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Quince

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About the Food

Rather than rely on condiments, sauces, or lots of seasonings, Armenian dishes depend upon the food itself, or the combination of foods, to give fine flavor. The cuisine relies heavily on bulgur (cracked wheat) and lentils for bulk and substance. Lots of vegetables extend the dishes, which are eaten with large quantities of bread, especially flatbread. Other than salt and black pepper, cayenne (hot red pepper) and cumin are the spices most often used.

Although Simply Armenian is not a vegetarian cookbook, many of the recipes are meat-free. This bias is due to historical influences. First, traditionally, Armenians farmed the soil or tended orchards. Second, for nearly two millennia Armenians have been Christians, and the Armenian Orthodox calendar has more than 180 fasting days a year! On those days, the faithful are asked to abstain from eating dishes containing animal products, including dairy. While few people follow the church calendar today, many do observe the dietary restrictions during Lent. For that reason, the Lenten dishes are marked for easy identification, and substitutions (no animal products) are noted when necessary.

Traditionally, lamb is the preferred meat. Beef can be substituted throughout the book, and beef is the meat of preference for most Armenians born in the Middle East because they say the lamb available there "smelled" odd. Chicken is a staple. Fish is infrequent; Armenians have historically been a landlocked people. Eggplant is a favorite. Nuts and fruits are used in everything.

Fresh fruit and cheese are usually the first dessert and are often offered as an appetizer, too. Meals end with strong coffee that packs a higher-octane punch than Italian espresso, and perhaps a world-class Armenian brandy or cognac. Sweets are traditionally served to guests at teatime and on holidays.

The ingredient most unique to this collection may be quince. Quince is a fruit related to apples and pears. It is native to the Caucasus and northern Persia (now Iran) and has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean basin for centuries, but because it is rarely eaten raw, it has not been commonly used in the United States. But Armenians are a resourceful people known for their thrift and ingenuity, and my aunt had three quince trees growing in her yard. So, true to my grandmother's nature, she harvested those quinces every year and added quince dishes to our family's table.

My grandmother used to say, "Feed the body, so the soul can sing." Like thousands of Armenian cooks before her, and those of us who are following in her footsteps, it's time to learn the magic of creating a feast out of a basket of fresh vegetables and a handful of bulgur.

Armenian cuisine is a celebration of abundance, even in times or places of misfortune. It's time. Let's celebrate!

A true original--Barbara Ghazarian is an experienced cook with a laboratory science background and a natural teacher with a gift for great storytelling. Passionate about Armenian food, she combines the information a cook needs with the wisdom of generations of grandmothers. Her recipes work--without fail--guaranteeing your family and friends will fight for seats at the table when the magic is done.

 

 

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