Armenian Cuisine

Armenian Cuisine

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. Lamb, eggplant, and bread are basic features of Armenian cuisine. Armenians use cracked wheat in preference to the maize and rice popular among their Caucasian neighbours .

Armenian Cuisine Overview

Armenian cuisine belongs to the family of Caucasian cuisines, and has strong ties with Turkish, Greek, Georgian, Persian, and Arabic cuisines. Historically, there have been mutual influences with all of these 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 characterise Armenian cuisine:

  • The flavour 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 , semolina, farina, and flour. Historically, rice was used mostly in the cities and in certain rice-growing areas .
  • Legumes are used liberally, especially chickpeas, 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 , 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, quince, melons, and others. As sour agents, the following fruits are used: sumac berries , sour grapes, plums , pomegranate, apricots, cherries , and lemons.
  • In addition to grape leaves, cabbage leaves, chard, beet leaves, radish leaves, strawberry leaves, and others are also stuffed.

Typical Dishes in Armenian Cuisine

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 wheat, though in Adana, harissa is made with կորկոտ . Either lamb, beef, or chicken is used as the harissa meat.
  • Khash, which started off as a labourer’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 a broth-like stew consisting of meat , a vegetable, and spices. The stew was typically cooked in the Tonir and is generally served over a pilaf of rice or bulgur, sometimes accompanied by bread, pickles or fresh vegetables or herbs. Examples are:

  • Meat and green beans or green peas
  • Meat and summer squash . This is a signature dish from Ainteb, and is characterised by the liberal use of dried mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.
  • Meat and pumpkin. This is a wedding dish from Marash made with meat, chickpeas, 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 , lamb intestines , 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.

Herbs and Spices

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
  • Dried mint

The types of herbs used in cuisine are very strongly influenced by region. In Eastern Armenia, the following fresh herbs are used liberally:
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Tarragon
  • Basil
  • Oregano, particularly wild oregano
  • Thyme
In Western Armenia, the preferred herbs are:
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Savory
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 , aveluk (sorrel), chrchrok , 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

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” , those in Australia may include cereal, etc.

Traditional Armenian breakfast dishes were hearty and included Khash and Kalagyosh ( There are many variants of this dish. It can be a meat and yoghurt 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

Meals in Armenia often start with a spread of appetizers served for “the table”.

  • Various cheeses, such as Chechil – 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 , cauliflower, carrots, grapes, garlic, etc.
  • Fresh herbs
  • Grain and herb salads
  • Bread dough or phyllo dough pastries called byoreks . These are either baked or fried.
Bread is “de rigueur“, particularly flat breads such as lavash.

Salads

Some Armenian salads combine a grain or legume with tomato, onions, fresh herbs. Mayonnaise is used in Western or Russian-inspired salads . 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.

Byorek

Byoreks , are pies made with phyllo pastry and stuffed with cheese or spinach . 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.
  • Msov byorek is a bread roll stuffed with ground meat .
  • Semsek, from the region of Urfa, is a fried open-faced meat byorek.
  • A specific Lenten byorek is made with spinach and tahini sauce.

Meat

Grilling 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 – the Armenian word for barbecued or grilled meats , 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 , 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 . 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 . In Armenia today, the most popular meat for khorovats 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 – 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 in eastern Turkey, close to the Armenian border.

Soups

Armenian soups include spas, made from matzoon, hulled wheat and herbs , and aveluk, made from lentils, walnuts, and wild mountain sorrel . Kiufta soup is made with large balls of strained boiled meat 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 is a very special and old traditional food, made from t’tu lavash , 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 Vayots Dzor Province. This is a walnut based soup with red and green beans, chick peas and spices, served garnished with red pepper and fresh garlic. Soups of Russian heritage include borscht, a beet root soup with meat and vegetables and okroshka, a matzoon or kefir based soup with chopped cucumber, green onion, and garlic.

