These products are plentiful and form an important part of the Armenian diet. Milk from sheep, goats, and cows is not used fresh but is cultured or soured as buttermilk or yogurt and used, sometimes diluted with water, as a drink or as a snack and often as part of other dishes. Fresh, hard, soft, and aged cheeses, some flavored with mountain herbs, are prepared all the time and used generously as appetizers, toppings, and as ingredients for many dishes.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Citrus fruits, stone fruits such as plums, apricots, and peaches, grapes and melons, quince and apples are all abundantly enjoyed in season and mostly eaten fresh. Some of these fruits may be dried to preserve them for winter use.
Fresh and often wild herbs may be plucked from fields or paths and munched out of hand, minced and used generously in salads, or hung to dry for later use. Garlic and onions are used liberally in dishes and are often enjoyed raw. Leeks, green beans, squashes, okra, eggplant, salad greens, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, and cabbages also may be plucked to eat out of hand, chopped into salads or soups, or eaten cooked in casseroles.
MEATS AND ALTERNATES
Lamb and chicken are the most favored meats, but beef and goat are also used. A variety of game birds also find their way to the table: pigeon, duck, quail, goose, plover, and partridge, teal, woodcock, and pheasant. Fish may be served boiled, steamed, baked, fried, or split and grilled on skewers. Some seafood is used where available fresh, such as oysters and mussels.
Eggs are widely used in cooking and baking, as a custard-like topping for vegetable casseroles and for the egg-lemon sauce (avgolemono) so popular in soups, meat, fish, and vegetable dishes. Many varieties of beans are used but chickpeas are the favorite.
The plentiful and nutritious nuts are used in sauces, where they are crushed or chopped some-times with garlic and sometimes with spice and sugar. Nut filling for baked goods and nuts nibbled as a snack seem to be always at hand: pistachios, almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, and filberts. In fact, it is said that whenever two Armenians are talking there is probably a dish of pistachios between them.
BREADS AND GRAINS
The staple bread is the flat unleavened pideh or lavash made from wheat flour. Bulgur, coarse, dried whole wheat, is used in soups, as a side dish for meats, or mixed with chopped vegetables in a salad; it is also a frequent ingredient mixed with ground meats (See also Lebanese) and as fillings for vegetable dishes. Rice is also used in many dishes.
Every home has a supply of olive oil which is used in all cooking, as a basting for meats and fish, and as a base to dress salads. Clarified butter is used less frequently, sometimes for vegetables but mostly for special occasions that warrant pastries.
SWEETS AND SNACKS
Besides ignoring the negative effects of overindulging in alcohol, tobacco, and food, Armenians also seem to destroy the commonly held notion that sweets may be detrimental to health. Armenians consume more sweets and pastries than other peoples of the Caucasus, and yet their indulgence in these foods doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on their longevity. The usual dessert consumed is fruit and cheeses, but sugared and candied nuts appear to be widely available as snacks and desserts. The traditional syrupy-sweet desserts of thin, crisp pastries layered with nuts, spices, and sugar, so beloved around the Mediterranean, are just as welcomed by Armenians of any age. The availability of other sweet cakes as well as rolls filled with nuts and sweetened soft cheese fillings and brushed with egg and sugar toppings might even form the excuse for a party.
Garlic and onions head the list of seasonings, closely followed by a wide selection of cultivated and fresh and dried herbs. Nuts and seeds (sesame) add crunch and taste, vinegar and pepper add sharp hotness, while cloves, saffron, and cinnamon evoke the exotic. Greece’s famed avgolemono (egg and lemon juice) sauce adds its tangy touch to many meals. A dribble of clarified butter and splash of homemade wine or fresh cream may also be a part of the cook’s flourish.
Raki (brandy) is commonly taken as an aperitif, just in case any Armenian may he troubled with a lagging appetite, and if so, perhaps two Raids would be better than just one. Homemade red and white wines usually accompany meals and are enjoyed by all ages. Yogurt and soured milk (leban) is usually more a part of lunch or a between-meal refreshment. Soorj (unsweetened coffee) is the common breakfast beverage.