Clarice Krikorian’s Basterma with Eggs

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Within every culture, there is always one celebrated dish that could easily represent all the rest without debate.  For many Armenians and other nationalities, that dish is basterma with eggs (also spelled basturma, pastirma, bastirma, and pasterma).  This recipe is courtesy of Clarice Krikorian of Fresno, California, and is featured in A Taste of Fresno Armenian and American Cuisine Cookbook from the Ladies Society of St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno.

This seasoned, air-dried beef has been prized throughout Middle Eastern as well as Eastern European countries for centuries, and plays a major role in Armenian, Syrian, Egyptian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Greek, and Lebanese cuisine.  The first recorded mention of basterma is said to be between 95-45 BC in Armenia during the reign of Tigranes the Great. It is believed that the technology of air-drying meats was first developed to preserve basterma being traded from ancient Armenia to China and India.*  Armenians believe that it dates back to when fighters relied on those highly seasoned logs of cured meat as a protein source.  The war survival food evolved into an appetizer delicacy, and one of the leading highlights of the country’s culinary repertoire.

Basterma is made by salting meat (eye of round or beef tenderloin), which is then washed with water and dried for 10 to 15 days, depending on the recipe.  Salt and blood is pressed out of the meat, and it is coated with chemen (chaiman, cemen), a fragrant red spice paste made with fenugreek, allspice, cayenne pepper, garlic, salt, crushed cumin, paprika, and black pepper that gives it a robust aroma and taste.

“My recipe for basterma with eggs is simple.  Just fry some basterma slices in a skillet in butter, add the well-beaten eggs, salt and pepper to taste (you may want to go easy on the salt as basterma is on the salty side), cover, and wait until the eggs are set.  I serve this with pita bread, cheese and fresh sliced tomatoes,” says Clarice.  “The taste the basterma adds to the eggs is unforgettable.  This amazing cured beef has been a part of Armenian cuisine for centuries, and is a family tradition and favorite,” she adds.

Since 2010, Clarice (a retired registered nurse) and her husband, Ben (a CPA and church organist) have made it easier for California State University, Fresno (commonly referred to as Fresno State) students who choose to follow their passion and study the arts and music.  In 2010, the couple established two scholarships at the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State (an orchestra scholarship and a piano scholarship) which benefit music students studying those disciplines. Clarice is a member of the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board at Fresno State, the CSU Summer Arts Community Board, and also serves on the board of the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Fresno.  Ben and Clarice are the parents of four grown children and have three grandchildren.

“Basterma is special.  It is the most popular appetizer for our holiday celebrations and gatherings, and is a favorite of my children and grandchildren,” says Clarice.

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Sliced paper-thin and served as a cold mezze appetizer, basterma can easily be incorporated in other recipes, too.  Basterma sandwiches are usually served between crusty slices of bread with dill pickles, tomatoes, and cheese.  In the old days, whole dinners were prepared from this Armenian delicacy, and the tradition of making scrambled eggs with basterma has been preserved to this day.  This beloved dish can be served for breakfast, or as a brunch or a light lunch/supper with crusty bread, pita bread, olives, parsley, tomatoes, peppers, and string cheese.  Basterma is a “force of nature,” observed the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, and is often accompanied with cognac, beer or brandy.

As Saveur Magazine says, “Think outside the board. Yes, fanned-out slices of carpaccio-esque basturma look fabulous on a charcuterie board, but basturma is equally delectable sandwiched between fluffy slices of Armenian matnakash or your favorite bread—just add pickled veggies and perhaps a scraggle of chechil (Armenian string cheese).  Chopped into tiny bits, basturma also adds a pleasant funk to tossed salads and a meaty depth to omelets (wrap the egg up in lavash for the Armenian version of the breakfast burrito), garlicky mashed potatoes, and even mac ‘n cheese.”

“Though saddle salami makes for a colorful tale, it’s more probable that basturma hails from the Byzantine city of Caesaria Mazaca (now called Kayseri) in present-day Turkey, where the ancient technique of pastron (salt-curing) is said to have been perfected by Armenians in Late Antiquity. In fact, basturma-making was such a popular vocation among medieval Armenians that Basturmajian (‘basturma maker’) became a family name that’s still in use today.” – Saveur Magazine

In their 1893 report the British Foreign Office note that Kayseri, which they call Cesarea, “is specially renowned for the preparation of basturma (pemmican).”  And according to director and writer Nigol Bezjian, Armenians who survived the 1915 Genocide brought basturma with them to the Middle East.  Bezjian recalls that his grandmother used to prepare “basturma omelets fried in olive oil with pieces of lavash bread.”  He notes that Armenians from Kayseri were particularly renowned basturma producers.  In Palestine, where Armenians have lived for 1,500 years, Armenian families gather on New Year’s Eve and eat traditional foods including basturma, çiğ köfte and a traditional Anatolian confection called kaghtsr sujukh (քաղցր սուջուխ).**

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter or margarine (add more, if needed, to avoid eggs sticking to pan)

8-10 slices of basterma

5 large eggs

Salt and pepper, according to taste

 

Preparation:

In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the slices of basterma to the pan, reduce heat to low.  Cook for 20-30 seconds on both sides.
In a small bowl, scramble the eggs and add the salt and pepper.  Pour the eggs over basterma.  Cover and cook eggs on low heat until the eggs have set.

Garnish with chopped mint, parsley, onions, red pepper or paprika, depending on taste.  Serve hot with a crusty bread or pita bread.

Serves 2.

ORDER TODAY: To purchase A Taste of Fresno Armenian and American Cuisine Cookbook for holiday gifts for family or friends, contact: St. Paul Armenian Church, 3767 N. First St, Fresno, California 93726, (559) 226-6343.  Each cookbook costs $20.00 plus shipping and handling.  All checks should be made payable to: St. Paul Armenian Church Ladies Society.

You can purchase basterma and soujouk (a dry, spicy and fermented sausage) in most Middle Eastern markets and stores, as well as online, including at the famous Ohanyan’s Bastirma & Soujouk Mfg., located in Fresno, California:

Ohanyan’s Bastirma & Soujouk Mfg.

3296 W. Sussex Way

Fresno, California 93722

(559) 243-0800

Closed Saturday and Sunday.

https://ohanyans.com/

Call to order. Shipping available in the United States.

E-mail:  orders@ohanyans.com

*The Art of Armenian & Middle Eastern Cooking:
https://m.facebook.com/ARMENIANANDMIDDLEEASTERNCOOKING/posts/101528810143657

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