Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sonia Tashjian celebrates the foods of Dikranagerd, helping preserve culture and memories

A view of Diyarbekir (Dikranagerd) - Source: Lamec Saad, "Zestien Jaar als Quarantaine-Artsin Turkije", De Aarde en haar Volken, Haarlem, 1917).
We’ve all experienced a rush of emotion while eating foods familiar from our childhood. For immigrants, especially those who escaped misery, this experience can be profound. Food can obscure our worst memories while evoking the best.

I learned this from observing my father, Nishan Kalajian, while I was growing up. Dad was born in 1912 in the city Turks call Diyarbekir and Armenians call Dikranagerd. He survived the first wave of Genocide but fled from renewed terrors in 1922.

He had no desire to return, except at dinner time.

Beyli Baghli
That meant our dinners in 1950's New Jersey were often like a journey to a far different place. We ate our share of steak and pork chops, but our daily fare was more often beyli baghli,or douzma. Or moutfouna (see recipe below), or sud keebah
Sud Keebah
Does that sound familiar? Maybe some of it does, or maybe none at all. 

The names of many Armenian recipes morphed as they were carried across the mountains and valleys of the homeland. But the foods of Dikranagerd not only sound different, they taste different. 

The city’s history as a trade center and crossroads delivered a bounty of seasonings and ingredients that made the local cuisine as distinctive as the local dialect.

As a boy, I learned all the names while watching my mother cook because she delivered a commentary in the language of her own Dikranagertsi mother. None of this seemed exotic at the time because I heard the same language and ate the same food in the homes of many relatives and friends.

Of course, that was a very long time ago and nearly all of those wonderful people are gone. With our widening circle of Armenian friends nowadays, dinner is more likely to feature hinkali or khachapouri than yekhni (recipe below) or kavourma. 

So I was particularly excited and more than a bit nostalgic when Robyn showed me a recent article on the foods of Dikranagerd by Sonia Tashjian. Sonia, as our regular readers know, is one of Armenia’s most valuable culinary resources, working tirelessly to explore, document and preserve the many facets of Armenian cooking.

Appropriately, Sonia’s story appeared on, an ongoing project to recreate the village life and culture of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Reading her comments and recipes sent me on that long-ago journey once again, recalling the ever-present scent of allspice and coriander in our family kitchen while viewing photos from the rocky paths my father followed as a boy.

Most startling for me: one of the historic photos accompanying her article is a portrait of the Deriklian family, including my father’s aunt and cousins.

Of course, no story about Dikranagerd would be complete without noting the great troubadour, Onnik Dinkjian, who continues to celebrate everything about the Dikranagertsi life. Sonia offers a sample of Onnik’s ode to the foods he loves, sung in the distinctive Dikranagertsi dialect.

Mir mootfoonan boolghoorov
O yardele yardele
Mechuh sokh booghdoonoosov
O yardele yardele

You may well may have heard this and wondered what sort of dinner was worth singing about. Reading Sonia’s story will help explain. If you’re curious to know even more, check out Charles Kasbarian’s 'The Dikranagerd Mystique Armenian Cookbook' (in process).

I’m biased of course, but I think there’s a good chance you’ll find much to like no matter where you trace your family’s roots.

Moutfouna (Lamb and Eggplant Stew) from Charles Kasbarian

Serves 4 - 6


2 lbs. lamb neck bones, or 1 lb. boned, cubed lamb for stew

1 large eggplant, washed, unpeeled, and cut into 1-inch thick cubes

1 cup sumac seeds (sold in Middle Eastern stores)


1 lemon

4 cloves garlic, crushed, and mixed with 2 teaspoons of water

salt and pepper to taste

*small loaf of crusty bread for dipping


1. Place meat in a stockpot, and cover with water.

2. Heat over a low flame until most of the water evaporates, and the meat is detached from the bones.

3. Strain contents of the pot through a sieve or colander

4. Remove the bones from the sieve, and discard.

5. Place the meat back into the washed stockpot and add 3 cups of water.

(NoteIf served with bulghur pilaf in lieu of bread, reduce water to 2 cups in step 5.)
6. Heat over a low flame.
7. Add eggplant, and cook until tender
8. In the meantime, place sumac seeds with 1 cup of water in a small vessel and let soak until eggplant is cooked.
9. Strain out sumac seeds and add the water to the meat in the stockpot, discarding the seeds.
Add juice of 1 lemon and garlic and cook for 1/2 hour.

Serve with bread, which may be broken into chunks, and dipped in stew gravy.

