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My family and I are American expats who live/work in a developing country which has not much choice in the selection of foods to maintain a healthy diet. Our food sources are found at a local bazaar and are seasonal and therefore we do not have availability to all foods year round. In late fall and winter there are only beets, carrots, potatoes (sweet potatoes only available from late October to the end of November), onions, apples, lemons, and oranges. There are no greens, tomatoes, nor other spring veggies, fruits, and berries. To workaround this we can or freeze what we are able. 


Meats that are available to us are beef, chicken, lamb, and sometimes goat. We have little or no access to pork (for cultural reasons) or fish. The fish comes in frozen and is not well taken care of meaning that we have become ill each time we have eaten it. Farm raised trout is something new and can be found at times in various markets.


We do have access to nuts, legumes and pulses here in abundance. Also, buckwheat, barley and a variety of white rices. We have very little to no access to chia or quinoa. Most dried foods are good here except fruits in which the drying process is done in the villages where they lay out a sheet on top of a roof and let the sun do the work over several days. These dried fruits often have worms in them which forces us to freeze them for a period of time to both kill the worm and the eggs.


The water is not clean and we must filter it through a  bio filter plus another heavy metals filter before we can drink it.  Many times during the week the water will be shut off for an entire day. Therefore we store several days of potable and non-potable water to make it through each week. 


We are looking for a nutritionist or other food expert who might be able to help us with our situation. We are excellent cooks and have a lot of knowledge in the kitchen. We do not eat processed foods and make every meal from scratch. Yes, this takes a lot of time. Most of the locals here eat every meal fried because they believe that it is the healthiest choice for them as they feel that the bacteria will die at high temps when frying. 


I will be happy to proved more specific information if necessary.


Thanks in advance, 


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I’m guessing North Africa, the Middle East, or another primarily Jewish/Muslim country due to the allowance for beef but not pork (silly IMO). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you’re in Israel, but please correct me. It would help to know what the country is, since your cultural surroundings can dramatically change what food you will be encouraged to cook, let alone what you have access to.


The Middle East (including Israel) has a rich culture of cooking, in many ways richer than Europe’s. I’m not an expert myself, unfortunately (I would love to be, and I envy your opportunity). But that doesn’t change the fact you should take as many cues as possible from the culture at hand.


Use the pulses and legumes; use the citrus. I know the Middle East generally has access to chiles (at least dried), meaning (if nothing else) you can make yourself some mean Mexican with your ingredients at hand. Onions, chiles, and oranges generally means some excellent salsas: tinga, salsa verde, etc.


If you can, visit some local friends or network with some folks who are used to cooking in this locale. I guarantee you they are not cooking things that habitually make them sick, and they will be able to give you good info on what and how they cook.


By the way, there is good science to frying killing bacteria. It works, provided you haven’t mixed that bacteria into a ground or shaped product (like ground meat). Fried chicken, for example, virtually guarantees a sterilized surface of the product when it comes out of the fryer. But you can do the same thing with a good sear or oven roast.


A couple random thoughts:


- Do you have canned versions of veggies you miss? For example, canned tomatoes (enough to make a good sauce)?

- Do you have access to more alliums than you mentioned (garlic, leeks, green onions)? Can you get seeds for any that you can’t get in a market?

- What kind of food do you actually want to make? (You didn’t mention this, so it’s entirely possible that all of my writing is sailing past and you are beyond tired of reading this. More detail about what you want would help.)

- What is your ability to grow some of the things you miss? Herbs, alliums, greens, etc.


If you are indeed cooks with plenty of kitchen knowledge and a dedication to cooking from scratch, I have to admit I’m not terribly concerned for you — not because I’m heartless (though I am) but because you’ll be fine. With a modicum of internet savvy, you can find the cornerstones of cuisine in the place you live (for the Middle East: sumac, saffron, spices usually thought of as Indian). With a few social skills, you can befriend a few people who will show you how to cook food and not die.

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@PaulG  Thanks so much for your speedy reply. We're actually in a former Soviet country called Tajikistan. Tajikistan happens to be 98% Muslim and therefore no pork. Sometimes you can find the little old Russian lady in the back corner of the bazaar and she beckons you over with a crooked little finger and says "I have what you need" Honestly I think she may be Baba Yaga. But there in the dark back corner is usually a freshly slaughtered pig. You have to tell her what cuts you want and you get skin fat and all. Thankfully she has already removed the hair from boiling. 


