Lena Tashjian and Siroon Parseghian with attendees at the TCA event

Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook Presentation Organized by New Paths at Baikar

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WATERTOWN – The authors of The Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, presented their book on March 10 at an event organized by New Paths-Bridging Armenian Women hosted at the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s Baikar Building.

Kristin Asadourian (photo Aram Arkun)

Kristin Asadourian of New Paths introduced the authors, thanked Tekeyan and Baikar for allowing use of their hall, and said that the event was consonant with the goal of New Paths; namely, to connect Armenian women, to support each other and to lift each other up. Author Lena Tashjian and photographer for the book Siroon Parseghian used slide illustrations to accompany their talk.

Vegan Armenian spices (styled and photographed by Siroon Parseghian)

The 265-page book contains 119 recipes from both the Republic of Armenia and the diaspora. It covers a wide range of items, including herbs, pastes, syrups, drinks, breakfast, salads, soups and stews, bread, main dishes like various types of dolma (tolma) and bean dishes, accompaniments (especially various rice, bulghur and potato dishes) and desserts. Information is provided on folk practices like reading coffee grounds or toasting customs. The photographs make the various food items seem tantalizingly close and appealing.

The pages are sprinkled with Armenian sayings printed both in the Armenian alphabet and translated into English (e.g. “To know a person, you must eat a handful of salt with them”). The index at the end can help readers quickly navigate through the book.

Tashjian lives in Toronto, Canada, while Parseghian lives in Los Angeles. Tashjian said that she went vegan while studying at college, while Parseghian became convinced in 2011 after watching the documentary film “Forks over Knives.” Tashjian went to Armenia through Birthright Armenia in 2011. She ended up spending six years there, volunteering first for Green Lane, an agricultural assistance nongovernmental organization (NGO) through Birthright and then working for the same NGO and learning about farms and foods through them. She said her writing afterwards was independently done for various local and international publications on food, nutrition, travel and culture.

Siroon went to Armenia through Birthright Armenia in 2012 for four months, and met Tashjian there. Afterwards, in the US, she started a production company called Rhinofly Productions with her husband for product photography. She soon tried food photography for a client and fell in love with styling and photographing food.
After Tashjian returned to Canada, she started a blog and YouTube channel on vegan Armenian recipes and food. Parseghian contacted Tashjian to ask for some recipes. Then the latter came to Los Angeles and the two reunited after six years. Tashjian proposed creating a cookbook, which was officially released in January 2020 after a year. It took them one year of working long distance to complete it, as well as one further visit in March of last year.

Vegan Armenian herbs (styled and photographed by Siroon Parseghian)

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Tashjian said that she had several goals for the project. First, she wished to diversify veganism, which she thought was being portrayed as inaccessible and expensive, with lots of speciality ingredients. Secondly, she said she wished to introduce Armenian cuisine to a completely new audience. Thirdly, she wanted to inspire Armenians, who seem to think that cutting down on animal products would essentially mean giving up Armenian foods.

In the book, Tashjiian added the following: “As both my maternal and paternal grandparents were survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, I understood early on that food has meaning, and it is political. My grandparents used their memories of food and cooking as a way to tell stories of the lands they were forcibly removed from and to preserve this unrecognized history, passing it down from generation to generation.” She noted its positive significance: “Armenian cuisine in both the Armenian diaspora and Armenia, is associated with a never-ending sense of abundance, generosity, and oftentimes a grandmother who takes it upon herself to lovingly (or forcefully) make sure that everyone is well-fed.”

At the presentation, Tashjian said she was happy to realize that Armenian food could stand on its own feet separate from general Middle Eastern recipes. She tested and developed recipes. She found it sometimes necessary to cook classics of Armenian cuisine in different ways, with some modern options. Choosing was difficult, and some recipes that were too similar to others had to be eliminated. In general the recipes were not difficult and do not take too long to make. Some that are not in the book will eventually be placed on the website.

Tashjian wrote their history and stories. Parseghian worked on the illustrations. She explained that she first created mood boards to get inspiration for what colors she needed to use and bought props from US and Armenian stores. She even borrowed items from people’s houses and created backgrounds. Parseghian then had to cook the food and make it look beautiful. She said that meant cooking it more than once to get it right, and often photographing certain items multiple times.

The duo explained that as a self-published work, it is only sold online on its website and at a few physical stores like Abril Bookstore in Glendale and Hamazkayin Bookstore in Toronto. The duo launched a online crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign as way to market the idea and offset some expenses. Tashjian said that though not all expenses were covered ($6,440 was raised), it was still helpful. There were also a number of helpful sponsors, including Tazah, VanArdi, Cleo Digital, Meline’s Garden, Hermine Travel, Yamchops, and Nane.

For more information on the cookbook, click here. There is also a YouTube page with some of the recipes in action. The sale of each cookbook also leads to a donation of a part of the profits to the Centaur Animal-Assisted Therapy and Rescue Center, established in 2008 in Ushi, Armenia.

See the accompanying sample recipe from the cookbook for tertanoush (also known as sari burma) as well as the recipe for olive and walnut salad (shepherd’s dinner) in Christine Vartanian Datian’s column this week from the same cookbook. Our website will present a video pertaining to tertanoush, courtesy of Tashjian and Parseghian.

Rolled tertanoush from The Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook (photo Siroon Parseghian)

Rolled Tertanoush

makes 4 rolls

Tertanoush, more commonly known as baklava, is a layered sweet pastry using phyllo, walnuts, and simple syrup. The rolled option is one of the easiest ones to prepare, and although tertanoush traditionally contains both butter and honey, it can be made without animal by-products, making it a great dessert for Lent. I’ve even heard that the word baklava originates from “bahk” (Lent) and “lavash,” which means a butter- and honey-free version may just be the norm!  

Simple Syrup (recipe below

4 sheets of phyllo dough

2 cups walnuts

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sugar

1 cup coconut oil, unrefined or refined, depending on preference

Handful of blanched almonds or pistachios, ground, for garnish (optional)

Pinch of salt

If phyllo is in freezer, remove the four sheets and cover them, allowing them to get to room temperature. If making the syrup, do it now, so it cools in time for when you need it.

In a food processor, process the walnuts. Mix processed walnuts with sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C). In a pot on the stove, double boil or melt the coconut oil so it is easily spreadable. Brush coconut oil all across the phyllo sheets generously, making sure to keep the sheets you are not using covered with a damp towel. Pour approximately 1⁄3 cup of the ground
walnuts onto the lower half of the phyllo sheet, spreading it out as best as you can. Place a thin wooden pole on the side with the ground walnuts and begin tightly rolling up the pastry, starting with the side with the ground walnuts. Once you reach the halfway point, brush on more coconut oil on the rolled half. At three-quarters of the way, brush more coconut oil (the more generous with the oil now, the better the end result will be). Finish rolling, and brush coconut oil all over the phyllo, making sure to get the side where the opening is. With your hands, push the phyllo inwards, towards the center, so that it’s wrinkled and tight. Slide it off the stick onto a baking tray.

Cook for about 30 minutes, until the tertanoush is golden brown. Flip midway through. Immediately pour the cooled syrup over the rolled phyllo dough. When done correctly, you should hear a prominent sizzling sound, which means the pastries will absorb the syrup. Top them with ground blanched almond or pistachio, and a sprinkle of salt if desired.

Let the tertanoush cool completely, then cut diagonally. Keep the pastries in a container in the fridge or freeze them—they will taste even better after they sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Simple Syrup

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 tbsp lemon juice

1⁄2 tbsp rose water (optional)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. No need to stir. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce heat to low-medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes before removing from heat and adding in the rose water (if using). Allow to cool completely, pour into an airtight container, and store in the fridge.

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