No restaurant can begin to compete with the lavish attention and extraordinary dishes Armenians create in their kitchens. The table often groans under courses served at the same time, and it is considered an affront to refuse to taste everything, the cook often considering it a bad reflection of her culinary skills.
My mother, my aunts and my grandmothers are/were amazing cooks. Each one has a speciality all her own. Come the holidays there are specific dishes I will ask from each one.
Recipes get passed down from generation to generation. My paternal nene (Turkish for grandma) used to say, “a pinch of this, a handful of that, and a coffee cup of the other”. On my part, it’s all been trial and error as I’ve learned to cook. Now I have a tough time giving someone one of my recipes, each time I make something it’s a little different. My kids call my style of cooking ‘a la Ruth’.
Here are a few of my favorite Armenian dishes.
Lahmajoun, also known as “Armenian Pizza”, is a thin flat bread that is traditionally topped with ground lamb or beef that has been cooked with tomatoes, herbs and spices. It was a treat when I was a kid. My mom would serve this on special occasions and whenever we had guests over.
Anoushabour is the traditional Armenian “Sweet Soup” that is served at the conclusion of an Armenian Christmas or New Year’s meal. Since childhood I have looked forward to this dessert every Christmas when we visit my aunts. My family knows that all I want for Christmas is a plate of Anoushabour. Two of my moraks (maternal aunties) have given me their recipes and assure me it is very easy to make. But don’t you agree that it always tastes better when someone else makes your favorite dish.
The dish is, in all probability, even older than the Christian feast day. Made simply of wheat berries, boiled down until their natural starches have been broken down and turned nearly to mush, sugar (a gift from the Tigris and Euphrates valley) and dried fruit (raisins usually), it’s not hard to imagine that it is a product of some of the world’s most ancient cookery.
Manti is an Armenian ‘dumpling’, little balls of ground lamb or beef wrapped in a dough to form a tiny little canoe. The meat peeks out giving you a hint of what is to come. The traditional way to serve it is in chicken broth topped with yogurt and sprinkled with sumac. I can taste it right now. Yum! When I was a young girl I would help my mom by pinching the dough into boat shapes.
Technically pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are not considered a dish. But a typical Armenian gathering is everyone sitting around the table, nimbly cracking and eating seeds. Eat! Spit! Be merry!
|Basterma or Bastourma|
This is the most popular Armenian deli meat. Serve Basterma thinly sliced on a mezze platter or cook with eggs. You really need to wrap leftover Basterma well, as the wonderful aroma of chaimen will quickly permeate your refrigerator. Ummmm, eat too much of Basterma and the smell of chaimen will start to ooze out of your pores.
There was a bakery across the street from our church (where Cafe Republic is located now) and on occasion mom would go in and buy this long flat bread. Sometimes it would still be warm from the oven.
My nene’s dolma was the best. Dolma is spiced meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves, served with yogurt mixed with grated fresh garlic. I remember sneaking into my nene’s kitchen and lifting the pot lid and stealing a Dolma to eat while they were cooling. The grape leaves came from her garden.
I’m going to end this post with my favorite dessert. It’s called Tulumba, although it’s not as common as the Baklava it is actually just another dessert with syrup. Tulumba is a dessert in the Turkish, the Greek, and the Bulgarian cuisine consisting of fried batter soaked in syrup.
Let me see if I can even come close to helping you imagine how this little delicacy tastes. As you sink your teeth into the fried sweet you first encounter the crispy outer layer then the syrup oozes out of the center unto your tongue. It melts in your mouth and leaves a delicious stickiness on your your fingers. Finger licking good!
Now if I only knew where I could get some to take care of this craving.
I hope you have enjoyed this culinary journey.