Armenia is located in Western Asia, close to the edge of the continent near Europe. It is sometimes considered part of the Middle East, but it was also once part of the Soviet Union, so I was interested to see what kind of cuisine a country like this may have. Before this challenge, the only Armenian food I had heard of was the Armenian perok cake, which was famous on Reddit for a while. Unfortunately I didn’t make it this week; I had alfajores in the freezer from Argentina and I have a dessert planned for next week, so I didn’t feel I could fit it in. I’ll make it some day though!
What Do People Eat in Armenia?
There are definitely some heavy Middle Eastern influences on Armenian cuisine. Lamb is featured in a lot of dishes, though pork is apparently the most popular meat, and that is something that is uncommon in the Middle East since those countries are predominantly Muslim (by contrast, Armenia is primarily a Christian country).
Lavash, a simple flatbread, is a common accompaniment to many meals. The most popular grain is wheat, and bulgur (cracked wheat) is often used to make dishes that would usually feature rice, such as pilafs. Fresh herbs are used liberally and beans and nuts are widely consumed.
When it comes to dessert, Armenia is like many Middle Eastern countries in that honey, fruits and nuts are heavily featured. And that Armenian perok cake doesn’t seem to be all that common, though it sounds amazing so I’m still going to make it eventually.
What I Made
- Lavash (Flatbread)
- Loligov Dzvadzekh (Scrambled Eggs with Tomato)
- Harissa (Barley and Chicken Porridge)
- Lahmajun (Armenian Pizza)
- Kololik (Lamb Meatball Soup)
- Jingalov Hats (Flatbreads Stuffed with Greens)
- Eetch (Bulgur, Tomato and Herb Salad)
Lavash is a very thin flatbread which is eaten with many meals. I used the recipe from Serious Eats which turned out okay, but maybe not exactly how it was meant to. I was supposed to put the bread under the broiler, but the recipe says it will blow up like a balloon and since my broiler is at the bottom of the oven rather in the main part, I can only put things so far from the element. I was worried there would not be enough space for expansion so instead I just baked the bread at high heat for longer. I did witness the bread puffing up so that was cool, and there definitely would not have been enough space if I’d used my broiler; it might have caught fire or just got super charred or something.
The bread tasted fine, even though it may not have come out exactly as it was supposed to (I think it was meant to brown more, but it was so thin and I didn’t want it to turn into a cracker).
Loligov Dzvadzekh (Scrambled Eggs with Tomato)
It seems like a lot of countries have breakfast dishes involving scrambled eggs and tomatoes. This works for me, as it’s a combination I really like. Loligov Dzvadzekh is eggs scrambled with tomatoes and herbs, usually served with lavash and Armenian feta. I didn’t follow a recipe, but I did use this Reddit post for inspiration. I started cooking the tomatoes in butter, then added in the eggs and some feta (not Armenian though) and when it was done I sprinkled za’atar on top. (Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend which can be made of varying ingredients. Mine is mostly thyme, sesame seeds and sumac). Served with some of my homemade lavash, this was a delicious and filling breakfast.
Harissa (Barley and Chicken Porridge)
This is a very basic dish, consisting of wheat or, in this case, barley, and chicken. It is considered one of Armenia’s national dishes. And yes, harissa is also the name of a North African red pepper paste! But this dish is completely different.
I cooked a whole chicken in water to make chicken stock, and then added the stock and shredded chicken to the cooked barley. I’m not going to link the recipe I used since I think it had some rather major flaws. One, being that although it called for pearl barley, I’m sure they meant some other grain–perhaps pot barley. Whatever they were using, they soaked it overnight and cooked it way longer than the pearly barley needed, even if you were going for a softer texture. I believe the grain they were using expanded less after cooking too, because I ended up with way more servings than indicated. Finally, there were no amounts given for seasoning (cinnamon, cumin and white pepper) which is a problem when you don’t know what it’s meant to taste like. Also, because I had such a giant pot of this stuff, I had to add a lot of seasoning, including salt, to taste anything at all.
Finally, and this one I can’t blame on the recipe–I was supposed to blend this at the end using an immersion blender. My immersion blender, which I will admit is ancient, could not handle blending this concoction at all, so I gave up on that. I think I prefer having pieces of chicken anyway. I topped with some butter and berbere (an Ethiopian spice blend) as the recipe suggested. I’m not sure how authentic that is but I guess a lot of the spices in berbere are used in Middle Eastern cooking.
