Rensselaer’s Sharon Foley knows that people who crave Armenian food want spicy, meaty and vegetable dishes.
“I think the popular Armenian foods most people are familiar with are paklava, the nut-filled phyllo dough pastry, and of course the meat dishes would be shish kebabs,” said Foley, chairwoman of the women’s guild at St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church in Watervliet.
“We have dolma — it’s basically a stuffed pepper,” she added. “We have a rice pilaf and we have what people look far and wide for — lahmajoun. It’s basically known as an Armenian pizza. It’s rolled like a pizza, very thin, and topped with lamb or beef with chopped vegetables — tomatoes, peppers, spices and garlic. You can’t forget the garlic.”
“The basis for all Armenian foods,” added church member Sonya Moroukian.
WHERE: St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church, 100 Troy-Schenectady Road, Watervliet
WHEN: Saturday, 12-8 p.m.; Sunday, 12-5 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Admission is free
MORE INFO: www.stpeterarmenianchurch.com
Foley and Moroukian are prepared to give the people what they want this weekend. St. Peter’s annual festival will be held Saturday and Sunday on the church grounds.
Yalanchi (grape leaves), hummus and cheese beoreg (a phyllo pastry filled with cheese) also will be served. The “Hye Burger,” a half-pound beef-lamb hamburger that was introduced at the 2013 festival, will return this year.
The church is on Troy-Schenectady Road, two miles east of the Latham traffic circle. Heading east, the entrance driveway is on the right side of the road, in the middle of a large hill and across the street from the Fenimore Trace apartment complex. A large sign marks the path to the church, which is not visible from the road.
Cooking demonstrations, carnival games and Armenian dancing will all be parts of the weekend. The John Berberian Ensemble will perform Armenian music, with the oud — a pear-shaped stringed instrument, clarinet, keyboard and dumbeg — an hour glass-shaped drum — all in the mix.
The food servers may be busier than John and his outfit. Moroukian, who along Foley and other members of the church spent Saturday morning baking choereg — sweet rolls — said there are similarities between Greek and Armenian foods.
“We use a lot of rice and bulgur, which is actually cracked wheat, in our main dishes,” said Moroukian, who lives in Niskayuna. “And there’s one specific difference in desserts. They use a lot of honey. We use a simple syrup, sugar and water and a little bit of lemon juice. And we make our own yogurt, from milk and yogurt cultures.”
Armenak Kutchukian of Castleton said the same Armenian recipe will vary in ingredients and preparation, depending on the region where it originated. “People will argue which one is the best,” Kutchukian said. “This is an Armenian tradition.”
Armenian cooking also utilizes many vegetables and herbs, such as okra, zucchini, eggplant, cucumber, parsley green onions and tomatoes.
“Every house generally has a little patch of parsley and mint,” Moroukian said. “It’s easy to grow and comes up every year. We use it in a lot of our dishes. . . . We dry it out and use it in a lot of soups.”
“And we use mint tea for tummy aches and headaches,” added Kutchukian.
Readers who want to sample Armenian-style food can try the following three recipes, compliments of church members.
Lazy Man’s Manti
From the Rev. Stepanos Doudoukjian
11⁄2 pounds chopped ground meat
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound large pasta shells
1 carton plain yogurt (optional)
Brown chopped meat in a skillet and drain fat. In a separate pan, sauté the garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add meat to onions and garlic. Keep over low heat. Cook pasta shells. When pasta shells are done, mix all items together. Top with yogurt if desired, serve immediately.
Jajik (Super Summer Soup)
From Lori Khachikian.
1 medium cucumber
1 quart madzoon (yogurt)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 dash salt
Mint (if desired)
Wash and peel 1 medium cucumber. Cut into 4 to 5 lengthwise strips; slice very thin. Mix 1 quart madzoon with spoon, adding a little water if madzoon is too thick, then add cucumbers, minced garlic and dash of salt. Blend together with a spoon, chill. Two ice cubes may be added to each individual serving. Add mint if desired.
From Sonya Moroukian.
1 pound unsalted butter (clarified)
1 package phyllo dough
2 pounds walnuts, ground fine
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
13⁄4 cup sugar
11⁄2 cup water
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Brush butter on bottom of jelly roll pan. Layer six sheets of phyllo dough, buttering between each layer with melted clarified butter. Combine walnuts, sugar and cinnamon to make nut mixture.
Spread 1⁄3 of the nut mixture evenly on top. Place two phyllo sheets on top, buttering each sheet. Spread another 1⁄3 of the nut mixture evenly on top. Place two phyllo sheets on top of nut mixture, buttering each layer. Spread last 1⁄3 of nut mixture evenly on top. Layer remaining phyllo dough sheets on top, buttering each sheet. Cut into diamond shape and spoon remaining butter over whole paklava.
Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, rotating pan once. Cool completely. To prepare simple syrup, mix sugar and water together and bring to a boil. After it comes to a boil, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice, then reduce the temperature to simmer for exactly 10 minutes. Cool the syrup until it’s warm, then spoon over cooled paklava.