  • Arganak – chicken soup with small meatballs, garnished before serving with beaten egg yolks, lemon juice, and parsley.
  • Blghourapour – a sweet soup made of hulled wheat cooked in grape juice; served hot or cold.
  • Bozbash – a mutton or lamb soup that exists in several regional varieties with the addition of different vegetables and fruits.
  • Brndzapour – rice and potato soup, garnished with coriander.
  • Dzavarapour – hulled wheat, potatoes, tomato purée; egg yolks diluted with water are stirred into the soup before serving.
  • Flol – beef soup with coarsely chopped spinach leaves and cherry-sized dumplings made from oatmeal or wheat flour.
  • Harissa – porridge of coarsely ground wheat with pieces of boned chicken
  • Katnapour – a milk-based rice soup, sweetened with sugar.
  • Katnov – a milk-based rice soup with cinnamon and sugar.
  • Kololik – soup cooked from mutton bones with ground mutton dumplings, rice, and fresh tarragon garnish; a beaten egg is stirred into the soup before serving.
  • Krchik – soup made from sauerkraut, pickled cabbage, hulled wheat, potatoes, and tomato purée.
  • Mantapour – beef soup with manti; the manti are typically served with matzoon or sour cream , accompanied by clear soup.
  • Matsnaprtosh – this is the same as okroshka, referenced earlier, with sour clotted milk diluted with cold water, with less vegetation than okroshka itself. Matsnaprtosh is served cold as a refreshment and supposedly normalizes blood pressure.
  • Putuk – mutton cut into pieces, dried peas, potatoes, leeks, and tomato purée, cooked and served in individual crocks.
  • Sarnapour – pea soup with rice, beets and matzoon.
  • Snkapur – a mushroom soup.
  • Tarkhana – flour and matzoon soup
  • Vospapour – lentil soup with dried fruits and ground walnuts.
  • Pekhapour – chick peas, shelled wheat , lentils, in a vegetarian broth and fresh tarragon. This soup originates from Aintab.

Fish

  • Ishkhan – Sevan trout , served steamed, grilled on a skewer, or stuffed and baked in the oven
  • Sig – a whitefish from Lake Sevan, native to northern Russian lakes
  • Karmrakhayt – a river trout, also produced in high-altitude artificial lakes .
  • Koghak – an indigenous Lake Sevan fish of the carp family, also called Sevan khramulya

Main Courses

  • Fasulya – a stew made with green beans, lamb and tomato broth or other ingredients
  • Ghapama – pumpkin stew
  • Kchuch – a casserole of mixed vegetables with pieces of meat or fish on top, baked and served in a clay pot
  • Tjvjik – a dish of fried liver and kidneys with onions

Meat Products

Armenian basturma

Armenian basturma

  • Basturma – a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef of Anatolian origin which is now part of the cuisines of the former Ottoman countries.
  • Yershig – the most popular dry fermented meat product in Turkey and other Middle Eastern Countries. As most of those countries practice Muslim it comes as no surprise that pork is not included in the recipe and the sausage is made from beef and lamb (called Sujuk in Turkey).
  • Kiufta – meaning meatball comes in many types, such as Hayastan kiufta, Kharpert kiufta , Ishli kiufta, etc.

Dairy products

  • Labneh – Strained dense yoghurt made from sheep, cow, or goat milk; often served in mezze with olive oil and spices
  • Matzoon
  • Tahn – a sour milk drink prepared by diluting madzoon with cold water, similar to ayran
  • Ttvaser – sour cream in Armenian; also known by the Russian-derived word smetan

Bread

  • Lavash – the staple bread of Armenian cuisine
  • Matnakash – soft and puffy leavened bread, made of wheat flour and shaped into oval or round loaves; the characteristic golden or golden-brown crust is achieved by coating the surface of the loaves with sweetened tea essence before baking.
  • Choereg – braided bread formed into rolls or loaves, also a traditional loaf for Easter.
  • Zhingyalov hats – Not entirely a bread you would eat with your everyday meal. Zhingyalov hac is an Armenian dish that is made with dough, dried cranberry, pomegranate molasses,that go inside the dough, and 7 different greens which include spinach, coriander, parsley, basil, scallions, dill, mint. There is a variety of combinations that can be used in the bread and these greens can easily be substituted for other greens. The greens are placed in the bread and the bread is folded like a calzone.

Sweets

  • Alani – pitted dried peaches stuffed with ground walnuts and sugar.
  • Kadaif – shredded dough with cream, cheese, or chopped walnut filling, soaked with sugar syrup.
  • Anoushabour – dried fruits stewed with barley, garnished with chopped almonds or walnuts .
  • Bastegh or pastegh – homemade fruit leather.
  • T’tu lavash – thin roll-up sheets of sour plum purée .

Ritual foods

  • Nshkhar – bread used for Holy Communion
  • Mas – literally means “piece” a piece of leftover bread from the making of Nshkhar, given to worshippers after church service
  • Matagh – sacrificial meat. can be of any animal such as goat, lamb, or even bird.

 

 

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