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Harissa and Lavash – Armenia National Dish – Day 15/Dish 8

January 21, 2010

Armenia is a name that should only be pronounced with an accent.  When I hear it I think of that middle ground between Asia and Europe.  It is the land of -Istan’s and Inland Seas.  

 In order to get there from Argentina, we must cross back over the Atlantic and once again pass the rock at Gibraltar.  This time we sail all the way east through the Mediterranean and anchor on the Syrian and Turkish border northeast of Cyprus.  We then must travel overland to the bottleneck between the Black and Caspian Seas.  Surrounded by larger more powerful nations is the land of Armenia; the first nation to adopt Christianity as the religion of the state. 

Firmly rooted in the Caucuses, Armenia is home to Mt. Ararat where, according to the Bible, Noah’s Ark came to rest as the flood waters receded.  This former Soviet Republic has an ancient and proud heritage and boasts a rich culinary tradition to boot.   I wonder if Noah and his family ever ate the same meal we are preparing tonight?

The National Dish of Armenia is Harissa.  This dish has been described as, “as ancient as the Bible” and as we will see utilizes local produce and very simple cooking procedures and ingredients.  There is a chili pepper based condiment used in Northern Africa that is also called Harissa but is more of a spicy sauce and is unrelated to the Armenian dish.

The primary ingredient in Harissa is wheat.  In fact it uses whole grains of wheat that have been soaked overnight to soften and absorb moisture.  Wheat is a major agricultural product of this region.  It is also a common base element for Vodka, which is the national drink of several of Armenia’s neighbors.

Harissa is a good barometer for the sophistication of the region at the time of its introduction.  Simple and local signify a wholesome and filling dish of protein and starch.   

To accompany the Harissa, we will be serving Lavash, a thin bread topped with Sesame Seeds.  As yet another reference to Armenia’s Christian tradition, it is believed that Lavash is the bread that is most often mentioned in the Bible, due to its popularity and wide availability in Biblical days within this region.

Both dishes earn a 2 for difficulty for the time it takes to properly prepare them, versus the actual challenge of preparation.  They are both easy dishes overall. When making these dishes, it is best to begin preparing the night before(soak the wheat).  The bread will take four hours to rise so be sure to leave time.

Harissa is simple, tasty and filling.  Although it takes time to prepare, it is worth the wait. 

Lavash is absolutely delicious and was the hit of the meal overall.  Everything was satisfying, but the Lavash is certain to be a regular part of our meals from now on.

Follow this link for directions on how to prepare the Chicken we will use in the Harissa.


Harissa Recipe  


Appearance: 2 out of 5

Aroma: 3 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total: 9 out of 5


• 1 cup whole wheat kernels [zezads]

• 2 cups shredded or cubed cooked chicken or turkey

• 1/2 cup butter

• 1 tsp. paprika

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 4 cups chicken broth

• 4 cups boiling water


• Wash the zezads and soak overnight in hot water. Keep in a warm place, preferably covered. Pour off water.

• Add the shredded or cubed meat to the chicken broth and boiling water and cook slowly until all the liquid is absorbed. Then add salt and pepper and beat the mixture until it becomes smooth like a well cooked mush. Add more water if necessary to make the mixture smooth. Melt the butter with the paprika and pour over each serving.

Note** Lamb or beef roast can be shredded and used in place of poultry.  I have left this recipe largely intact as I think it is accurate and well written. In the photo, I removed the wheat before all of the water had absorbed and kept the chicken cubed.  I made a quick pickled beets recipe with beet leaves to add acidity to this meal.  Also I think it looks nice on the plate.  Beets are another common vegetable grown in the region.

 Lavash Recipe


Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Total: 12 out of 15


5 cups bleached and enriched all purpose white flour ( I like Pillsbury)

1/3 cup melted butter or shortening or a combination of both

2 cups warm water (105 degrees)

1 tablespoons salt

2 tsp. sugar

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1/4 cup sesame seeds [optional]


In a large bowl, with a small amount of the warm water,  dissolve yeast and then add sugar. 

Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes till the mixture bubbles

Add flour and when moistened,  add the butter and salt. 

Knead the dough until it is very smooth. 

Cover and let stand in a warm place for 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees farenheit. 

Divide the dough into balls the size of two hands cupped together. 

On a floured board,  roll out the balls until they are the size of a  14″ pizza pan. 

Place the dough in the pan and slit the dough in several places ( I like punching with the tines of a fork).

Sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds and bake on the bottom shelf of a 400 degree oven for 5 – 6

minutes and then move up to the middle shelf of the oven until lightly browned. 

Makes 8-10 Lavash.  Again thanks to the integrity of this recipe I am leaving it virtually unaltered.  Thanks Gutsy Gourmet!

Our next stop will be a walk about down under mate!  With a hot mouth rocking Meat Pie from the Outback of Australia.  Alright, I am not sure it comes from the Outback really, but it sounds fun to say Outback!  Cheers…

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