Yekhni with Eggplants from Sonia Tashjian

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef, 85% lean/15% fat 
2 lbs. eggplant cut into 1-inch cubes
red and black pepper, to taste
allspice, to taste
salt, to taste

Cook the meat in its own fat until no longer pink; do not drain. Add the spices, to taste. Add the eggplant cubes and a small amount of water. Cook until eggplant is tender.
Serve with sliced onions, chopped green peppers, and garnish with parsley. 
Note: Yekhnis of green beans, squashes, and quince were prepared with the same ingredients following the same directions.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mshosh, a Lenten dish of Lentils and Dried Fruit from Lena Tashjian

Ever since my copy of Lena Tashjian's 'The Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook' arrived last week, I've been carefully studying every recipe. I already make a number of her dishes which are so gloriously depicted by photographer Siroon Parseghian.

For this post, I chose a dish I hadn't made before - Mshosh - which combines lentils, dried fruit, and nuts - all ingredients I had on-hand. This takes very little time or skill to prepare and the end result is earthy, nutty, slightly sweet, and definitely hearty! 

The name 'Mshosh' comes from one of its main ingredients - a specific variety of wild apricot. Traditionally, the apricots would be left whole, but Lena prefers them chopped 'to ensure a sweet taste in every bite!'

Lena also points out that variations of this recipe might use pumpkin, green beans, or beets instead of apricots, but the apricot version is the most popular. 
Mshosh, ready to serve!
Mshosh, a Lentil and Dried Fruit Dish
Serves 3 to 5 (This can easily serve 4 to 6)

1 cup dry green lentils
3 cups water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 to 4 Tbsp. oil
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup prunes (dried plums), chopped
2/3 cup walnuts, crushed (I used a mixture of chopped almonds and pecans)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste


Soak apricots and prunes in hot water. Set aside.

Rinse and drain the dry lentils. 

Place them in a pot with the 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to medium. Cook lentils, covered, until soft and liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. Check to make sure the liquid hasn't evaporated before the cooking time is up. Add a bit more water if necessary. However, if lentils are fully cooked and liquid remains, drain any excess liquid.
While the lentils are cooking, saute` the onion in a skillet over medium heat until translucent. Add the drained, chopped apricots and prunes; cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Turn off heat, add chopped nuts and stir, then add the entire fruit-nut mixture to the pot of cooked lentils. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, garnish with chopped parsley.

Friday, February 7, 2020

From Warrior to Patron Saint of Youth and Love: St. Sarkis Day

St. Sarkis
The story of St. Sarkis is fascinating. Click here to read more. 

On the feast day of Saint Sarkis the Warrior, a special liturgy is held in all churches named after him. This year, St. Sarkis Day falls on Saturday, February 8th.

On Sunday, February 9th, the Divine Liturgy at St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Charlotte, NC will be conducted by His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan – a very special occurrence!

Along with this day of remembrance and celebration come two distinctive recipes relating to youth and love: Aghablit (salty cookies or wafers) and St. Sarkis Halva.

With the permission of Lena Tashjian, author of the newly released ‘The Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook’, I offer her St. Sarkis Day Special video and two of her related recipes – vegan style. 
(To view Lena’s informative video, click here, then see her recipes below.) 

Happy St. Sarkis Day!!

Lena Tashjian's Aghablit - salty cookies (L); St. Sarkis Halva, vegan style (R)

Aghablit (Salty Cookies or Wafers)

Mix together 1 ¼ cup flour with 2 or so tablespoons of table salt until combined. Add enough water to make a dough. Roll dough out on a lightly floured work surface to about ¼ to ½-inch thickness. Cut free-style shapes or use cookie cutters. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake at 350°F until golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes depending on thickness of cookie.

Lena Tashjian’s Vegan St. Sarkis Day Halva


¾ to 1 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. rose water

5 cups vegan marshmallows (gelatin-free)

1 cup walnut halves

2 to 3 cups white sesame seeds (Note: You won’t use them all, but a good amount is needed to coat halva pieces.)


Place white sesame seeds in the refrigerator to cool.

In the meantime, combine the sugar and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, reduce heat to low-medium and add the lemon juice.

A few minutes later, add the rose water. Once mixture becomes golden in color, add marshmallows, stirring until completely smooth. Turn off heat.

Pour chilled sesame seeds on a large tray.

While mixture is still hot, pour scoops of it as round and flat as possible, on top of the sesame seeds.

Pour as many scoops as you can fit onto the tray. Place walnut halves in the middle of each scoop. Let the halva cool for 45 seconds to 1minute, as it will be easier to roll and handle. Then fold one side of the scoop over, followed by the other.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The winner in the ‘The Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook’ giveaway is …

The giveaway has officially come to an end.

After randomly selecting a participant, we're very happy to congratulate Marina Simonian Minuta for winning a copy of Lena Tashjian’s cookbook! 

Lena and I thank all who participated so enthusiastically.

Remember, you can still get your own copy of the cookbook via 

Happy Vegan Armenian Cooking!