Babo’s Family Abour – In Memory of Ketoush Sarkissian


This comforting Armenian soup, Babo’s Abour (also called tahnabour or spas), is courtesy of Vera Sarkissian from Aptos, California. Abour is commonly made and eaten during the winter months, and is known for its nourishing and beneficial properties. It is believed to help with digestion and sleeping, and is often made for family members who are not feeling well. This was Vera’s beloved mother-in-law Ketoush Sarkissian’s favorite recipe that was featured in the St. Andrew Armenian Church Ladies’ Society cookbook published in 1999 in Cupertino, Calif.

Though The New Armenian Kitchen Cookbook is no longer available for purchase, Ketoush’s recipe can be enjoyed by many families for generations. (Note: Vera reports the cookbook has been out of print, but it has been available on Kindle for sale. A download programming glitch cuts off recipe ingredients, and this is currently being addressed on Kindle. For information, e-mail: to be notified when this technical problem is repaired.)

Ketoush Badrizeh Sarkissian was born in Tbilisi, Georgia on September 11, 1914, in the Armenian-populated neighborhood of Sololak. In 1930, she married Haig Sarkissian, also from Tbilisi, at Sourp Gevorg in old Tbilisi, the final resting place of Sayat-Nova, a Georgian-born Armenian poet and musician. The young couple left the newly forming Soviet Union for Iran, and settled in Tehran. Over a span of 50 years, Ketoush and Haig raised two children and managed several successful food establishments, that included deli items, pastries, baked goods and general groceries. Her experience of living in different countries meant Ketoush spoke five languages – Armenian, Farsi, Georgian, Russian, and Azeri Turkish. (She was learning English, and knew enough of the language to go grocery shopping on her own, and pay for her own purchases, adds Vera.) This remarkable skill came in handy while working in her shops and stores with customers who came from different countries throughout the region.

Ketoush and her family eventually immigrated to the United States in 1972 to be with her two children and four grandchildren. She and her husband lived in retirement near her daughter in Lowell, MA. In honor of her Georgian background, her grandchildren called her Babo, the name used by Armenians from Georgia for grandmother.

The entire family eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where Ketoush divided her time between her children, but lived mostly with her daughter after her husband Haig died. Vera says her family would become excited when Babo came to stay at their home for a few weeks many times a year because they knew she would make their favorite Armenian foods and desserts during her stay. Ketoush’s young granddaughter Anna sat in her stroller for their early morning shopping trips to the grocery store, says Vera. “Ketoush always wanted only the freshest ingredients to make her abour and other recipes. Inevitably, Anna would return with a lollipop or candy that Babo would buy for her during their trip.”

Ketoush was always the happiest working in her kitchen and cooking for her entire family. “Her life around food and cooking meant she had many tempting recipes in her repertoire to share with us. One of her favorite recipes was this remedy for when anyone felt ill or under the weather; it was her version of traditional tahnabour,” says Vera.

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“Ketoush’s recipe broke from tradition and uses barley and buttermilk instead of rice and yogurt. If you felt the slightest fever coming on, she would send you to bed to nap, and by the time you woke up there would be a big pot of abour, full of healthy greens, barley, and buttermilk, waiting for you on the stove. She believed a big bowl of this abour would cure any illness or fever,” adds Vera. “She made her healthy, comforting soups and Armenian and Georgian dishes throughout her life with love and affection for her children, family and friends.”

Vera, a longtime St. Andrew Armenian Church Ladies’ Society member and cookbook chairman reports the original cookbook committee included: Nadine American, Mary-Louise Essaian, Arlene Hancock, H. Ronnie Henesian, Florence Janjigian, Lucille Kuzirian, Arlene Narlian-Finley, Lorraine Paul, and Madelaine Tolegian.

“In 1999, our dedicated committee spent countless hours working together, testing and proofing each of the recipes, and creating a detailed index to make recipes easier to locate. Everyone worked as volunteers in this monumental effort, and all funds earned from the sale of the cookbook were donated for church charitable projects.”

“This abour features a bounty of fresh herbs, is easy to prepare, and is filled with fresh flavor that our family loves. Some Armenians made different versions of the soup for breakfast or with rice. It is delicious served warm or during hot summer days, crisply chilled. Farro can be used instead of the barley,” says Vera. “Ketoush served this abour with love and a smile to anyone who was ill. It is considered our family’s Chicken Soup.”

Ketoush passed away in 1990, but the history, memories, and legacy she left her family will be cherished always. “Everyone knew her as a devoted and loving wife and mother who endured and survived many challenges in her life, and who dedicated her life to the happiness and good health of her family. She lives on in our hearts each day.”

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Babo’s Abour


1 cup barley

6-7 tablespoons flour

2 medium eggs (or egg substitute)

1 quart low-fat buttermilk

1 2/3 quarts water

1 or 2 medium bunches greens onions, cleaned and chopped

1/2 medium bunch cilantro, cleaned and chopped

1 large bunch parsley, cleaned and chopped

Salt and pepper

Garnish as desired with parsley, cilantro or mint



Place the barley in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer until tender. Dain completely.

In a large soup pot, beat the eggs, and add the flour gradually to make a smooth paste. Gradually add the buttermilk, keeping the mixture smooth. Slowly add water (to measure, use the empty buttermilk container). Place mixture on medium heat, stirring constantly to keep mixture smooth until it comes to a boil.

Add the chopped greens and drained barley and stir. Simmer, and continue to stir for about 30 minutes until soup thickens; add salt and pepper to taste.

References: traditional-armenian-yogurt-soupthis-recipe-is-a-classic-armenian-recipe/263 3007510062816/


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