Armenia and Hammer

September 5, 2014

image courtesy of

Most of the time I feel pretty smart. A bit cocky but true nonetheless, and I enjoy that feeling. Other times, I feel like an idiot. And there are those rare times when I feel bad about being an idiot…this is one of those times. As Jews, and for good reason, I get the sense that we often feel like we have the monopoly on genocide angst. We spend so much time ruminating on our history that it can often make us belittle other events in the world. So it was a shock to me to learn that there was an earlier genocide in the 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire systematically killed 1 – 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.

Why? Vaguely because Armenia historically had close ties to the West due to their overwhelming Christian population dating back over a millennia. Didn’t know Armenians were mostly Christian? Me either. Ever wonder why the four quarters of Jerusalem are: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian? Well now we know. In addition, they were thought to be too friendly with Russia whom the Turks were constantly at odds with. It didn’t hurt that the Ottoman Empire had also signed a secret alliance with Germany in 1914 which once again put them at odds with the Russians. But in all honesty, it just seems like the Arab empire wanted an excuse to cleanse one of the only large Christian populations in the area (Armenia is landlocked and surrounded on three of its sides by Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan). In any event, this lead to the Armenian Diaspora which continues to this day.

Diasporas can have strange effects on cuisine. When a people are forced to move, their food culture is one of the few things they can easily take with them. This can often strengthen the reliance on a shared culinary community to hold on to their identity. Another side effect is that the new area they are in may not have the same resources as where they left. One example would be chicken-fried steak in the Texas. This is the adaptation of German wiener schnitzel but using the available beef instead of pork or veal that would have traditionally been used. I wanted to find a dish that really represented Armenian food.

I made a three part meal as it was pretty simple and easy to assemble. The first part was the main course, a tomato based lamb dish that had a really nice sweet flavor. The starting base of green peppers and onions really brought out the meatiness of the lamb (beef would also work).

One side I did was a basic mashed eggplant. This turned out well but was a little bland on its own. When mixed with the sauce from the lamb however, it took on new life and was very delicious. To finish I made what amounted to a zucchini quiche with sharp cheddar cheese. This was very savory and I kept having to remind myself it wasn’t a spinach quiche, but zucchini with its own unique flavor. The only thing I would change is making sure I got all the seeds of the zucchini (it was freshly grown, not from the grocery which meant the seeds were larger and heartier). Overall this was a nice trio of flavors and textures, and maybe more importantly I learned something about world history I had no idea even existed.

Next stop…the old prison yard, Australia…(I promise it won’t be as depressing!)



Mashed eggplant with meat (PATLIJAN/SEMPOOG HUNKAR BAYENDI )

Serves: 4

1 lb. cubed lamb (or beef)
2 large onions
2 tbsp. butter
8 oz. tomato sauce
½ green pepper (diced)
2 med. eggplants (firm and deep purple) – save for second part of recipe
1 tsp. salt
dash of red pepper
1 tbsp. wine
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. basil


Brown meat in butter, add onions and green pepper, saute about three minutes. Add tomato sauce along with three-quarters cup hot water and all remaining ingredients (except wine). Cover and cook about one-half hour or until meat is tender. Add wine about fifteen minutes before done. Wash eggplants, pierce with a fork in several places, place in a shallow pan and bake in a 350F oven about 45 minutes or until soft, turning once during baking process.

When done your baking dish will have liquid in it – drain this liquid. When eggplants have cooled, peel skins. Put peeled eggplants into a large skillet and mash. Add one-half teaspoon salt, dash of red pepper and one-half cup beef stock (I use bouillon). Mix and heat mixture thoroughly.

Place the hot meat mixture in the center of a platter and arrange the eggplant mixture around it.


Zucchini pie (TUTUMOV BOERAG)

1 lb. zucchini, grated (REMEMBER TO REMOVE SEEDS : D )
1 Sm. onion, grated
½ to 3/4 lb. sharp cheese, grated
5 eggs
salt, pepper to taste

After grating zucchini, squeeze until dry. Add onion, cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.

Grease 9″ pie plate. Fill pie plate with mixture and cook 30-45 minutes in 350F oven or until brown. Insert knife. If it comes out clean, it is done.



One Response to “Armenia and Hammer”

  1. Mei-Mei Says:

    One of my coworkers is Armenian, but honestly I’m not sure I could have found it on a map before I met him. I’ll have to ask him what his favorite dish is.
    SOAD are also of Armenian descent and have songs about the genocide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: