Armenian cuisine

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Armenian cuisine includes the foods and cooking techniques of the Armenian people, the Armenian diaspora and traditional Armenian foods and dishes. The cuisine reflects the history and geography where Armenians have lived as well as incorporating outside influences. The cuisine also reflects the traditional crops and animals grown and raised in areas populated by Armenians.

The preparation of meat, fish, and vegetable dishes in an Armenian kitchen requires stuffing, frothing, and puréeing.[1] Lamb, eggplant, and bread (lavash) are basic features of Armenian cuisine. Armenians use cracked wheat (burghul) in preference to the maize and rice popular among their Caucasian neighbors (Georgia and Azerbaijan).[citation needed]

Overview[edit]

Armenian cuisine belongs to the family of Caucasian cuisines, and has strong ties with Turkish Cuisine, Greek cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Persian Cuisine, and Arabic Cuisine. Historically, there have been mutual influences with all of the above-listed cuisines, though the exact nature of the influences is nebulous due to the dearth of research, political and nationalistic tensions, and the close co-habitation of the Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Iranian people during the past seven centuries. In addition, the Armenian Genocide of 1915, with the ensuing large-scale transplantation of the survivors to the West, has further muddied the evidence.

Nevertheless, certain qualities may generally be taken to characterize Armenian cuisine:

  • The flavor of the food relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices.
  • Fresh herbs are used extensively, both in the food and as accompaniments. Dried herbs are used in the winter, when fresh herbs are not available.
  • Wheat is the primary grain and is found in a variety of forms, such as: whole wheat, shelled wheat, bulgur (parboiled cracked wheat), semolina, farina, and flour. Historically, rice was used mostly in the cities (especially in areas with a large Turkish population) and in certain rice-growing areas (e.g., Marash and the region around Yerevan).
  • Legumes are used liberally, especially chick peas, lentils, white beans, and kidney beans.
  • Nuts are used both for texture and to add nutrition to Lenten dishes. Of primary usage are walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, but also hazelnuts, pistachios (in Cilicia), and nuts from regional trees.
  • Fresh and dried fruit are used both as main ingredients and as sour agents. As main ingredients, the following fruit are used: apricots (fresh and dried), quince, melons, and others. As sour agents, the following fruits are used: sumac berries (in dried, powdered form), sour grapes, plums (either sour or dried), pomegranate, apricots, cherries (especially sour cherries), and lemons.
  • In addition to grape leaves, cabbage leaves, chard, beet leaves, radish leaves, strawberry leaves, and others are also stuffed.

Typical Dishes[edit]

There are two de facto national dishes in Armenian cuisine.

  • Harissa is a porridge made of wheat and meat cooked together for a long time, originally in the tonir but nowadays over a stove. Harissa is related to the Turkish keshkeg, the Indo-Pakistani haleem, and several similar dishes. Traditionally, harissa was prepared on feast days in communal pots and served to all comers. The wheat used in harissa is typically shelled (pelted) wheat, though in Adana, harissa is made with կորկոտ (korkot; ground, par-boiled shelled wheat). Either lamb, beef, or chicken is used as the harissa meat.
  • Khash, which started off as a laborer's meal, consists of beef or lamb feet that have been slow-cooked overnight in water. It is eaten at breakfast over crumbled dried lavash bread, with crushed garlic and liberal portions of vodka or spirits. Khash is typically eaten in winter. Variations of khash from the Van region supplement the beef feet with various organ meats, such as heart, tongue, etc., as well as chick peas or other legumes. A vegetarian version of khash replaces the meat with lentils. This version is also served over crumbled dry lavash but is topped with fried onions.

The "everyday" Armenian dish is the dzhash (Ճաշ). This is a brothy stew consisting of meat (or a legume, in the meatless version), a vegetable, and spices. The dzhash was typically cooked in the tonir. The dzhash is generally served over a pilaf of rice or bulgur, sometimes accompanied by bread, pickles or fresh vegetables or herbs. Examples of dzhash are:

  • Meat and green beans or green peas (with tomato sauce, garlic, and mint or fresh dill)
  • Meat and summer squash (or zucchini). This is a signature dish from Ainteb, and is characterized by the liberal use of dried mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.
  • Meat and pumpkin. This is a wedding dish from Marash made with meat, chick peas, pumpkin, tomato and pepper paste, and spices.
  • Meat and leeks in a yoghurt sauce.

Stuffed dishes are usually served on festive occasions, as they take quite a bit of time to prepare. Almost any vegetable or cut of meat is a candidate for stuffing. Examples are:

  • Grape leaves, cabbage leaves, chard leaves, beet greens, strawberry leaves, or other edible large leaves
  • Tomatoes, peppers, squash/zucchini, eggplants, pumpkins, onions, potatoes
  • Melons, apples, quince, apricots, dates
  • Chicken legs
  • Lamb breast (or rack of lamb), lamb intestines (մումպար), lamb or beef lungs

Typically, the stuffing consists of rice or bulgur, mixed with ground meat, seasonings, and sometimes dried fruits and nuts. Vegetarian stuffings follow the same pattern but replace the meat with a variety of pulses and legumes.

Spices and Herbs[edit]

Armenian cuisine uses spices sparingly but instead relies on the use of fresh herbs.

The primary spices used in Armenian cuisine are:

  • Salt
  • Garlic
  • Red pepper (particularly Aleppo pepper, which is a spicier variety of paprika)
  • Dried mint (in Western Armenia)
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Sumac (the powdered dried berry of the Mediterranean sumac bush)
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Mahlab (the powdered pit of the black cherry)

The types of herbs used in cuisine are very strongly influenced by region. In Eastern Armenia, the following fresh herbs are used liberally:

In Western Armenia (current Republic of Turkey), the preferred herbs are:

Throughout the country, local herbs are used as well. Many of the herbs formerly used by Western Armenians have fallen out of use because of lack of availability. In the Republic of Armenia, and particularly in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), aveluk (wood sorrel), chrchrok (a water grass similar to water cress), and other herbs are all used.

In addition to the above, various scents and attars commonly used in the Middle-East are also used in the making of sweets; for example, rose water and orange blossom water.

Breakfast[edit]

The modern Armenian breakfast consists of coffee or tea, plus a spread of cheeses, jams, jellies, eggs, and breads. Armenians living in the Diaspora often adopt local customs. Thus, Armenians in Lebanon may include "fool" (stewed fava beans in olive oil), those in the United States may include cereal, etc.

Traditional Armenian breakfast dishes were hearty. They included:

  • Khash (which is still eaten on cold winter mornings in the Republic of Armenia)
  • Kalagyosh There are many variants of this dish. It can be a meat and yogurt stew or it can be a vegetarian stew made with lentils, fried onions, and matzoon. In either case, it was traditionally eaten by crumbling stale lavash bread over it and eating it with a spoon.

Appetizers[edit]

Meals in Armenia often start with a spread of appetizers served for "the table".[2]

  • Various cheeses, such as Chechil (tel panir) – braided and pickled string cheese, similar to Georgian sulguni, chanakh, and others made from sheep or cow's milk.
  • Topik or topig is a large vegetarian stuffed "meatball".
  • Countless stuffed vegetables, usually vegetarian.
  • Pickles: cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes (ripe and unripe), cauliflower, carrots, grapes, garlic, etc.
  • Fresh herbs
  • Grain and herb salads
  • Bread dough or phyllo dough pastries called byoreks (boereg). These are either baked or fried.

Bread is "de rigueur", particularly flat breads such as lavash.

Salads[edit]

Some Armenian salads combine a grain or legume with tomato, onions, fresh herbs. Mayonnaise is used in Western or Russian-inspired salads (e.g., Salade Olivier). Examples of Armenian salads include

  • Eetch – cracked wheat salad, similar to the Middle Eastern tabouleh.
  • Lentil salad – brown lentils, tomatoes, onions, in a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped parsley. This salad has many variations, with the lentils being replaced by chick peas, black-eyed peas, chopped raw or roasted eggplant, etc.
  • Jajukh – there are several varieties of this salad, which resembles a dip or cold soup. The cucumber jajukh is made with diced cucumbers in a matzoon/garlic sauce. The Swiss chard version is made with blanched, chopped chard in a thick "sauce" of drained matzoon and garlic. This salad is traditionally served on Easter Eve. The Lenten version of this (called "ajem jajukh") substitutes tahini, lemon juice, and a little tomato sauce for the drained yogurt.

