An Armenian Feast, To Remember

There are those people one encounters in life where an emotional  connection is instant and a bond for life is made.  For 17 years, I have been blessed with the steadfast, loving and enriching friendship of my neighbors and dear friends, Laurie and Karl.  We raised our children together, trusted each other with the care of our homes and pets during vacations and shared many meals and laughs over the years.  I often joke that if they ever moved, I’d have to follow.  As an immigrant to the US living far from my family, Laurie and Karl always included me in their wonderful Armenian family celebrations.

When Laurie recommended Dr. Peter Balakian’s memoir Black Dog of Fate to our book club, members quickly agreed as we knew very little of the Armenian Genocide.imageNew York Times best selling author, Dr. Peter Balakian  Dr. Balakian was also coming to speak in Philadelphia and many of us would attend his lecture.  Laurie offered to cook us a traditional Armenian feast which I will showcase in this post.

The day before the dinner I arrived for my introduction to Armenian cuisine and instructions as sous chef.  Armenian food belongs to the Middle Eastern family of cuisine with Persian, Arabic and Turkish roots as well as Greek influences.  It is highlighted by the freshness of the ingredients rather than heavy seasonings.  Fresh herbs, legumes, nuts and vegetables figure predominantly.  The meats are lamb, chicken and beef.

For this feast Laurie had purchased an assortment of delectable meats, cheeses, olives, and breads from the fabulous Armenian Delight grocery store for appetizers.

imageThe appetizers ready to sample

For the main course we got to work making dolma- a cabbage leaf stuffed with a mixture of ground beef and rice.  This dish was not unlike cabbage rolls familiar to me but these were made with loads of garlic, lemon juice, little tomato, and served with a fresh yogurt- garlic sauce that was a spectacular pairing.  Click here to view the recipe she used or go to:

http://howtoexpo.com/recipes/stuffed-cabbage-rolls-dolma.  The only modification was we used a small can of tomato paste instead of the canned tomatoes.

Blanching the cabbage to separate and soften the leavesThe cabbage leaves ready to stuuf, the tough spine removed to ease the rollingThe seasoned meat and rice ready to stuffTrick: line the pot with the tough leaves of cabbage to prevent stickingLining the pot with tougher leaves to prevent sticking.

Covering the rolled dolma with a cabbage leaf bebore cooking and then topping with a dinner plate to prevent them from coming apart during cooking

Covering the rolled dolma with a cabbage leaf bebore cooking and then topping with a dinner plate to prevent them from coming apart during cooking

My favorite trick: weighing down the dolma with a dinner plate during cooking so don't come apartThe beautiful and delectable final creation topped with the garlic-yogurt sauce

The finished dolma, topped with a perfectly paired sauce of fresh yogurt-garlic.

After an engaging, animated and very emotional discussion of Dr. Balakian’s important book, we were ready to sample the delectable traditional Armenian dessert, paklava, also known as baklava, that pillowy, layered phyllo pastry filled with crushed walnuts and honey.  Marie made us her family recipe which was flaky, oozing with honey and simply irrisistible.

PAKLAVA

1 box of phyllo pastry

6 sticks of unsalted butter, clarified

1 lb walnuts, finely chopped

Syrup:  3 c sugar, 1 1/2 c water, 1 t lemon juice, 2 T honey.  Mix together, bring to a boil and cool for a minute before using.

Bring the phyllo to room temperature and divide box in half

Bring the phyllo to room temperature and divide box in half

Using the clarified butter brush a layer on the bottom of a lasagna sized pan

Using the clarified butter brush a layer on the bottom of a lasagna sized pan

When you have layered half the phyllo, spread the chopped walnuts.

When you have layered half the phyllo, spread the chopped walnuts.

Continue layering with the rest of the phyllo and continue applying the butter between layers. Reserve the remaining butter.

Continue layering with the rest of the phyllo and continue applying the butter between layers. Reserve the remaining butter.

Before baking, cut the pastry in a diamond pattern, as shown.

Before baking, cut the pastry in a diamond pattern, as shown.

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. At this point pour remaining clarified butter over the top of the pastry and return to oven to bake 15-25 minutes more, until golden. Cool to room temperature in the pan. Pour syrup evenly over the pastry to saturate.

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. At this point pour remaining clarified butter over the top of the pastry and return to oven to bake 15-25 minutes more, until golden. Cool to room temperature in the pan. Pour syrup evenly over the pastry to saturate.

To serve, place each piece in a liner. Gorgeous and irresitable!

To serve, place each piece in a liner. Gorgeous and irresitable!

Today, on the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, we honor the 1.5 million men, women and children who perished so tragically in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.  I chose to commemorate this important historical event by celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the Armenian people with my readers.

This one is dedicated to you, Laurie, my bright, beautiful, vivacious friend.

8 thoughts on “An Armenian Feast, To Remember

  1. This one brought tears to my eyes, Johanne. Knowing Laurie through you has been very special to me as well. The food I was lucky to enjoy was wonderful, and the book discussion that accompanied it was one of the most illuminating in all my years of book groups. Thank you for documenting this, as always!

  2. this post is amazing ~ informative, interesting and loving. Congratulations Johanne and Laurie on such a beautiful relationship!

  3. Johanne,
    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to Armenians . April 24th marks the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. It is also my dad’s birthday, giving today a very special meaning.
    Laurie

  4. Joanne, Fabulous Blog. I just figured out how to follow you on my defunct WordPress.com account. I am hungry when I see the pics. Thank you for sharing our most precious history with everyone! xoxoxo

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