|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
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.