We’ve made it through the first two weeks without gluten pretty easily. We had one spectacular fail, where we tried to make a pizza using a pancake mix we brought from the US. It had all the ingredients of a flour mix used in a pizza recipe I found online, so I thought it could work as the crust, but I was triangulating between recipes (as I usually do, until I get comfortable enough to wing it), and I used too much water, so we had to add some flour (I had oat flour on hand), and it was still too fluid. The end result was suboptimal, though, as we say in a phrase inherited from my mother, “Anyway, it’s food.”
After that experience, I was ready to say goodbye to pizza night and focus on different ways of cooking potatoes (which are plentiful here). But as often happens in Mongolia, once you truly, completely give up on something, you are rewarded. We found a couple of Polish bread and baking mixes at a store just across the park from us, the Khanburgedei Supermarket. We also found, at our local American store right here in Marshall Town, a treasure trove of gluten free baking mixes, gluten free flours, and tapioca starch, that were all in the baking recipes I’d been reading online.
Which brings me to this blog post.
After I put my cookbooks in storage in the spring of 2020, I began using the internet more to find new recipes. Cooking blogs are not my thing, especially the ones that go into tremendous detail about various aspects of the recipe before actually giving you the recipe. (One exception is the Circus Gardener’s Kitchen, which comes with commentary on food politics, which I love.) For me, cooking is a means to an end, not a lifelong passion. I enjoy cooking when I have time (which is rarely), but I mostly just need to get us fed. But now I’m following a bunch of gluten free cooking blogs just to get ideas to diversify my repertoire, since grilled cheese sandwiches made by Devin are no longer an option on a night I don’t feel like cooking. And we brought a grand total of two gluten-free Annie’s mac and cheese packages from the US, which we’re probably saving for Thanksgiving and Christmas. So Devin can’t resort to their favorite comfort food after a rough day.
The cooking blogs are pretty frustrating, because they tell you to use specific brands of things and say things like “There might be substitutions for this ingredient, but I’ve never tried them, so I don’t recommend it.” Um, you’re a food blogger. Try them and let us know. Not only do they tell you which brand to use, but also where to buy it, sometimes with links to an online shop or Amazon.com. This kind of makes sense if you live in the UK or the US or Australia, where a lot of these bloggers are from and where these products are apparently available. But we don’t, so I thought it would be kind of fun to show you the brands I’ve been using and where you can get them if you live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. If I have enough fun with it, I might do a bunch of these posts.
So, one of the things I made was fried rice with eggs, garlic, onion, carrots, red bell pepper, frozen peas and corn, cooked in a mix of sesame oil and rice bran oil with some Bragg liquid aminos thrown in as a soy sauce substitute, in an ordinary frying pan rather than a wok. My recipe isn’t particularly fabulous, but it ended up being pretty good. I’ll include it at the bottom. One thing to note is that I haven’t been able to find tamari (a popular gluten free soy sauce substitute); hence the liquid aminos. Devin dislikes soy sauce but doesn’t mind a bit in fried rice, as long as it isn’t too strong.
The rice is from Goodwill, a company in the Altai Territory in Russia, but the phone number on the side of the package has a Pakistan country code. I bought it in Big Market, the grocery store next door to us, because it was long grain, which is unusual for these parts. Short grain rice seems more popular here, so I thought this would be a nice change. The eggs are also from Big Market. They’re just local eggs.
The garlic, onion, carrots, and red bell pepper came from the produce van that’s been parked in front of our apartment building for the last couple of weeks or so. I love having it there, I’ve got to say. The frozen peas and corn are from Russia. I like the polar bear brand because it has a polar bear on the label. The other brand is less exciting (no polar bear or other animal), but the peas were good. I can’t read Russian, so I know nothing else about them. I bought them at the Korean superstore Emart, which is a 12-minute walk up the street from us.
The sesame oil and rice bran oil are Korean, and I bought the former at Big Market and the latter at Emart. The liquid aminos came from the American store right here in Marshall Town, just a three-minute walk from our apartment. They sell imported products, many of them from the US, but also from Germany, and it’s a fun place to go to find little treasures that you don’t really get anywhere else. Except maybe at other American stores around town; they are a thing here.
Like I said, the recipe isn’t very exciting, but it worked, and we got one dinner for the two of us and about three lunches for Devin to take to school out of the amount I made. I don’t have any photos of the final product because we ate it before I thought about writing this, but it pretty much looked like fried rice. The measurements are American (sorry). Anyway, here it is:
1 sploosh rice bran oil (maybe 2 tablespoons?)
1 smaller sploosh sesame oil (though I ended up adding a bit more for flavor at one point)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (I forget how many I used)
1 onion, diced (I used 2 because Mongolian onions can be small)
2 medium-sized carrots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
Around 1 cup frozen peas (still frozen)
Around 1 cup frozen corn (still frozen)
4 eggs (beaten with a whisk)
4-5 cups cooked rice (I think I used 5)
A small sploosh of Bragg liquid aminos (maybe 2 teaspoons?)
Heat the oil in a large frying pan (or a wok, if you have one). Add the garlic and onion and cook for a bit. Then add the carrots and cook until they start to seem soft. Throw in the rest of the vegetables and cook for a bit. Then pour in the beaten eggs and keep stirring until the eggs are cooked. Add the cooked rice and the sploosh of liquid aminos, and you’re done!
There are probably better ways to make fried rice, and I’ll be making this differently every time, too, but it was a hit with the kid, they didn’t mind eating almost every day of their first week of school for lunch, and they want me to make it again. These are, for me, the signs of a good recipe. I will be trying it with tofu to make a vegan version, as well, but we still eat eggs here, and since going gluten free, I’ve been using them a bit more.
Note: I started this post last weekend (August 27), and I didn’t have time to finish it until now, so we’ve actually been gluten-free nearly three weeks. Devin hasn’t noticed a huge improvement in anything yet. They had a bad headache the first week, but it got a lot milder and seems to be mainly in the background now. I haven’t really noticed anything in particular, myself. But we’ve also both been slammed by the beginning of the school year, so it’s hard to tell if our exhaustion is from that or something else. Anyway, I will keep you posted on how it’s going with all of this, but my next post will likely be a critical analysis of Devin’s international school’s relationship to its Mongolian context, inspired by a speech its directo gave on Back to School Night, so stay tuned for that!