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So, I bought a this thing...

I periodically buy things at the grocery store even though I have never heard of them and have no idea what to do with them. Actually, scratch that. I periodically buy things at the grocery store BECAUSE I have never heard of them and have no idea what to do with them.

Today's example is a Buddha's Hand Citron. I could tell by the smell (and the name on the label) that it was a citrus fruit, but I mostly bought it for its striking resemblance to a head crab from the video game Half Life. Either that or a Cthulhu beard. Cheese Boy described it in a previous thread ( http://Chowhound.chow.com/topics/474826 ) as 'a lemon that was adopted by a family of carrots and forced to grow underground'.

In any case, now I have a this thing and I'm searching and researching what to do with it, but I'm curious - do you buy random things at the grocery store just cause they're weird? Have you lucked into anything you really loved that became a routine part of your culinary repertoire? Anything truly heinous that you wish you could travel back in time and choose to not purchase?

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  1. They have them every winter at Whole Foods and when I researched it a few years ago or asked someone there about it or some such thing, I was told they are mostly used in table arrangements. Surely there must be more than that to it.

    There are so few things at the market that I haven't seen before, but there are many things I ate in Asia that are just not here, like custard apples. I am told they are too delicate to ship. Our large Asian market carries durian (no thanks), dragon fruit (yes and so beautiful!) and lychees (ok), but I can't say WF or other markets have had anything so exotic for sometime--fruit or veg.

    9 Replies
    1. re: sandiasingh

      We top strawberry shortcake with sliced strawberries and diced Dragon fruit when we can find it.

      Lychee we enjoy in every form as an alternative to fresh, canned or dried pear.

      So many ways to use these 'unusual' fruits.

      1. re: sandiasingh

        Buddha hand has the most wonderful citrus aroma and makes a fantastic extract or flavoured vodka. I chop one up with the least amount of pith and one month later, you have knock your socks off Madeleine, macaron, meringue puffs, and souffle

        1. re: Nevy

          I agree. Buddha's Hand infused vodka and gin is amazing. Slice super thin and let soak for as long as you can. The longer, the more floral it tastes and smells. I forgot about a half dozen jars and came upon then after two years of infusing. It blew me away, and I still have some left I serve to discriminating guests.

          1. re: Nevy

            Nevy, what do you mean "the least amount of pith"? The fruit is basically all pith.

            1. re: JMF

              I don't use the entire fruit when I create the flavoured alcohols. I try to slice it so it has a balance of peel and pith instead of 80% pith and 20% peel.

              1. re: Nevy

                The pith isn't bitter and has good flavor. You are losing a lot of good stuff by not using it.

                1. re: JMF

                  In my first trial, I used everything and I found it to have a note that was not pleasant. It was a bit bitter and overtly sour. My second attempt was to use less pith with the same vodka and it was more floral and delicate in comparison. Perhaps it was the fruit in my first trial but since then, I've had the better results with a balance of pith and rind.

          2. re: sandiasingh

            I do this all the time and I've had some fantastic discoveries. I mostly stick to fruits, cheese, and pastry/desserts. I crave fresh jackfruit now and I'm slowly making my way through the many fresh dates found at the Arabic market.

            If I have the courage, one day I'll buy durian or geoduck

            1. re: sandiasingh

              Soursop, which I enjoy as a canned fruit, is one of the things that gets called "custard apple". So does cherimoya, which IS sold fresh in some markets. Canned soursop is a tad pricey, so I stretch it by using the syrup to replace part of the cold water when making a packet of any tropical flavor of Jell-O, and putting the fruit into it as well. I recently found frozen soursop in a flat packet in the Hannaford supermarket chain, but have not opened it yet.

            2. I absolutely do this! Glad to know I'm not the only one. I discovered star fruit and dragon fruit this way. I love going to the Asian supermarket and buying inexpensive items to figure out how use later. I use a brand of red curry paste (the name escapes me) with a Thai label- the ingredients include "lemons grasses". I mostly bought it because that seemed funny but it's really delicious!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Hobbert

                I thought most CH's do this! Impulse buys chowhound style.

              2. http://www.bellalucce.com/thebuzz/arc...

                Here's one idea for Buddha's Hand that went over very well as a gift idea.

                1. Buddha's Hand is a beautiful decorative table item...makes cool garnishes too

                  1. It is great for Candied Citron

                    1. Fun!
                      Others have listed the best suggestions- although i have also used the zest with some mint for tea which was really refreshing.
                      I am constantly buying new and random items! Favorites have been dark mushroom soy sauce, daikon, dried mulberries, fresh dates, and fresh chickpeas..... I could keep going!
                      Starfruit was a let down- pretty, but i wasn't wild about the flavor. And as much as i love papaya it doesn't love me and i get a weird rash from it......(bizarre since i have no other allergies), and the fermented tofu was just too funky for me.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        I'm curious to know what you did with the fresh chickpeas.

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Well, i invested a stupid amount of time into peeling them and then cooked with some fennel, shallot and white wine as a pasta topping. Delicious, but like fresh fava beans it took some fiddling.