Most if not all of the local cuisine has some form of cotton seed oil or soy-based vegetable ghee. There is only one salad that has fresh veggies as most of the other salads are Russian in nature and are heavily laden with mayonnaise. The is one dish that called Khurutob which has a base of what they call "sweetened" flax seed oil. Sweetened means that the oil has been heated to the point to where it stops smoking. This oil is then mixed together with a flaky flat-bread called fatir which is made with ghee and a fermented yogurt called cha-ka. This is all placed  in a giant communal bowl with a salad called shokarob (onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and sometimes mint). This dish is eaten communally by hand. In fact there is no word for fork in this language. Most dishes are eaten by hand. The few soups they have are also heavy with oils as the winter months here are very harsh and meat is expensive. Most of their diet consists of rice dishes with carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions seasoned with only salt, pepper and cumin.


Answers to thoughts:

1. Yes, we put up as much as we are able. This year we arrived late in the summer and missed some of the early veggies like greens but we were able to can 120 lbs of tomatoes, 60 pounds of peaches, 5 pumpkins (so far) a few gallons of raspberries and strawberries. Apple sauce is being canned at the moment.

2. Garlic is easily dried so we have that year round but green onions are almost done here and I don't think I have ever seen a leek here. No, we can not easily get seed for those items. Seeds here come from subsistence and therefore are kept by farmers for next years season.

3. We have children with functional Aspergers mixed with OCD, anxiety and ADHD tendencies so we are trying to follow a very modified paleo / feingold diet with lots of fresh foods and no nitrates, preservatives, or colorings. etc. Mostly we struggle with breakfasts and lunches as living here takes an egregious amount of time and effort for survival we run out of ideas to introduce variety. We also struggle with advanced food prep. We have looked online at various e-type menu services that will send you new menu ideas each week but all of them send recipes which contain items that just aren't available. I have a mental block also in preparing non-traditional breakfast. I mostly just shove a cold cereal or a bowl or rice in front of them which is counter productive to the type of diet we are wanting to use.

4. I grew up on a farm in rural east Texas and know how to grow things. We just do not have the resources like seeds/sprouts/slips or the ground to put them in. There are no co-ops here and greenhouses do not work because they can not be heated in the winter because of the lack of electricity and natural gas.


Ah, we know we won't die. We were only looking for ideas for healthier choices with limited resources. Trying to look for a think-tank of ideas. We have been in this area of Central Asia on and off for about 7 years and speak the language very well and have many local friends. The cultures here are ancient and they like to keep it that way. Once when I question as to why they wouldn't substitute an ingredient in one of their street foods just to try something new, I was presented with this statement: "If we were to change something then we might forget who we are." 


Thanks again,




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While I applaud your attempts at a healthy diet, I'm wary of Feingold-type diets that claim behavioral issues can be modified simply by diet. If you think it's working for your kids, more power to you, but just be careful that the placebo effect isn't restricting your dietary options unnecessarily.


Concerning seeds, you might be able to get some assistance from the US State Department via the US Embassy. Without knowing what area of Tajikistan you're in, I don't know is that's geographically feasible for you. Five minutes on Google tells me the agricultural programs in Tajikistan are winding down but it never hurts to ask, especially if you're a US citizen (current or former) living abroad.


For advanced prep, what's your ability to pickle things? It's an incredibly old method of food preservation and it might help you keep vegetables around through the lean months.

"If you would improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid." - Epictetus

"You just gotta listen to your body, unless it's saying anything about stopping, pain, your joints, or needing water."

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While I'm not a nutritionist, it sounds to me like you've got all you need for a sparse but fairly nutritious diet.  You have veggies, just not the variety seen in western supermarkets.  You have meats and (probably?) eggs.  You have rice, grains, and legumes.  You have spices and oils.


Were I in your situation, there's a couple things I suggest.


- see if you can regrow any herbs in containers.  You mentioned spring onions; those are easy to propagate if you get a fresh one, you just stick the bottom of the onion in water until it roots, and then plant it in a pot.  When you want some, trim off a few stems with scissors, use them to cook, and leave the root in the dirt.  The plant will grow more stems.  As long as it stays in a cool (not frozen, not too warm) place, it'll keep growing.  Likewise with mint.


