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Landing on Ararat : Recipe Collection Celebrates Armenian Heritage

February 29, 1996|BARBARA HANSEN

Hermig Janoyan held up a plate of confections as pale as snow, as chewy and nutty as nougat. Embedded with sesame seeds, the candy came in two shapes: flat squares and rolls stuffed with walnuts.

This, Janoyan said, is the special halvah for the feast day of St. Sarkis. It was her contribution to an Armenian luncheon that just happened to take place on the saint's day, Jan. 31.

And so we nibbled on the luscious halvah, along with pastries called kadayif and incredibly creamy gatnabour (rice pudding). All this on top of a hefty lunch of kuefta (ground meat croquettes with a bulgur wheat crust), chicken kebabs, bulgur pilaf, peda bread, salad and the diluted yogurt drink tahn.

Lunch took place at Ararat Home, an Armenian retirement home, convalescent facility and community center in Mission Hills. The women assembled there were leaders of guilds that support the home, and much of their conversation was about the cookbook "Reflections of an Armenian Kitchen," in which members have revealed prized family recipes.

The book is selling rapidly because collections of heritage recipes like these are rare. It was printed in Fresno, which has a large Armenian community, and the first printing of 1,000 copies is already gone.

The St. Sarkis halvah recipe is in the book, contributed by Vanda Mazmanian, who specifies that the sugar be measured in Armenian coffee cups. Janoyan, who researched the chapter on Armenian feast days, explains that engaged girls and brides fast for a couple of days at this time, then are honored at a feast at which the halvah is presented on a tray along with fruit that conceals a gift of gold jewelry.

Listening to these women talk whets your appetite to try their recipes. Manoush Simonian said proudly that she has contributed an authentic recipe for kebabs. The skewered meats are so important to Armenians that the retirement home kitchen is equipped with a large grill just for them.

Mary Zoryan described how she stacks burner plates and hot pads to keep a potful of rice pudding from burning during the hours it takes to cook to the right consistency.

Dolores Samuelian, cookbook committee head, recalled how her mother collected sumac seeds from plants growing wild in her Chicago neighborhood. From these, she ground the maroon powder Armenians sprinkle over such dishes as fattoosh, a salad that contains toasted peda bread, and manti, meat dumplings served in broth with a spoonful of yogurt.

The book contains six versions of manti and three of fattoosh, just as there are eight styles of kebab, eight recipes for yalanji sarma (rice-stuffed grape leaves), 11 variations on the bread known as choereg and four versions of kadayif. The idea is not to repeat but to show the variations from household to household and place to place.

Ararat Home's Armenian chef, Arut Durgaryan, contributed a recipe for cabbage sarma (meat and rice-stuffed cabbage leaves), and the residents provided inspiration and information for the book.

"Many of these recipes live only in the minds and memories of these people," the dedication states.

The book, illustrated with photographs and drawings of Armenian artifacts, is enclosed in a sturdy cover that allows it to stand upright. It contains more than 500 recipes, mostly Armenian, and a few American favorites.

* To order a copy, send a check for $24.50, which includes postage and handling, to Ararat Home of Los Angeles, Attention Cookbook Committee, 15105 Mission Road, Mission Hills, CA 91345. Make checks payable to the Ararat Home Cookbook Committee. Allow four to six weeks for delivery.


2 pounds boneless leg of lamb

5 large onions

1/4 cup chopped parsley

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cumin, optional

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 green bell peppers

10 plum tomatoes

Cooked rice, optional

Remove all visible fat and gristle from lamb and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes.

Thinly slice 1 onion. Combine sliced onion, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add lamb and stir to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Cut remaining 4 onions in quarters. Cut bell peppers into 2-inch pieces.

Thread lamb cubes onto skewers. Thread tomatoes, onions and bell peppers onto separate skewers to allow for individual cooking times. Grill lamb kebabs over hot coals, turning occasionally to cook lamb evenly, about 15 minutes. Then place vegetables over coals and cook until tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve skewers over bed of rice.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each of 6 servings, without rice, contains about:

387 calories; 265 mg sodium; 109 mg cholesterol; 18 grams fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 38 grams protein; 1.47 grams fiber.


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