Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Recipe Request for Sweet Tarkhana - Grape Juice Pudding

Over the years I’ve received numerous requests to help find family-favorite Armenian recipes. With each request, I did my best to track down the recipe – with pretty good results.

I was happy to help Brenda Papazian-Madden recently when she sent me the following request:

Brenda wrote:

“I am trying to find a recipe my grandmother used to make.  I believe it had the word tarkhana in it.  It had barley, grape juice, and some other items.  It was served warm.  I hope you know what I am describing!?  If you have this recipe, can you please send it to me?”

Brenda's Sweet Tarkhana - Grape Juice Pudding - is ready to serve.

A bit of background information on ‘tarkhana’: traditional Armenian tarkhana is made up of matzoon (plain yogurt) and eggs mixed with equal amounts of wheat flour and starch. Small pieces of dough are prepared and dried and then kept in glass containers and used mostly in soups, where it dissolves in hot liquid.

Tarkhana (Photo courtesy of Sonia Tashjian)

To confuse matters, traditional tarkhana is NOT an ingredient in this particular recipe, however, barley (or ‘dzedzadz’ - sold in Middle Eastern stores) is.

Shelled wheat, aka Dzedzadz - sold in Middle Eastern stores
Initially, I sent Brenda some recipes for tarkhana from Rose Baboian’s ‘American-Armenian Cookbook’, but none of them included grape juice. 
Sadly, Rose Baboian's cookbook is difficult to find.
Not one to give up, I scoured my collection of Armenian cookbooks and found just the one she was looking for!

The recipe is called ‘Sweet Tarkhana (Targhana) – Grape Juice Pudding’ which I found in the 'Treasured Armenian Recipes', published by the Detroit Women’s Chapter of the AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union, Inc.).

'Treasured Armenian Recipes' cookbook.
When Brenda received the recipe, she was overjoyed! She intended to prepare it right away to share with her family. I asked if she’d permit me to post her request and if she would send me a photo of the finished product.

As you can see, not only did I get her permission, but several photos as well. 

And now we'll share it with you. Thanks, Brenda!

Sweet Tarkhana made even sweeter with a scoop of ice cream!

Sweet Tarkhana (Targhana) – Grape Juice Pudding


1 quart (4 cups) grape juice

1 cup water

1 ½ cups barley (or dzedzadz)

½ cup sugar

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter **

½ cup chopped nuts

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. allspice


Wash barley and drain. Place barley in a pot with the 1 cup water and soak it for a few minutes. Add the grape juice and bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring now and then.

Stir in the sugar and butter and beat for a few minutes. Add the spices and nuts.
Tarkhana cooking.

Pour into individual bowls. Serve warm or cold.

** Note: The recipe in the cookbook mentioned adding butter along with the sugar, however, neither butter nor its amount were included in the ingredient list. Therefore, I took a guess at the butter amount which seemed to work nicely when Brenda made the recipe.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The assault on Artsakh is an assault on all Armenians

Food means far more than sustenance to every culture but the link between food and identity is especially strong for Armenians. 

Scattered across the globe by the Genocide, we have adapted our menus to local ingredients but we’ve held fast to traditions that bind us to the generations that passed them down as well as to each other. 

This site is dedicated to celebrating those traditions but celebration of any sort feels impossible now while the Armenian homeland is under assault. 

Most Americans are probably only vaguely aware of the war in Artsakh, a region usually referred to by the old Soviet name Nagorno-Karabakh. That may be oddly appropriate, as the war itself is a tragic Soviet legacy. 

The small and historically Armenian region was severed from Armenia in the early 1920s by Stalin and designated as an autonomous division within Azerbaijan. That left Armenian Christians, including many Genocide survivors, surrounded by a hostile population of Turkic Muslims. 

The tenuous arrangement endured for nearly 70 years until the Soviet Union began to disintegrate in the late 1980s and Stalin’s successors loosened their grip. This led to a series of massacres of Armenians in Azerbaijan.

Like many other Soviet-occupied territories, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence when the Communist regime collapsed and voted to join newly independent Armenia. Azerbaijan, however, claimed the territory as its own.

The result was a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that  ended in a 1994 cease fire, but the end of hostilities settled nothing. Artsakh’s independence remained unrecognized by the major powers while Azerbaijan, flush with oil revenue, rebuilt and strengthened its military while waiting for an opportunity to exert control.

There have been numerous warning signs over the years, including an extended clash in 2016. Now, despite concerns about the potentially calamitous consequences of war in the Caucuses, the world has allowed Azerbaijan to attack once again.

The war has been raging for more than a month and the results are already calamitous for Armenians. Authorities estimate that 90,000 of Artsakh’s 140,000 residents have been forced from their homes since the fighting began, and more are being displaced every day.

Three attempts at a cease fire have now failed. There is little hope that the Azeris will back down while they have the advantage, and their advantage appears to be overwhelming.

Armenia itself, optimistically three million strong, is fully mobilized in defense of Artsakh. The prime minister has called on all Armenians to join the effort, and they are responding to the call.

Azerbaijan, however, has a population of about 10 million. It is fully backed by Turkey, population 80 million, which is providing weapons and logistical support and has pledged to send troops if needed. (Russia, which many Armenians see as a potential savior, has supplied weapons to both sides.)

Azeri ground forces, meanwhile, are bolstered by mercenaries from Syria and Pakistan. They are getting air support from drones supplied by Turkey and Israel. Most distressing, Azerbaijan has attacked Armenian civilians with Israeli cluster bombs, a clear violation of international law.

I know this much because incredibly brave independent journalists have been risking their lives, although much of what they are reporting has not appeared in mainstream newspapers or on television.

A good deal of what does reach us is at best incomplete or warped by politics and profit. War is, after all, always a money-making affair for someone.

We’re fortunate to have friends who keep us informed and encouraged. Among the most valued is author and journalist Lucine Kasbarian, who has done an invaluable job placing the current war in historical context while pointing out the fallacies and failings in media reports.

Her brave brother Antranig is in Stepankert, the capital of Artsakh, filing his own reports while helping journalists cut through the propaganda. 

The best hope for Armenians may lie in a successful plea for international recognition of Artsakh’s independence—really, its right to exist—and in revulsion at evidence of Azerbaijani atrocities against Artsakh’s defenders and citizens.

Armenians across the United States are making great efforts to draw the world’s attention to the truth. The best way to take part is to know that truth by staying informed. 

Here are a few links that may help. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Khatoon Boodhi - Rice and Meat Patties: A Recipe from Araksi Dinkjian

Doug and I know a thing or two Dikranagerdsi recipes, but when we saw Anahid Dinkjian’s post for a Dikranagerdsi dish called Khatoon Boodhi on FB, we looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders because we’d never heard of it. 

Could it be a recipe from the land of our ancestors? We set out to find the answer.

Araksi Dinkjian's Khatoon Boodhi

This recipe pictured above was made by Anahid’s mother, Araksi who received the recipe from her husband Onnik’s mother, from Dikranagerd. 

Therefore, the assumption we made is that this is a Dikranagerdsi dish.

To further establish the recipe’s origin, I checked on Charles Kasbarian’s (C.K.) Armeniapedia page to see if he had it listed in the index of his ‘The Dikranagerd Mystique Armenian Cookbook (In Process)’- and- he does! His recipe for ‘Kadin Boudi’ can be found under 'Main Dishes'.

(A word to all: Spellings vary greatly in Armenian recipes names.)

C.K. points out the following explanation of the recipe's name:

"Also known as Khanum Boudi = Lady's Thighs.
Khatoun is lady in Arabic, and Khanum is lady in Persian.

The difference is:
Khatoun is a lady of inferior rank, and Khanum is a lady of superior rank."

Given these two sources, I feel safe in saying that this recipe is of Dikrangerdsi origin, although I'm certain other regions have similar dishes.

Our version of the Dinkjian's Khatoon Boodhi made with ground turkey. Served with yalanchi, salad, and lavash (not pictured).

Khatoon Boodhi - Rice and Meat Patties from Araksi Dinkjian

Yields 8 to 9 patties


½ cup uncooked short grain rice (such as Carolina Rice), cooked according to package directions

½ lb. raw ground lamb

½ lb. raw ground beef

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped      

Seasonings measured according to your own taste – salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper, ground coriander

1 beaten egg for meat mixture

1 beaten egg for dipping

Canola oil for sautéeing and pan frying


Cook ½ cup rice according to package directions. Once cooked, allow rice to cool completely.

Sauté chopped onions in 1 to 2 Tbsp. canola oil until soft but not brown. Allow onions to cool completely.

