SovietKitchen.com is starting to translate a new book, “Armenian Cookery”. We are excited to share these recipes with our audience, since Armenia dishes are absolutely delicious, relatively unknown, and reflect Armenia’s fascinating history and culture.
Armenian Highland in Western Asia is one of the cradles of agriculture. Some researchers consider it the first region ever to grow wheat. Rich diversity of cultivated as well as wild varieties of wheat is very noticeable here.
It is now proven that birthplace of rye is Asia Minor and Armenia. Western Asia also happens to be the birthplace of grapes, pears, cherry plums, cherries, pomegranates, walnuts, quinces, almonds and figs. Famous cantaloupes were first cultivated in Van region of ancient Armenia. Most important forage grasses also trace back to Western Asia.
In Armenia it is still possible to see wild grapevines and fruit trees. Just like in ancient and medieval times, some regions bear names such as “apple grove”, “pear grove”, “peach grove”, sour cherry grove”, “apricot grove”, “peach grove”, etc.
Agriculture in Armenia dates back to Neolithic times. During this period, inhabitants of Armenian Highland began crop farming, as evidenced by archeological finds of stone pestles, graters, tips, pick axes, flint inserts for sickles and knives.
Natural landscape of the highlands is very well suited for agriculture. With advances of irrigation, agriculture continuously spread in valleys of big rivers.
As more lands were being used for agriculture, people started clearing forests. With disappearing forests, climate also began to change, becoming drier and more continental. Volcanic processes combined with reduction of forests led to formation of Armenian Highlands as we know them today.
Even though agriculture and cattle breeding were rapidly expanding, gathering still continued. Today, Armenian peasant knows around 300 types of wild edible grasses and flowers that can be used as seasoning or even main dish.
Since the middle of first millennia BC, economy of Armenian Highlands is dominated by agriculture and cattle breeding. As a result of this, settlements have migrated from highlands to the valleys, providing better conditions for large ethnic consolidation, creating Armenian nation and its people.
Armenians are one of the oldest nationalities in the Soviet Union. While developing their own unique culture, Armenians were at the same time absorbing cultural elements of neighboring people (Greeks, Assyrians, Persians, etc.), including culinary practices, shaping Armenian cuisine during the course of many centuries.
Armenian cuisine is one of the oldest in the world. In ancient times, especially during 9 through 7 century BC, people living in Armenia were involved in agriculture and cattle breeding. Archeological finds include large granaries, containers filled with grain, special vessels for making and storing beer and malt.
There is evidence of wheat, barley being grown and beer produced. In addition to beer making tools, some written beer brewing recipes were discovered as well. Ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon (5-4 century BC) toured Armenia and gave the following account of inhabitants’ lifestyle: “… in houses there were goats, sheep, cows, birds with their offspring. Wheat, barley, vegetables and barley-wine were stored there…” Big millet stockpiles were kept not only for brewing beer, but also for food consumption. Archeologists also found some oval-shaped loaves of bread, some prepared wheat porridge, and millet flat bread.
It is important to note that from 17 to 19 centuries AD, Armenia has been divided between Turkey and Iran. This had detrimental effects on the economy and population size, but Armenian culture and cuisine had survived. In fact, Armenian cuisine had influenced Turkish cuisine, so that many traditional Armenian dishes later became known in Europe through Turks. A good example of this is dolma.
Ancient Armenian proverb states: “You can not do much until you learn, but to learn, you have to do much!” This applies perfectly to Armenian cuisine. While there are some simple recipes, a wide variety of Armenian dishes require stuffing, whipping, pureeing and can be quite consuming in terms of preparation time and effort involved, but are well worth it, as the end results are original, sophisticated as far as taste, aroma and texture.
Cheese plays an important role in Armenian cuisine. Other characteristics include frequent use of spices and herbs, both domesticated as well as wild. Armenian cuisine makes frequent use of beef and lamb, while pork is rarely used. During summer and fall, dolma is prepared with apples, quince, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, stuffed with forcemeat, rice and spices. In springtime, dolma is made with fresh vine leaves.
Vegetables are a very common ingredient in Armenian cuisine. Potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, eggplants, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, beets, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, pumpkins are popular and are consumed in combination with meat and fish dishes.
Aside from vegetables and meat, flour and grain dishes are staples in Armenian cuisine. Flour is used to make special noodles – arishta, pilafs are very popular. Armenian bread, lavash, is a very important part of Armenian cuisine since olden times. It is long and thin, easily rollable, approximately one meter (3 feet) long. In some parts of Armenia, ancient custom of preparing lavash during the fall season for consumption 3-4 months later is still practiced. It is dried, stacked, covered and stored. It is enough to just moisten lavash and cover it with a towel for half an hour, and it becomes soft and ready to eat.
When discussing Armenian cuisine, it is worth mentioning that traditionally, breakfast is very light, lunch is moderate and dinner is hearty and abundant (50-60% of daily calories).