Cooking Armenian Cuisine
Armenian cuisine includes the foods and cooking techniques of the Armenian people, the Armenian diaspora and traditional Armenian foods and dishes. The cuisine reflects the history and geography where Armenians have lived as well as incorporating outside influences. The cuisine also reflects the traditional crops and animals grown and raised in areas populated by Armenians.
The preparation of meat, fish, and vegetable dishes in an Armenian kitchen requires stuffing, frothing, and pureeing. Lamb, eggplant, mayonnaise, yoghurt, and bread (lavash) are basic features of Armenian cuisine. Armenians use cracked wheat (burghul) in preference to the maize and rice popular among its Caucasian neighbors (Georgia and Azerbaijan).
Armenian cuisine distinguishes itself from other regional cuisines in the following ways:
The flavor of the food relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on spices.
The extensive use of fruits and nuts in dishes. Of primary use are: dried apricots, fresh quince, fresh apples, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts (the latter mostly in Cilicia).
The use of pickles and pickled vegetables in foods.
The use of fresh herbs either as spices or as accompaniments.
The extensive use of stuffed items. In addition to grape leaves, Armenians also stuff cabbage leaves, Swiss chard leaves, eggplants, zucchini or squash, tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, various meats (particularly organ meats), whole fish, apples, quince, and even cantaloupe.
The primary sauces in Armenian cuisine are:
Tomato sauce or paste. This was a later addition, following the introduction of tomato in the region in the early 19th Century.
Pepper sauce or paste
Tahini (crushed sesame seed) sauce. This sauce is frequently substituted for yogurt sauce in Lenten dishes.
Armenian sauces are often cooked with the food, forming a consistency of stew and soup.
Armenian cuisine uses spices sparingly. The primary spices used in Armenian cuisine are:
Red pepper (particularly Aleppo pepper, which is a spicier variety of paprika)
Mint (in Western Armenia)
Dill (in Eastern Armenia, the current Republic of Armenia)
Sumac (the powdered dried berry of the Mediterranean sumac bush)
Mahlab (the powdered pit of the black cherry)
Orange blossom water
Basil and bay leaves are used in certain dishes
Many regional recipes include additional local herbs whose use is almost completely forgotten today in the Diaspora; e.g., aveluk (wood sorrel), jingyal, etc. Armenian foods include small appetizers called mezze, grain and herb salads, phyllo pastries called byoreks (boereg), grilled meats and skewers, a large variety of soups, stews, flat breads such as lavash, and a thin crust pizza variant called lahmajoun. Lahmajoun comes in many types. Unlike traditional pizza, it is meat based and contains other spices and herbs. There is also a vegetarian style to lahmajoun that uses a spicy tomato base. Lahmajoun is mostly found in Cilicia, in those areas close to Syria and Lebanon.