                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            Would you say it was worth the time and effort? I see fresh chick peas sometimes in my local Mexican market. Once I bought a bagful but ended up tossing them because I never got inspired enough to do anything with them.

                      2. Heh...I bought some last winter, largely because I was in shock that my small-town Midwestern megamart stocked them, but also because I was in the middle of a massive bitters/liqueur-making project. Made for kind of a fun conversation in the checkout line when I had a few gnarly citrons and a couple of bottles of grain alcohol.

                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                            Wonderful link, I'd never seen that one before! Thanks.

                          2. When I was a kid, my dad bought us guava juice, which I became obsessed with. It was quite unusual for the midwestern city I grew up in.
                            Last year I was in a hispanic market, and there were guava fruit! Smelled heavenly. Small, between the size of a lime and a key lime. When I got them home, couldn't figure out how you were supposed to eat them. They were very hard and seemed like all seeds. Didn't know what to do so I just enjoyed their scent.

                            1. <do you buy random things at the grocery store just cause they're weird? Have you lucked into anything you really loved that became a routine part of your culinary repertoire? >

                              Sure, I have bought random things because they are weird -- at least they interest me.

                              Well, some of strange things I bought end up to be re-discovery. For example, I have bought Annona squamosa 2-4 months ago. After I took the first bite, I realized that I had it when I was a little kid -- the taste memory just all rushed back.


                              I have bought a big bag of kimchi dumplings 2-3 weeks ago which I don't think I have ever had. Not sure if this counts as grocery.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                "the taste memory just all rushed back"

                                A little OT, but isn't "taste memory" the best?!

                                Sour grass.
                                Play Doh.

                                1. re: pedalfaster

                                  Hmmm.. I do remember eating ants, and I remember licking Play Doh (not eating)

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Ants! Ohh ants have their own special flavor...

                              2. This is my standard response to finding unidentified stuff in the market. Mind you, I generally do this without the benefit of names, as if any name is given, it's hand written in Chinese.

                                I do make the precaution of knowing what it is before I cook it, however, as there are fruits and vegetables that must be cooked before they can safely be eaten.

                                1. Of course I buy stuff I've never seen before - that's how I discovered curry leaf, dragon fruit, and rambutans. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're just ok, like the winged beans I got at the Hilo farmers' market (even though the lady selling them was very helpful with cooking suggestions).

                                  A couple years back one of the local markets was selling long-stemmed artichokes: they weren't the standard Globe type, but had a more rounded head. The clerk in the produce department told me that every single customer who picked them up told him they would be great for artichoke soup!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tardigrade

                                    +1 for artichoke soup. Remember to use whole fresh garlic for added flavor, and ... a cheese rind of your choice is a nice addition also.

                                  2. With thoughts of this thread in my noggin, I was at the market today and found Buddah's Hand for sale in such a beautiful display, I had to buy one.

                                    Everyone from the stocker, to the checkout, to the bakery gals all asked me what it was and how I would use it.

                                    Just like a lemon or orange peel, I said.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      So far I've made salt and sugar with finely grated BH in the mix. And, a simple syrup. That covers the bar.

                                      DL candies BH: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/02/...

                                      Here's a few ideas I came across:

                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        Just trying to get an idea how much they are nowadays. Where and cost? I can get a small case of 10 online for $30, plus shipping, which comes out to $5.85 each. I used to be able to get them for $4-5 up in Mid-Coast Maine at the local supermarket.

                                        1. re: JMF

                                          JMF, I'm in NJ. I bought the Buddha's Hand at Sickles Market, Little Silver, NJ. $11.99 each. The one I selected has 27 'fingers' considered a double. So your price without shipping is right on the money.

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            The price without shipping was 10 for $37, with shipping is $58.55. But I have never seen them so expensive as the prices I've heard this year of $10-$12. I looked through some notes from when I made a Buddha's Hand vodka and back in 2008 I paid $4.99 each.

                                            1. re: JMF

                                              I believe you. Prices for specialty items sold in a specialty market, I've come to expect 'special' pricing! I bought one and I'm getting plenty of multiply uses out of it. So if I were to buy the salt, sugar, syrup, candied citron and prezested lemon peel (how awful) I would have paid far more than $12.00. I'm ahead.

                                      2. That's one of my reasons for going to farmer's markets and local farmstands. I'd never before seen Romanesco, which is too pretty not to buy, though basically, it's just broccoli for theoretical mathematicians (fractals).

                                        Years ago, out of curiosity I returned the next day to a farmstand to buy a huge yellow-orange heirloom tomato the size and shape of a human brain. It was perfectly ripe, having scared off other potential buyers. Best tomato ever.

                                        Purple (a.k.a. Bordeaux) radish from the Asian market.
                                        The size of an ostrich egg, or bigger. Lovely striated lavender flesh, mild-tasting and crunchy, makes gorgeous slaw when combined with carrots and scallion, or red onion.