In a large bowl add the ground lamb and beef, the cooked and cooled rice and onions, 1 beaten egg, and the seasonings measured to your taste. Mix ingredients with your hands until well-combined.

Patties shaped and ready to dip in egg.
Form mixture into small patties of uniform size and thickness.

Coat each patty with beaten egg before cooking.

Dip the patties into beaten egg. Coat on both sides.

Place enough canola oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet. Turn burner on to medium heat. Add patties to skillet without crowding them. You might have to cook them in smaller batches, Pan fry patties until golden on both sides and meat is cooked through.

Cooked patties

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cousin Ani Ehramjian's Yalanchi - made in an Instant Pot!

Four years ago, Doug asked if I’d be interested in an Instant Pot (pressure cooker) for Christmas. My ears heard ‘Crock Pot’, to which I whole-heartedly replied, ‘Yes!’ 

On that Christmas morning, I carefully opened the package, but much to my surprise, an Instant Pot was revealed! Doug, beaming, expected me to be doing the same. Instead, I looked puzzled thinking he’d made a mistake, when, in fact, the mistake was mine. I smiled, thanked Doug, graciously accepted the gift, and placed it in a closet.

Current day:

My daughter Mandy was just here for a visit. Before she arrived we planned to prepare a few family favorites together - including yalanchi. I told her I was considering making something with my never-used Instant Pot and she was thrilled to hear that 
I finally felt comfortable enough to step out of my comfort zone. 

Allow me to explain my IP apprehension: Back in my early days in the kitchen, pressure cookers were used on the stovetop. Sometimes the pressure within the pot was so intense, it would literary blow the lid off, often creating a hole in the ceiling.

Mandy assured me that wouldn't happen in the IP, so we unpacked it, did a dry-run with the 'machine', and she guided me like a pro. (It's pretty funny that my daughter was giving me, a retired culinary teacher, a lesson in cooking!) 
With Mandy helping, I agreed to give it a try. 

Cousins Ani and Margaret

The recipe we chose to make came from Ani Ehramjian, cousin Margaret’s twenty-something-year-old daughter. I had seen on FB Ani’s photo of the yalanchi she made using an Instant Pot, and it looked delicious.
Ani's IP Yalanchi served with hummus and eech

To help with our experiment, Ani sent me her family’s recipe for ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves - the Instant Pot version’.

Mandy and I worked side-by-side, made some slight adjustments to the recipe, and were very pleased with the final outcome.
Me (L) with my 'teacher', Mandy

Many thanks to Ani for the recipe, and to Mandy for helping me overcome my anxiety about cooking with a pressure cooker!!

Our fist attempt at making Yalanchi in the Instant Pot. Ours might not be as pretty as Ani's, but boy, were they good!

Stuffed Grape Leaves made in an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker from Ani Ehramjian

(Note: For non- Instant Pot users, stovetop instructions are  given below.)

Yields about 50 pieces


5 cups chopped yellow onions, about 3-4 big onions
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped, about 1 cup 
1 cup short or medium grain rice
3/4 cup of olive oil (we used about 1/3 cup olive oil in all)
3 lemons, juiced
1-6 oz. can tomato paste, undiluted
1/4 cup pignolia nuts, toasted (we used ½ cup)
1/2 teaspoon allspice (we used 1 tsp.)
1/2 teaspoon dried mint (we used 2 tsp., finely crushed)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound, 2 oz jar of grape leaves, rinsed and stem ends removed
We used the Tamara brand grape leaves from Armenia.


1. In a non-stick skillet, toast pine nuts over low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. 

2. Finely chop onions. 

3. In a large pan, sauté onions in 2-3 Tbsp of the oil over medium heat for 10 minutes until softened. 

4. With heat on low, add the rest of the ingredients – except for the grape leaves. Mix until combined, and then remove from heat. Set aside to cool completely. 
Ready to Roll!

5. Wrap filling in grape leaves: Spread open each grape leaf with the shiny side facing down and the stem end toward you. Place a spoonful of filling in the center, fold over both sides and roll from the bottom of the leaf to the tip. Wrap tightly enough so the yalnchi won’t unravel during cooking, but not so tight that expanding rice will burst through the leaf. (View our video on how to roll grape leaves.) 

6. Line Instant Pot inner liner with ripped leaves. 
Torn leaves line the bottom of the pot.

7. Put wrapped grape leaves in rows in pot, pack tightly. Do not exceed the limit line marked on the pot. 
Ready to cook!

