Street, near the Michigan Road exit, and one on East 82nd Street across from the Castleton Square Mall.

Saraga.  This ginormous international grocery is the undisputed king of ethnic groceries.  A gigantic melting pot, it’s divided into clearly labeled aisles by ethnicity.

You can’t possibly miss the awe-inspiring produce section, filled with both the familiar and with stuff you’ve never heard of before.  Their produce, unlike what you’ll usually find at the grocery store, is fresh and well-treated and about half what you’ll pay at Kroger.  And the selection!  You can buy jicamas bigger than a soccer ball, daikon the size of your arm, four different kinds of avocados, and probably fifty different kinds of green leafy vegetables.  There’s only two down sides:  First, how do you find out a carb count of a vegetable or fruit that doesn’t even have a name in English; and second, many of the staff don’t speak much English, so it’s hard to ask, “What is this and how do I cook it?”

A walk through the meat and fish aisle is just as jaw-dropping.  They have every kind of fish and seafood imaginable, fresh and/or frozen, and a whole bunch of kinds you’ve never heard of.  This is a wonderful place to buy fish and seafood, right up to sashimi quality.  The fish are whole, but just talk to the nice people behind the counter, they’ll cut you fillets or steaks to your preference, and unlike chain groceries, here you have no problem getting fish heads and carcasses for stock.  Or just to eat, if you like any of the numerous oriental fish head recipes.  As a sidebar, if you’ve never tried jellyfish salad, you are really missing out.

The meat is extremely fresh and inexpensive, but you can run into a problem here because they don’t use the same cuts you’re familiar with, so sometimes you’ll run into a lovely-looking, reasonably priced piece of beef and wonder whether you should pot roast it or pop it on the grill.  Once again, there may be a communication problem with some of the employees, but they really want to help, so just keep at it until you get your questions answered.  You’ll also find recognizable cuts at jaw-dropping prices, like whole beef tenderloins for $5.99 a pound.  Chicken, whole or cut up, is even more reasonable, as is pork.  Duck is cheap, once you get past the shock of buying it with the head and feet still attached. 

One big benefit of an international grocery is that you’ll find a lot of things you’ll never see at a mainstream grocery.  I love to buy chicken feet here – they make the best chicken stock ever.  Also, goat.  I love goat curry.  But we’re just warming up.  Pigs’ feet, beef tongue, liver, oxtail?  Hey, this is Indiana, pass the fork.  Kidneys, heart, chitterlings, even brains?  Okay, I’m sure some stores go there.  Tripe?  Ummmm . . . maybe.  But pork rectum or uterus?  Uhhhh . . . no.  No, I can’t say I’ve ever seen either of those at the grocery, but I’d sure love to see what Martha Stewart would do with them.  Not that I’d try it.  Sorry, but that’s a little too far down the digestive chain for me.  They also sell whole sheep’s head.  Obviously somebody is buying these things.

In the refrigerator section, you’ll find an excellent selection of shirataki noodles at probably the lowest price you’ll ever see, so stock up.  In the dairy section, I like to buy Paneer, an Indian cheese which has the interesting property of not melting – cubes of it feature in my all-time favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer, a spicy creamed spinach with fried cubes of Paneer.  Saraga’s dairy section also has a lovely selection of yogurt and kefir.

Getting into the canned and packaged goods, there are some staples you’ll want to buy here.  Authentic Thai fish sauce, real slow-fermented soy sauce (you couldn’t pay me to eat American soy sauce), rice wine vinegar, miso paste, canned coconut milk, canned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, canned black beans, spices and curry pastes are all items best bought at an international grocery – you’ll get a far better selection and pay a small fraction of the price you’ll pay for these specialty items at a chain grocery or health food store.

Pass right by the snack section.  Trust me.  Everything is either loaded with sugar or starch.  However, don’t miss the aisle of dried seaweed!  If you’ve never tasted seaweed before – seaweed salad, seaweed in soups, toasted nori snacks, seaweed-wrapped sushi – you’re seriously missing out and need to start experimenting.  Besides being rich in vitamins and minerals and naturally low in carbs, seaweed contains what the Japanese call “umami,” the elusive “fifth flavor” most people call “savory” or “earthy” as opposed to the four more common flavors of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  Good soy sauce, for instance, is rich in umami, as are mushrooms.  And seaweed.  Eat some and you’ll crave it evermore.

While we’re talking about Saraga . . . the whole area of Lafayette Road between about 16th Street and 46th Street, and 38th Street from Lafayette to Moller Road, is a positive Mecca of little ethnic groceries and restaurants.  My favorite Indian restaurant, India Palace, is in this area, but in this post we’re talking about shopping, so I just have to bring up the incredible Indian grocery two doors down from India Palace.  You have to look sharp for it – it’s just a door next to the Indian vegetarian restaurant next door.  You go in and find yourself in a long blank hallway and you wonder if you took the right door.  But go down the hallway and it suddenly opens up into a couple little Indian shops and the wonderful grocery.  I don’t recommend buying Indian sauces in jars, because inevitably they have sugar or thickener or stabilizers added, and they’re not much trouble to make at home if you have a coffee grinder/spice grinder and/or a food processor/blender.  But buying spices at an Indian market can save you a lot of money.  Whenever possible, buy spices like peppercorns, allspice, cumin, etc., whole and grind them when you need them; they’ll taste better and stay fresh longer.  The one exception is fenugreek.  Unless you have one kickass spice grinder, buy your fenugreek ground, because those seeds are like little pebbles and very hard to grind enough that you won’t lose a filling to them.  Other bargains at an Indian grocery include ghee, tea, coconut oil, and paneer.

Cost Plus World Market.  This isn’t primarily a food market, and it’s a chain (, but they do have some interesting international foods and good prices on Torani syrups.  They’re a little north of Indianapolis on 116th Street.

Farm Markets.  These are a great resource in Indiana and there are plenty of them.  By far the “biggie” is the Traders Point Creamery farm market.  It’s technically in Zionsville, but in actuality it’s northwest Indianapolis, just off of I-465 at the West 86th Street exit.  May through October, the green market is outdoors on Friday evenings and the emphasis is on locally grown meats and produce; November through April, the market is indoors on Saturday mornings and emphasizes local meats and cheeses.  Don’t miss out on Trader’s Point Creamery itself!

On the west side, the Old Farm Market has two locations:  One near 10th Street and Lynhurst, and one further west on Rockville Road in Avon.   

Here’s a lovely map showing other Indianapolis area farm markets:

Beware that these are seasonal and often have limited days and hours.

Health food stores and the like.  I always consider health food stores a court of last resort because the products are so overpriced – generally anything I can buy there, I can buy online cheaper and have it delivered to my door.  Nevertheless, there are a few worth mentioning.

There are two Whole Foods Markets in Indianapolis, one on East 86th Street near Westfield Boulevard, and one just north of Indy in Carmel.  The Good Earth in Broadripple has a nice selection, friendly staff and a funky/hippie feel that’s less intimidating than a lot of health food stores.  On the west side, Georgetown Market Natural Foods on Lafayette Road between 38th Street and 56th Street is virtually a natural foods supermarket.  There are plenty of other health food stores in the Indianapolis area, but those are the biggest and best.

Well, I’m shopped out.  I’ll probably post more on Indianapolis shopping in the future, and we haven’t even touched eating out yet, so look for Part 2, coming soon to a blog near you!

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