By Tarun Kapoor
Being a culinary professional, I am always on a lookout to try out lesser known foods and current trends in hospitality industry. One of my vendors is from Armenia and whenever I meet people, I ask them about their traditional food. Talking with him about his food inspired me to write about Armenian food. Armenian cuisine is a perfect example of how history influences the culinary traditions of any region. The glory of Armenian cuisine extends far beyond the country’s borders. It won’t be wrong to state that Armenian cuisine is one of the lesser known but interesting cuisines becoming popular across the world and I am sure that you all must have tried the dishes from Armenian cuisine in some form or the other. The juicy smoking shashlik, baked vegetables, tender cooked dolmas, the dumplings, the list goes on and on, but what is the historical background of the culinary diversification of Armenia.
Armenian cuisine is not new and dates to almost 2,000 years. Meat is used in abundance in Armenian cuisine due to the development of cattle breeding in Armenian uplands which led to such a variety of livestock and poultry. Cattle breeding is also a good source of dairy products basically brine ripened cheese as well as sour milk products which serve as the basis for traditional Armenian dishes and beverages. The fertile valleys of Armenia ensure a variety of cereals available in abundance like millet, barley, wheat, rice and beans, lentil, mountain peas. Also, the Armenian lands are rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables which are also in integral part of their diet.
Armenians traditionally cooked on fire. The clay furnace began to be called tonir and is still found in Armenian restaurants. Armenians used clay kitchens too. Tonir was used for cooking bread, fish and poultry, vegetables, soups and other dishes. Armenia has contributed a lot in the culinary traditions in Europe. In turn the cuisines of Turkey, Iran and Arabian countries have enriched the culinary culture of Armenia.
Armenian cooking techniques are rather complicated. The most difficult to cook are meat, fish and vegetable dishes which require stuffing, whipping, puree and souffle making as it takes a lot of time and work. Armenians very much love dishes from chopped meat and all possible variants of stuffed dishes. Manti is a national dish made with ground lamb or beef. The thermal processing of dishes is labour-consuming too. One and the same dish or raw product, for example, meat, can be subject to roasting, boiling and stewing in tonir making some dishes of Armenian cuisine melt in your mouth.
Another feature of Armenian cuisine is a great number of green grocery and spices in preparation of dishes. Armenian cooks use hundreds of wild-growing grasses and flowers which are used as seasonings or even as base dishes.
Fragrant spices are very popular and are in integral part of the Armenian cuisine – pepper, coriander, fenugreek, black pepper, mint, tarragon, basil, thyme and of course garlic and onion. And for sweet dishes, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, saffron and vanilla are used.
Some aspects of the Armenians cuisine are listed as below
Soups – Soups in the Armenian cuisine are very popular, they are cooked so skilfully that you’ll remember their unforgettable taste. There are soups with a sour milk egg base and different kinds of noodles. Meat Dishes – There is a special cult of meat dishes. Some of the most popular ones are shashlik. They are cooked in the same way as they were thousands of years ago.
Dairy products – All dairy products are esteemed by the Armenians. They are valued like bread and consumed both as separate dish and seasoning to other dishes.
Bread Dishes – Traditional Armenian bread lavash is loved all over the world. The Armenian cuisine is simply incomplete. Lavash is served with breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and accompanies almost every food.
Fruits and vegetables – Armenians are very serious about vegetables and fruits. They are eaten raw, dried, pickled and marinated, and apart from that they are used in other dishes too.
Fish – The rivers and lake of Armenia are rich in the fish which is also present in the menus.
Desserts – The most known desserts are kyata and Nazuk, the multilayered pies with stuffing. Each layer is soaked with drawn butter and sugar as a result these dishes have such a melting dough texture and tastes delicious.
For the dough
All-purpose flour 1 up
Salt to taste
For the filling
Ground beef 500gm
Red onion chopped 1 no.
Parsley chopped 3 tbsp
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Greek yoghurt 1 cup
Garlic minced ½ tsp
Salt to taste
For the tomato butter sauce
Unsalted butter 4 tbsp
Tomato sauce 2 tbsp
Paprika powder 1 tsp
Dried mint powder to garnish
To make the dough combine the flour, egg, salt and water add 5-7 tbsp water to make a dough.
Knead to a smooth dough and keep aside wrapped in plastic film.
For the meat filing, combine the ground beef, chopped red onion, chopped parsley, salt and black pepper, mix well and keep aside.
For the sauce, combine Greek yoghurt, garlic and season with salt, mix well and refrigerate.
For the tomato butter sauce, heat a heavy bottom food pan and add butter, tomato sauce and paprika and keep warm.
Dust a baking sheet with flour and bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/16 inches thick.
Cut the dough into 2-inch squares, spoon 1/2 teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each square.
Fold the dough over the filling to make a triangle, press the edges together to seal, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
In a large pot of boiling water, boil the prepared manti until tender and cooked through about 5 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer to serving bowls and top with yoghurt sauce and warm butter sauce.
Serve hot garnished with mint powder.
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