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Executing a recipe in rural Nebraska can be challenging at times. The grocery store caters to the needs of its meat-and-potato clientele and finding an exotic ingredient is like trying to find a Democrat in this unwavering red state. The supply is ample if you are looking to make a casserole out of the Presbyterian Church Cookbook but if you want to venture into any sort of ethnic culinary endeavor, you are limited.

Speaking of that, I got my hands on a fantastic cookbook the other day…

Plenty cookbook

The book is called “Plenty” and it’s written by London chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I was a believer simply upon seeing the cover highlighting roasted eggplant with buttermilk sauce, za’atar and bright red pearls of pomegranate seeds. I slowly flipped through the pages and savored every photo; strips of paper marked the recipes I wanted to revisit and attempt.

As I began thinking about creating a few dishes from this cookbook, it was then I realized there was going to be a fair amount of improvising involved. When you live in the middle of nowhere, you are expected to be creative. This is especially true in the kitchen. There was not one recipe I wanted to make in which all the ingredients could be acquired at my local grocery store or farmer’s market. It’s at this moment as a home cook that you become desperate…

The grocery store doesn’t have currants but perhaps I could substitute them with that box of Ocean Spray “Craisins” I saw in the cereal aisle. The parsley (curly…never flat leaf) was beyond wilted in the produce department and I wonder if I could use dried or skip it altogether. I need one tablespoon of pomegranate molasses? You’re killing me here!

It was when I was eyeing a few containers of “Activia” in lieu of actual Greek Yogurt that I said aloud, “Enough is enough!”

That’s when I vowed to begin something I like to call the “Rural Spice Trade”…

County Seat Living Spices

When I find myself in Los Angeles, I scour the ethnic markets in search of brilliant flavor. Whether it’s the Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Hannam Supermarket in Koreatown, or the Jordan Market filled with Persian fare in Westwood, you have access to any ingredient you could possibly need. On my most recent trip, I loaded up a carry on suitcase with spices from my favorite Armenian market. My intention now is to share my loot with other rural flavor seekers. After a trip to my local Hobby Lobby for containers, I made my friends a few jars…

County Seat Living Sumac

County Seat Living Za'atar

Aleppo Pepper is a spice I have come to appreciate beyond measure. I was gifted a homemade jar several years ago and thought it would take me a lifetime to make it through the daunting red colored spice. I was pleasantly surprised. I started putting it on everything and suddenly my salt cellar became home to my main go-to ingredient, Aleppo Pepper…

Aleppo Pepper in china bowl

I made a quick lunch the other day that highlights this amazing spice. I started with some whole wheat bread I had baked the day before from a great recipe from The Baker Chick

No-Knead Bread

I sliced it, rubbed it with olive oil and then put it on the grill to toast…

Rustic Bread on Grill

Grilled Rustic Bread

I then rounded up a few staples that would be fabulous on grilled bread…

Farmer's Market Tomato

Avacado on Barn Wood

Flatwater Creamery Goat Cheese

The final results were quite tasty…

County Seat Living Crostini2

Smashed avocado with locally made goat cheese from the gas station in Overton, Nebraska (who knew?) and Aleppo Pepper…

County Seat Living Crostini3

And homemade ricotta with garden tomato and Aleppo Pepper…

County Seat Living Crostini4

It was a great lunch. Simple and easy…

County Seat Living Crostini

Now that my hunger has been quenched, it’s time to tackle that cookbook. I hope the “Rural Spice Trade” will aid in my efforts…

County Seat Living Spices2

Cheers to spicing things up!

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Scott Rager

Robert Scott Rager is a Nebraska native who returned home to start a boutique business called "County Seat Living". His personal goal for "County Seat" is to translate the lifestyle design he was creating in Los Angeles for the past twelve years and apply it to the sensibility of the Great Plains. Whether he's writing about decorating, homemade ice cream, floral creations, event planning or product design, he wants the personality and style of Nebraska to shine bright.

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