Armenian melting pot

Armenian melting pot
August 23, 2007
Hayganus Paylan lived in Malatia, Turkey as a young girl. She spent
her teen years with her family in French-speaking Montreal. Then, when
Paylan married 26 years ago, she came to Skokie.
But whether she’s surrounded by Turks, French Canadians or Americans,
the kitchen is one place where Paylan has always felt perfectly at
,pp-arm enian-082307-s1.article

Creating elaborate Armenian spreads is a communal occupation, as shown
by these two sets of mothers and daughters crafting lunch in Hayganus
Paylan’s Skokie kitchen. Debbie Derasadurian and Paylan shape the
lentil and cracked wheat patties called vospov kufteh while Margaret
Stepanian (Derasadurian’s mother) spreads an egg wash over the
boghacha cheese turnovers that 21-year-old Arda Paylan is making.
(Brian O’Mahoney/Staff Photographer)

Hayganus Paylan, who grow all her own fresh herbs and dries them for
the winter, chops parsley in her Skokie home. Paylan is one of the
main cooks for the many food-related events at St. James Armenian
Church in Evanston, including this week’s Taste of Armenia street
(Brian O’Mahoney/Staff Photographer)

From left: Kavork Hagopian’s ground meat patty sits atop a bulghur
pilaf recipe that came from his ancestral home in historic western
Armenia; Hayganus Paylan’s lentil salad, called sumpoogi aghstan; and
Paylan’s sarma grape leaves filled with a tender mixture of nuts,
fruit, herbs and rice.
(Brian O’Mahoney/Staff Photographer)
– Armenian street fair Sunday

"My mom would kick me out of the kitchen to get rid of me," Paylan
recalled. "But then she realized I could actually help."
Paylan’s story is echoed by countless other Armenians who have been
dispersed around the world since the Ottoman Empire instituted a harsh
resettlement policy during World War I that killed 1.5 million
Armenians, an event recognized by several countries as the Armenian
genocide of 1918. Although the Republic of Armenia gained independence
after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenians remain spread
across the world, clinging fiercely to their culture–and to their
"A lot of Armenian food is adapted to where we’re from," said Gary
Rejebian, one of the organizers of the Taste of Armenia street fair
running this weekend at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston. Like
Paylan, Rejebian grew up eating foods common to Central Asia, since
his grandparents come from western Armenia (now Turkey). His aunt,
however, grew up in Lebanon, so her recipes had more of a Middle
Eastern flair. Then there are Greek Armenians, French Armenians,
Argentinian Armenians and Russian Armenians, who have all incorporated
local flavors and ingredients into their traditional diet.
"You have Armenians dispersed all over the world and they pick up
little things from the places they come from," Rejebian said. "Then
you bring them to one place, like America, and you have a real melting
pot of Armenian cuisine."
St. James volunteers are busy turning out massive amounts of Middle
Eastern and Central Asia Armenian food for this weekend’s
festival. Visitors can feast on grilled lamb and beef kebabs,
tabbouleh and hummus, the flaky, Turkish Armenian pastry pahlava and
on tender, sweetly tangy sarma, or stuffed grape leaves. Although some
stuffed grape leaf entrees are tough, chewy and oily, the Armenian
sarma–known also as dolma–melts delectably in the mouth, because it
is prepared with fresh grape leaves.

Gathering grape leaves

"If you don’t have grape leaves in your own yard, then you pick them
in the old Armenian neighborhoods," said Kavork Hagopian, who grew up
in Waukegan. He recalls clandestine grape-leaf picking missions with
his mother and how they’d beat back offers of "help" from friends who
wanted to steal their grape leaf location secrets.
Paylan doesn’t have to worry about finding fresh grape leaves, since
her mother-in-law planted a branch in Paylan’s Skokie back yard before
the young bride arrived in her new home. Now Paylan’s grape leaves
stretch all around the house. During the summer Paylan boils and
carefully stacks hundreds of leaves so that she can make sarma all
year long.
"My freezer is loaded for the winter," Paylan said, pulling out a
package of prepared leaves. As she and her 21-year-old daughter Arda
place a spoonful of zesty rice and nut filling in each leaf and begin
rolling them up like little cigars, Paylan explains how Armenian
cuisine lends itself to her family’s healthy eating habits.
"Armenians eat a lot of meat," she said, but she and her husband
Vartan prefer fish and vegetables, so every other day they enjoy a
flavorful vegan meal such as lentil salad brightened by carrots and a
hearty roasted eggplant salad made juicy with tomato and green
pepper. Paylan has many such recipes.
"During Lent we don’t eat any animal products," she said. Their veggie
dishes are stuffed with nutrients and fresh herbs like parsley, dill,
mint and basil.

