I have a friend in the UP of Michigan, where we both grew up, who has started a fantastic cooking blog. I was drooling over her recipes! But they also made me a little sad because most of them included ingredients that are hard to get in Armenia, or techniques that are sort of challenging here, which means that I have to wait until I get back to the US to try making them.
I sent her a message, asking if she was up for a challenge. A challenge of making a vegetarian meal of dinner and dessert that I could make in Armenia with local ingredients. I told her, “We have a lot of stuff readily available here, but not everything. For example, from this recipe, I am missing: molasses, nutmeg, maple syrup, buttermilk (I’d have to make my own), and baking powder. (Thanks to care package items, I could probably manage, but I’d like to make something from ingredients I didn’t have to order from the states.)”
She told me, “Sounds like an awesome challenge, Ev!” So I sent her a more comprehensive list of what she could and couldn’t use, and what I normally make. (See very bottom of post for what I wrote to her.)
Of course, making Apple Pear Hand Pies wasn’t as easy as following the recipe, since I live in Armenia. Yes, I had all the ingredients, especially the “unsalted butter, very cold” that had been sitting out in my kitchen. (Who am I kidding? All the food I own, “sits out,” since there is no “in,” as in “fridge.”) (Was that too confusing? Let me make it clearer. I don’t have a fridge.)
The problem was that the gas cylinder I use to cook with is empty, which meant I couldn’t do the, “In a medium saucepan…” part of the recipe.
Quick story: I went in a taxi, with two young helpers to get my gas cylinder refilled on Monday, and when we got to the place, we were told, “There is no gas.” THERE IS NO GAS! Can you believe it?? There’s another place a little farther away, but they didn’t have gas, either. They said to come back in 2 days. I went back two days later, and they still didn’t have gas, and again told me to come back in two days.
My other little problem was that earlier this week, my electricity was on the fritz, so I didn’t dare turn on my electric oven to bake anything (especially if I had to have a light on, or something else plugged in at the same time, like my heater or computer).
Today, I decided to make the pies anyway, doing some of the prep work at my house, and the rest at my site mate Laura’s, using her stove and oven.
We had a total site mate dinner: Laura, Harry, Mikeita, and I, with homemade pizza and the pies for dessert. (Sorry, Loretta, we didn’t do the entire meal you created in one go.)
The pies came out perfectly. Soft, flaky crust, the perfect sweetness/cinnamon/apple/pear mixture on the inside… They were some of the most delicious things I’ve ever baked.
I wished we could have eaten all of them, but I had already decided to save some for my neighbors as a thank you gift, because yesterday they fixed my electricity.
Next, I am excited to try the Cauliflower Pasta Recipe that Loretta created for me. And I will definitely be making these hand pies again.
The following is the food information I sent to Loretta. It’s based on my experiences and opinions in my small Armenian town, which means it doesn’t reflect the state of every place or every person in Armenia.
A lot of produce is available here, but it’s becoming more scarce and more expensive now that winter is coming.
It’s always hard or nearly impossible to find broccoli and leafy greens. Corn here is disgusting. They eat feed corn. It’s usually super easy to find cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, onion, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, green onion. We also have eggplant.
The stores generally have a lot of canned goods available like tomato paste, pickles and other pickled veggies, peas (although I don’t love peas), various fruit jams, and other stuff I can’t remember right now. We don’t have tuna.
We do not have good cheese, so do not create a cheese dish, unless you also make the cheese from raw milk (which I did once, several years ago in Arizona. Not sure how hard it would be to do here, but it’s probably possible. There is rennet and citric acid.) Sometimes (unexpired) milk can be hard to find, but it’s not impossible. And if needed, I could probably find a neighbor with a cow. It’s really easy to find something similar to plain yogurt and greek yogurt at the stores. Also, sour cream, kefir, and butter are easy to find. Our butter is always unsalted.
There are tons of apples right now. We also have persimmon, pomegranate, pears, clementines, and grapes (with seeds). In season (so not at the moment) we also have cherries, plums, watermelon, apricots and tons of different kinds of berries: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants… (just not blueberries or thimbleberries). Dried fruits include figs, pears, apricots, prunes and golden raisins.
A lot of cooking staples are available like salt, pepper, flour, egg, yeast, baking soda (we don’t have baking powder), vanillin (which is powdered vanilla with sugar added), chicken, beef, and vegetable bullion, white sugar (not brown), olive oil, vegetable oil, vinegar.
We don’t have crackers, maple syrup, or peanut butter. I usually make my own bread. We can also get something called lavash, which is similar to humongous tortilla shells. Lavash comes in an oblong shape, usually about 2.5 feet long by maybe 1.5 feet wide. We (Americans) use it when we make things like tacos or faijitas.
I cook a lot with lentils, rice, and noodles.
I live at a high altitude but have never found it to affect what I cook. I can easily make a cake, a pie, and most cookies. We don’t have chocolate chips, but can buy a dark chocolate bar and smash it up. We have powdered sugar, cocoa, and condensed milk, but not evaporated milk. We don’t have corn starch, but have potato starch, which is basically the same thing.
Some nuts are really easy to find, but a little more expensive, like almonds, walnuts, cashews, and peanuts. Peanuts are cheap.
I have a blender, which I recently got but have never used. It’s from a former volunteer. I have a small electric oven, and gas stovetop burners. I do not have a mixer, but I’m pretty good at beating stuff by hand. I do not have a fridge, so if I buy something that needs to be refrigerated, I eat it right away. Of course, now that it’s getting colder, my entire kitchen is a fridge, so I’m not worried that things will spoil.
Clean, cold water is readily available.
I usually don’t buy or eat meat. Right now our butcher shops are closed anyway, because we had anthrax in our area that came from a cow. Even when they’re open, it’s hard to get a certain cut of any animal. You usually order by the kilo, and they just hack a chunk off of what remaining animal part is left, using a gigantic axe on a wood chopping block.
I like to stir-fry, I eat a lot of spaghetti, I often make pizza, lentil soup, and many potato-based dishes. I’ve made pasty as well.
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