Byorek[edit]

Typical homemade byorek, with meat, caramelized onion and bell pepper filling
  • Byoreks (Armenian: բյորեկ), Eastern Armenians refer to this as Khachapuri, are pies made with phyllo pastry and stuffed with cheese (panirov byorek, from Armenian: panir for cheese) or spinach (similar to spanakopita in Greek cuisine). They are a popular snack and fast food, often served as appetizer. Su byorek lit. 'water burek' is a lasagna-style dish with sheets of phyllo pastry briefly boiled in a large pan before being spread with fillings.[3] Msov byorek is a bread roll (not phyllo pastry) stuffed with ground meat (similar to Russian pirozhki).
  • Semsek, from the region of Urfa, is a fried open-faced meat byorek.
  • A specific Lenten byorek is made with spinach and tahini sauce.

Grilled meats[edit]

Grilling (barbecue) is very popular in Armenia, and grilled meats are often the main course in restaurants and at family gatherings. Grilled meat is also a fast food.

  • Khorovats (or khorovadz) (Armenian: խորոված xorovaç) – the Armenian word for barbecued or grilled meats (the generic kebab in English), the most representative dish of Armenian cuisine enjoyed in restaurants, family gatherings, and as fast food. A typical khorovats is chunks of meat grilled on a skewer (shashlik), although steaks or chops grilled without skewers may be also included. In Armenia itself, khorovats is often made with the bone still in the meat (as lamb or pork chops). Western Armenians outside Armenia generally cook the meat with bones taken out and call it by the Turkish name shish kebab. On the other hand, the word kebab in Armenia refers to uncased sausage-shaped patties from ground meat grilled on a skewer (called losh kebab or lule kebab by diasporan Armenians and Turks). In Armenia today, the most popular meat for khorovats (including losh kebab) is pork due to Soviet-era economic heritage. Armenians outside Armenia usually prefer lamb or beef depending on their background, and chicken is also popular.
  • Gharsi khorovats (Armenian: Ղարսի խորոված) – slivers of grilled meat rolled up in lavash, similar to the Middle Eastern shawarma and the Turkish doner kebab; this "shashlik Ghars style" takes its name from the city of Kars (Armenian: Ghars) in eastern Turkey, close to the Armenian border.

Soups[edit]

Harissa served with vegetables
Manti with sour cream: an essential component of mantapour

Armenian soups include spas, made from matzoon, hulled wheat and herbs (usually cilantro),[4] and aveluk, made from lentils, walnuts, and wild mountain sorrel (which gives the soup its name). Kiufta soup is made with large balls of strained boiled meat (kiufta) and greens.

Another soup, khash, is considered an Armenian institution. Songs and poems have been written about this one dish, which is made from cow's feet and herbs made into a clear broth. Tradition holds that khash can only be cooked by men, who spend the entire night cooking, and can be eaten only in the early morning in the dead of winter, where it served with heaps of fresh garlic and dried lavash.

T'ghit[citation needed] is a very special and old traditional food, made from t'tu lavash (fruit leather, thin roll-up sheets of sour plum purée),[5] which are cut into small pieces and boiled in water. Fried onions are added and the mixture is cooked into a purée. Pieces of lavash bread are placed on top of the mixture, and it is eaten hot with fresh lavash used to scoop up the mixture by hand.

Karshm is a local soup made in the town of Vaik in the Shirak Province. This is a walnut based soup with red and green beans, chick peas and spices, served garnished with red pepper and fresh garlic.[6] Soups of Russian heritage include borscht, a beet root soup with meat and vegetables (served hot in Armenia, with fresh sour cream) and okroshka, a matzoon or kefir based soup with chopped cucumber, green onion, and garlic.