- Find out if the locals are eating any foraged or wild foods you aren't seeing at the bazaar.  Almost everybody in the world does this, I can't believe the Tajiks wouldn't too.   They might know where to find some herbs, fruits, and/or fungi you are missing out on.  Some of them probably trap or hunt.  Somebody might raise poultry or rabbits.  They might also have a few extra things growing in their gardens that don't get sold at market, but you could buy or trade for them directly.  Like your Russian baba with the pigs.  Someone else probably has a fruit tree, or a patch of potatoes, etc.


-  Have you seen the potato barrel technique? Even if you are in a concrete wasteland, you can grow some stuff in containers.  Look up "square foot gardening" for more info on box gardens.


- Might be worth investing in some butter/ghee, lard, or tallow.  True it is pricier than vegetable oils, but if you are aiming for a paleo-ish diet, the fats are what you've got to spend the most on.  Animal fat keeps well, if you render it.


- Look to local cultures for inspiration on flavors.  Instead of telling them to change their ways, try eating their way.  You are not far from India, you're speaking the language of Persia, and the climate is akin to Afghanistan, Tibet and Mongolia.


So, I'd picture a diet with lots of rice, tea, lentils, and yogurt.  For meat, I'm thinking meatballs or patties, kebobs, and slow cooked curries and tagines.  Or substitute legumes and make bean patties, lentil dal. 


For sweets, I'd picture hot puddings made from eggs with rice or noodles, bowls of stewed fruits with sugar and lemon, and cooked candies made with canned milk, sugar and nuts.  For a fast treat, fry up some flatbread and make a syrup (honey or jam thinned with hot water) to pour over it.


For veggies, there's a few basic ways: roast/bake/grill, saute (pan fry), or make soup.  Usually when I get a random veggie and just need it in my mouth with minimal effort, I cut/peel it, dress with salt, pepper and oil, add a drizzle of acid (vinegar or lemon juice), and nuke or roast it until it's tender.  Any heat that softens a vegetable will kill bacteria just fine, because you're getting it hot enough to burst cell walls (that's why it gets soft) and that's hot enough to destroy bacteria too.


I also like Nomad's suggestion to pickle things.  If you have access to salt or bran (and you have both), you can pickle.  You have cucumbers, carrots, beets, onions, cabbage, those are BEGGING to be fermented.  And they're delicious.  I pickle even though I have a perfectly good refrigerator, just because I like yummy pickles.

Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

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@Nomad Jay Thanks for your concerns about dieting. Whether placebo or not just removing nitrates from our son's diet has made a world of difference. Being forced to not rely on packaged luncheon meats and instead offering grilled chicken wings or breasts has seemed to help with his focus. Another good thing is that the kid now believes himself a vegetarian and does not eat very many meats. He says that his favorite food is plants. 

I have gone to the USAID offices but have yet to catch anyone there. Hopefully, I'll be able to get someone by next spring when planting season starts.

I grew up in the southern states where we would pickle everything and I enjoy those foods. My family however is strictly adverse to them. :(



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@Raincloak  Thank you for your knowledgeable reply. We have been able to dry our herbs with a dehydrater and were able to put up mint, basil, celery, and tarragon before they disappeared. We also were able to dry several kiols of tomatoes to use in salads, pastas and other dishes. We are sometimes able to get the rooted plants. So, we'll try next spring when they come out again to make our own starter pots. The remaining herbs are hard to come by but can sometimes be found packaged in envelopes in a market.

About wild/foraged foods in Taj: If it can be sold, it is at the bazaar. There are nice mountain radishes here that are pickled and usually eaten as a salad. Dill is also wild here as well as all manner of fruits and other veggies again which are seasonal. The game of Taj was hunted and fished out during the 7 year civil war following the fall of the Soviet Union and is very strictly monitored. 

We have begun to use more lentils in our diet and have come up with a great recipe for lentil tacos using green lentils. We also have been experimenting with bean patties and chickpea flatbread. Thank again for all your suggestions. We are taking note and trying or will attempt to try these things in the future. Now if I could only get my family to start liking pickled foods the way I do. ;)

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@Mad Hatter Thanks for replying and your suggestions. Unfortunately we are not able to have anything delivered here. Well, let me qualify that statement. We are able to order online through a service called Ali Express, but... It may or may not actually get here depending upon who's hands it goes through in customs. We have some Indian friends here who sometimes will "mule" things in for us and just this week we figured out how to prepare garam masala in one of the spice bazaars. Now we may be able to tweak it a bit. Next spring I am hoping to roast and smoke some chilis to make chili powders and other spice blends. Thanks again!

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