8. Add 1 cup of water to the pot, squeeze in extra lemon juice if desired. (Special Note: Ani said do NOT place a plate on top of the stuffed leaves in the IP!) 
My Instant Pot in action.

9. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for your Instant Pot, cook for 15 minutes on normal pressure, then 15 minutes natural release. It’s that easy!

Chill until ready to serve.

To serve: Arrange yalanchi on a platter and garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Stovetop Method: If you’d rather cook these on the stovetop, line the bottom of a large pot with torn grape leaves. Put wrapped grape leaves in rows in pot, pack tightly. Add 1 cup of water to the pot, squeeze in extra lemon juice if desired. Place a heavy plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves to prevent them from floating and/or unraveling.

Cook, covered, on the stove on low heat for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until leaves are tender and rice is cooked.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Butterflied leg of lamb, grilled Armenian style

Lamb was my family's go-to meat when I was growing up, and my mother taught me the traditions of Armenian cooking that apportioned various cuts to pots, pans, broiler or oven. 

Firing up the grill was reserved for special occasions, and Sunday shish kebab was the most special of all. I realized how special it really  was when I bought our first gas grill two years ago. 

I soon learned that grilling with gas works best with the lid closed to keep the grill hot. Being unable to make skewers turn on their own through sheer willpower, Robyn and I  set out to find options that would yield kebab satisfaction without demanding constant attention.
Lamb loin chops
This led to a new appreciation of grilled lamb chops, with meaty loin chops getting our highest khorovatz scores. Now the search has led us to a grilled variation on the oldest of family favorites, leg of lamb.

In my experience, a leg of lamb was always roasted in the oven or in a stove-top pan. Everyone has a favorite twist, but there are a couple of constants in all Near and Middle-Eastern recipes: leave a generous layer of fat on the outside, and let the lamb cook long and slow—and then cook it some more.

The melting fat bastes the roast as it cooks, sealing in the juices. Result: meat nearly as white as chicken and moist as a plum.

Substituting the grill for the oven occurred to us when we came across a four-pound butterflied sirloin-half leg in our local market the other day. This may be familiar territory to many but it was new to us, so we took our time examining the meat as we discussed our options.

I wanted to try a dry rub and low heat, like American barbecue. After all, we are in South Carolina, y'all. But the meat was exceptionally lean and well-trimmed—reasons for applause from most cooks perhaps but that  argued against the traditional slow breakdown approach.

Instead, we decided to treat the leg like flat-sided shish kebab. A marinade of Armenian brandy and onions would provide the tenderizing, with a slather of olive oil to seal in the juices. 

Lamb marinating

You may remember - as we do - the old timers who insisted there was no need for measures or recipes because they cooked by eye. Well, when it came time to actually cook our lamb I was more or less cooking with eyes shut. I guessed at full heat (about 500+ degrees) and about eight minutes a side, turned once.

Somehow, it worked. 
Lamb rests before slicing.

My completely objective taste panel, consisting of my wife and daughter, assure me the marinade did its job in delivering authentic khorovatz flavor while tenderizing the meat. My preference might have been to cook it a tad longer but maybe I'm just an old shish-in-the-mud.

In fact, the sliced lamb offered enough color variety of pinks, not-so-pinks and charred bits to cover the doneness-range nicely.
Rice pilaf, salad, and sauteed onions round-out the meal. And lavash, of course (not pictured).
Our Recipe:
Butterflied leg of lamb Armenian style

1 four-pound sirloin leg half, de-boned and butterflied
1 cup Armenian brandy
1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarse chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground coriander seeds, Aleppo pepper, and salt, measured according to your taste

  • Open the lamb on a flat surface and trim any silver skin.
  • Place trimmed meat in a large casserole dish. Add brandy, onions and seasonings - except salt.
  • Coat meat well, cover and let marinate overnight. Turn once either before bed or in the morning.
  • Before you cook the lamb, remove the onions from the marinade and saute thoroughly to serve over the lamb.
  • Turn on the grill and wait until it's fully heated. Add salt to both sides of lamb  before placing it on the grill.
  • Place lamb on the grill and closing the cover. grill for 8 minnutes; turn meat. Cook another eight minutes. 
  • Remove lamb from heat and place on a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

Serving suggestion: serve with rice pilaf or bulgur pilaf, roasted bell peppers, salad, and lavash.