Pastries, too

And of course, there’s always the fresh bread and pastries.
Paylan, who will head the sweet table at the weekend’s festival, is a
force to be reckoned with when it comes to Armenian pastries. As her
friends watch in amazement, she wraps a thick stack of phyllo dough
around the handle of a wooden spoon, whips it off and forms it into a
circle. After dropping nuts into the center and pouring syrup on top,
her Bird’s Nest pastries are ready for baking.
The various women crowding her kitchen help out with preparing the
savory cheese turnovers and crafting lentil and wheat
patties. Meanwhile Rejebian and Hagopian take the traditional manly
job of grilling the Armenian beef-and-lamb hamburgers.
"Armenian cuisine seems like it was designed to be made by a large
group of people," Rejebian said. "It was absolutely a community
That’s true, Paylan said, remembering how traditional Armenian towns
had only one oven and the women would gather to take turns baking
their bread.
"Ah, the stories that were told," she said.
For more Armenian recipes, including all those mentioned in this
article and photographs, visit:

2 large eggplants, about 1 lb. each
1 bunch flat parsley, finely chopped
1 medium light green pepper, chopped to size of a corn kernel
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped to the size of a corn kernel
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
1/2 chili pepper, finely chopped
1 medium ripe tomato, sliced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/4 C lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
Grill whole eggplants (do not puncture skin) for about 20 minutes each
side until skin turns a dark brown color.
Once they are cooked, remove skin and place the insides into a drainer
for about 20 minutes. Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Add remaining
ingredients and mix well. The eggplant will get mushy when mixing and
this is normal.
Tips for picking your own leaves: Leaves are best picked in early
June. Pick leaves toward the end of the branch since they are softer,
as are those grown on bushes in the shade. The leaves should be
approximately 4 inches wide and 5 inches long. Pick them up and stack
them, remove the stem, then boil them. Drain the leaves, stack about 2
dozen, cover in plastic wrap, put it in an airtight bag and freeze for
use in the winter.
About 2 dozen grape leaves
6 C yellow onions, finely chopped
2 C rice
1/4 C currants
1/4 C pine nuts
1 bunch curly parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
1 T salt
1 T sugar
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
4 T pomegranate molasses
1 T allspice
1 and 1/2 T crushed dried mint
1/2 C canola or olive oil, plus 2 T
1 C water, plus 1 1/2 C
Preheat oven to 355 degrees.
Sautee onions until yellow in oil.
Add rice to onions, mix. Add water to onions and rice. Add and mix
together sugar, salt, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, allspice,
mint, currants and pine nuts. Cook until all water is absorbed. Add
fresh parsley and dill, mix together, turn off heat, and let sit for
half an hour.
Spread a leaf on a dinner plate. The smooth part of the leaf should
face the plate. The filling is placed on the rough underside of the
leaf. One tablespoon of filling is placed near the top of the leaf
(where the stem was located). Shape 1 T of filling to look like your
thumb. Leave about a half inch from the top of the leaf. The top part
of the leaf is folded over the filling first. Then bring in the sides
of the leaf, one at a time. Next roll the folded portion down over the
bottom of the leaf. The end result should be about the thickness of a
cigar and the length of your thumb. Sizes vary according to the size
of the leaves.
Stack rolled sarmas in a round pot about 3 inches deep with a 12-inch
diameter. Once a bottom layer is formed, start stacking the sarmas on
top of each other. Do not cook more than 3 layers at a time.
Add 1 1/2 C water to pot and 2 T oil. Cook in oven for one hour or on
the stove top. You may also cook on stovetop on medium heat for one
hour, but if cooking on stovetop line bottom of pan with empty leaves
to keep bottom layer from burning.
3 C raw whole almonds
1 1/2 C sugar
3 medium egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grind 1 C almonds with 1/2 C sugar in food processor until mixture is
very fine. Do this again twice with the remaining 2 C almonds and 1 C
sugar. Add egg whites and extract (if using) to mixture. Stir with
wooden spoon until a dough texture forms. Scoop 1 T of mixture and
shape it into a cigar in your hand. Lay on cookie sheets lined with
parchment paper. Bake 18-20 minutes.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS