Photo courtesy of Leonard Kizirian, Fresno, California.

Recipe Corner: Virginia Kizirian’s Award-Winning Pilaf Recipe from Fresno


In summer of 2018, the St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno, California held a Pilaf Cook-Off Contest at the California Armenian Home on Kings Canyon Road. Long-time Fresno resident and realtor Leonard Kizirian entered the contest that day using the same delicious pilaf recipe his beloved mother, Virginia Kizirian, taught him to make and that has been served at church picnics, luncheons, and dinners at Fresno’s Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church for many years.  “We made the pilaf that day in a turkey roaster using 18 cups of rice, and it was tested by two local judges.  Attendees who wanted to taste the entries paid $5.00 each, and happily, our recipe won the People’s Choice Award for First Place.  The additional spice we use in our pilaf recipe (that my mother also used) is George Washington Seasoning.

It’s a special seasoning mix sold at The Market Grocery Store in Fresno, or it can be ordered online at,” Leonard says.

Virginia was born in 1915 to Harry and Vera Arakelian (Margosian) in Chicago, Illinois.  She was taught this recipe by her mother, Vera, who was a member of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, and whose family moved to Fresno in 1916.  Vera owned a successful café across the street from the Fresno Convention Center for many years, and Virginia enjoyed cooking and helping make family meals with her mother as she grew up. Virginia took several home education classes in school, Leonard says, and learned many recipes she would eventually make for her husband and family, including her Famous Chili Beans.  She was very progressive in her thinking, Leonard adds, and believed in the importance of good health, diet, and fitness before it was popular.  Virginia and her husband, Jacob Kizirian, raised three sons, Donald, Norman, and Leonard.

Virginia passed away in 2005, but she is remembered as a loving and devoted wife, mother and grandmother, and for the many unforgettable family meals and celebrations she took great pleasure in creating – where every family meal was a feast.  Leonard’s wife Vicki is a food enthusiast and enjoys making the Armenian recipes that Virginia taught her when they were first married.  Leonard, a board member of the William Saroyan Society in Fresno, and Vicki have been married for 52 years.  This is just one of Leonard’s treasured family recipes, now an award-winning pilaf recipe, that is sure to please everyone at the table.


1 cup extra-long grain rice (Mahatma brand)

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1/2 cube butter

1 14.5 oz. can chicken broth

1/2 cup water

1 packaged George Washington Seasoning

1 coil of vermicelli, broken into pieces

Oil, if using


In a large pot, brown the vermicelli in oil (or a little butter) until dark brown, tossing.  Do not burn.  Add the rice and 1/2 cube of butter to the vermicelli, melt the butter, and stir the contents together.

Add the water, chicken broth, and seasoning to the rice, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and cook until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Allow to sit another 10-15 minutes.  When the liquid is fully absorbed, it is ready to serve.



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