Fish[edit]

Main courses[edit]

Meat products[edit]

Armenian basturma

Dairy products[edit]

Bread[edit]

Choreg at an Armenian Easter celebration

Sweets[edit]

Ritual foods[edit]

  • Nshkhar (Armenian: նշխար nšxar) – bread used for Holy Communion
  • Mas (Armenian: մաս mas) – literally means "piece" a piece of leftover bread from the making of Nshkhar, given to worshippers after church service
  • Matagh (Armenian: մատաղ mataġ) – sacrificial meat. can be of any animal such as goat, lamb, or even bird.

Drinks[edit]

Jermuk is a bottled mineral water originating from the town of Jermuk in Armenia, and bottled since 1951

Alcoholic drinks[edit]

Beer[edit]

Beer (Armenian: գարեջուր gareǰur)

Popular Brands

Brandy[edit]

Armenian brandy (Armenian: կոնյակ konyak), known locally as konyak is perhaps Armenia's most popular exported alcoholic drink. It has a long history of production, even being served at the Yalta Conference.

Popular Brands

Oghi[edit]

Oghi (Armenian: օղի òġi) – an Armenian vodka, usually distilled from fruit;[13] also called aragh.[14] Artsakh is a well-known brand name of Armenian mulberry vodka (tuti oghi) produced in Nagorno-Karabakh from local fruit.[15] In the Armenian Diaspora, where fruit vodka is not distilled, oghi refers to the aniseed-flavored distilled alcoholic drink called arak in the Middle East, raki in Turkey, or ouzo in Greece.[16][17]

Wine[edit]

The alcoholic drink with the longest history in Armenia is wine. The oldest winery in the world was discovered in Armenia. Historically, wineries in Armenia were concentrated along the Ararat valley. Of particular note was the district of Koghtn (Գողթն, current Nakhichevan area). Today, Armenian wineries are concentrated in the Areni region (district of Vayots Dzor).

Armenian wine is mostly made from local varietals, such as Areni, Lalvari, Kakhet, etc., though some wineries mix in better known European varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet. Winemaking took a downward plunge in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but is undergoing a revival, with the addition of world-class labels such as Zorah Wines. A yearly wine festival, held in Areni, is popular with the locals and features wines from official wineries as well as homemade hooch of varying quality. Armenian wines are predominantly red and are sweet, semi-sweet (Vernashen, Ijevan), or dry (Areni).

In addition. to grapes, wines have been made with other fruit, notably pomegranate (Armenian: նռան գինի nṙan gini), apricot, quince, etc. In some cases, these fruit wines are fortified.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Pokhlebkin, V. V. (1978). Russian Delight: A Cookbook of the Soviet People. London: Pan Books.
  2. ^ Davidson, Alan (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford University Press, p. 35.
  3. ^ Sou boereg recipe, ChowHound.
  4. ^ Petrosian, Irina; Underwood, David (2006). Armenian food: Fact, fiction & folklore, Bloomington, IN: Yerkir, p. 60. ISBN 1-4116-9865-7.
  5. ^ T'tu lavash described here.
  6. ^ "Karshm" soup, Travel Guide to Shirak.
  7. ^ Blghourapour recipe on Gnozis.info (Russian)
  8. ^ Bozbash in Uvezian, Sonia, The Cuisine of Armenia, Siamanto Press, Northbrook, IL, 2001 (parts accessible through Amazon Online Reader).
  9. ^ Karmrakhayt in Marmarik River
  10. ^ Karmrakhayt in Mantash Reservoir
  11. ^ Bread recipes in Adventures in Armenian Cooking
  12. ^ Desserts on Adventures in Armenian Cooking
  13. ^ Oghi, an Armenian fruit vodka
  14. ^ Aragh, Armenian moonshine
  15. ^ Artsakh mulberry vodka
  16. ^ Hacikyan, Agop Jack; Basmajian, Gabriel; Franchuk, Edward S.; Nourhan Ouzounian (2000). The Heritage of Armenian Literature. Wayne State University Press. p. 815. ISBN 0-8143-3221-8. 
  17. ^ Sherman, Chris (26 July 2006). "The spirit of relaxation", St Petersburg Times, Florida.

General references[edit]

  • The Cuisine of Armenia by Sonia Uvezian, Dikran Palulian (Illustrator)
  • Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction & Folklore, Irina Petrosian and David Underwood

External links[edit]