This stuff actually tasted alright, but it was kind of boring. I ate subsequent bowls with sautéed onions, feta, and hot sauce, which made it delicious. I had to freeze some because I just had so much of it, and I can report that it does freeze and reheat well.
Lahmajun (Armenian Pizza)
Lahmajun (also spelled ‘lahmacun’) is a round, thin piece of dough topped with spiced ground meat, usually lamb or beef. This version has tomato sauce and cheese, and a sprinkle of sumac and fresh parsley is added once it comes out of the oven.
I used the recipe from Serious Eats except I don’t have a pizza oven so I just cooked the lahmajun for longer at high heat in my regular oven. I used beef, and substituted shredded mozzarella for the Armenian string cheese. These turned out really, really well, though I got 8 servings instead of 4 because I really didn’t feel I needed to eat a whole pizza at once, even though they aren’t huge. I was happy to have these leftover though because they were so, so good. I’ll definitely be making them again!
Kololik (Lamb Meatball Soup)
Kololik is a traditional Armenian meatball soup. The meatballs are made of ground lamb, and filled with an onion and rice mixture. Aside from the meatballs, the soup itself is extremely simple, consisting of a basic broth which may have potatoes or noodles added. To finish, fresh herbs may be sprinkled on top.
I followed a recipe from Recipe Flow, using 1 pound of ground lamb rather than mincing it myself, and although the end result was good, I did have one problem. There was way too much filling! I could tell just by looking at the recipe that this would be the case. I ended up halving it, thinking it would probably still be too much, but not wanting to fall short if the onions shrunk more than I thought they would. And by the time I’d finished with my meatballs, I still had a bunch of onion mixture leftover. This tasted good mixed into the finished soup, but I’m really curious as to where this filling amount came from to begin with. Were these supposed to be miniature onions?
Since I used ground lamb, I didn’t have bones to make stock, so I used water instead. To get some flavor, I cooked the onions in my Dutch oven and deglazed, saving the liquid. I browned the meatballs (the original recipe doesn’t have you do this) and then added water, tomato puree/sauce, and the ‘onion juice’ instead of the homemade broth. Then I added some beef Better Than Bouillon, and although I’m sure the lamb bones would have given better flavor, this still tasted really good.
Jingalov Hats (Flatbreads Stuffed with Greens)
These jingalov hats are flatbreads stuffed with seasonal greens. I sort of followed the recipe from New York Times but I changed the filling ingredients to better suit what I had available and what I could easily obtain. I filled my jingalov hats with chard, cilantro, dill, parsley, spinach and green onions, and kept the seasoning the same. I didn’t include the optional pomegranate seeds.
I thought these were good but not great. Obviously you can change up the filling to suit your preferences, and I think some cheese like feta would have made a big difference.
Eetch (Bulgur, Tomato and Herb Salad)
Eetch is a bulgur and tomato salad with lots of fresh herbs. It can be served as part of a meal but it’s filling enough to stand on its own if you want. I served mine with salmon one night and had leftovers with an egg on top in the morning. I’ve been a big fan of bulgur since the first time I tried it so of course I loved this dish. If you want to try it, I used the recipe from Serious Eats. I used parsley and cilantro as the herbs since I already had those for other recipes, and I thought they were the perfect combination. The only thing I would change is to reduce the Aleppo pepper slightly next time. I didn’t think this was overly spicy, more that I felt it was something I would enjoy more with less heat. I like spicy food so that’s a weird thing for me to say, but apparently this is a dish I prefer to be mild.
This was another great week full of interesting and delicious food. My favorite was easily the lahmajun, but everything was pretty good.
Next week I will be cooking food from my home country, Australia!
The Recipes all look so appetising…make me feel hungry! I liked the way you did the scrambled eggs (what is za’atar?)
It’s great the way you show us how to give your own touch to traditional recipes; makes it easier for us to have a go at them.
So, off to Oz next week…will that be pie and chips?!
I edited my post to include a note about za’atar, but it’s a Middle Eastern spice blend. It usually has thyme and sometimes other herbs, as well as sumac (tastes kind of lemony) and sesame seeds. I liked putting it on my eggs even before this but it’s also good on just about anything else.
I already have a recipe for Australian meat pie on my blog so I’m just going to reference that so I can make other things. There will be chips with one of the meals though!