I don’t usually do book reviews on this site. However, in my research for my eventual historical fiction about Armenians and their immigration to America during and following the 1915 genocide in Turkey, I came across a marvelous book that is part Armenian history and part cookbook. As the author points out: “The history of the Armenian people is written, in part, through our culinary creativity with locally found ingredients.”
Home Again: Armenian Recipes from the Ottoman Empire, by Mari A Firkatian, is a fascinating blend of food and history. The back cover tells us:
“Preserving the past in recipes and memories, Home Again turns the reader’s gaze to Armenian culinary traditions. A land at the crossroads of great empires and nomadic hordes, Armenia’s cuisine offers a tantalizing melding of the rich variety of Mediterranean produce and Eastern spices. The culinary lexicon of Armenia stands as a testament to the survival of a people over the centuries…. The author transports both the novice and experienced cook to Armenian kitchens across the former Ottoman Empire….”
Generations of Armenians linked themselves directly to the most god-fearing man mentioned in the Bible, Noah, who many Armenians consider to be their progenitor. “Not only did Noah find dry land on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, but he also planted the first vineyard there; drinking Armenian wine is to savor a gift from the hands of Noah. Hayk, the great-great-great grandson of Noah, established the nation in the region of Mt. Ararat.” Armenia’s wines, sometimes using the unique native varietals, are making a comeback that is promising to produce some magnificent vintages.
In 301 AD Armenia became the first nation to convert to Christianity.
Beginning in 1915, 1.5 million of the 2 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey—a staggering 75%–were killed.
“The killing of so many Armenians dealt a near death blow to a noble, ancient culture. If we consider not only the dead, but their stolen properties, all the unborn generations and millions of dollars of wealth stripped from the victims, then we can see the scope of this heinous crime.”
Survivors escaped and sought shelter in nearby countries. Most thought they would return to their homeland when things settled down. “With that in mind, in 1923, when…” the author’s… “family fled one final time, they headed to Gemelik, a port town, with 14 cans of olive oil. With oil as their currency, they bought passage to Greece.”
Meanwhile, back in Turkey, the official Turkish policy was to wipe the Armenian presence literally and figuratively from history.
But they couldn’t erase the culinary memory.
Much of the first third of the book is this history and a memoir, followed by a discussion of Armenian culinary traditions. And then come the recipes, beginning with appetizers.
I will leave you with one of two Hummus recipes to whet your appetite for this fascinating and delightful book!
2 c cooked chickpeas
4 cloves garlic, mashed, with salt
1 lemon, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil
Blend the chickpeas with a little of the cooking liquid in a food processor.
Add as much of the cooking liquid needed to make a smooth, creamy texture.
Add garlic and salt to taste.
Add lemon juice.
Add tahini and a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth consistency.
Serve in a shallow dish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, parsley to garnish, sprinkled with paprika or oregano.
Hamu naye—inch hamov e, che?
Taste this—isn’t it just the best you ever tasted?