Alice Bezjian's Mamouls

Alice Bezjian’s Walnut-Date Ma’amoul Lebanese Cookies

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ENCINO — The Armenian Film Foundation was established in 1979 as a non-profit, educational and cultural organization dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Armenian heritage in multimedia formats. Its primary aim “continues to be to inspire pride in, and world-wide recognition of, the Armenian people and their contributions to society, thereby fostering human dignity and enhancing understanding and goodwill between present and future generations of Armenians and other cultures.”

One of the Armenian Film Foundation’s Cultural Heritage Videos showcases The Art of Traditional Armenian Cooking by renowned chef and author Alice Bezjian. Author of the bestselling The Complete Armenian Cookbook (published in 1987), Mrs. Bezjian, who passed away in 2003, shares her cherished cooking secrets with a step-by-step demonstration of traditional Armenian foods. The 280+ pages of her cookbook includes family recipes spanning back 70-80 years, along with her own favorites from family and friends for over 40 years. In the video, her recipes include selections from hors d’oeuvres to main dishes, breads, and desserts. Chefs Zov Karamardian, Hagop Bezjian and Maurice Sabbagh also share step-by-step demonstrations of their recipes (http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/films/art-of-traditional-armenian-cookin).

Alice Bezjian

Mrs. Alice Bezjian was born in Cairo, Egypt of Armenian parents. “The family moved to Asia Minor for a short time and later to Syria, finally settling down in Beirut, Lebanon. At an early age, Mrs. Bezjian was introduced to the joy of cooking by her maternal grandfather. He was a widely traveled man, who had been around the world at a time when traveling was neither easy nor fashionable. He used to bring new recipes from faraway places and cook large dinners for the whole family. He often said that cooking was fun, but the greatest pleasure was sharing one’s creative dishes with appreciative friends.”

In Beirut, Mrs. Bezjian took cooking lessons from the best known chefs in the country. Later, she gave cooking lessons and taught her students how to cook and present food in creative and appetizing ways. In 1964, she moved to Los Angeles with her family, where she and her husband started a gourmet delicatessen store. The store was extremely successful, and became a landmark for many gourmet cooks and food lovers. Mrs. Bezjian was always at her store, graciously dispensing recipes and culinary expertise with her customers. Sunset Magazine and New West wrote articles about the store, and her recipes were published in those magazines. She also went to the store frequently to see her old customers and exchange ideas and recipes before she passed away (http://www.abrilbooks.com/alice-bezjian).

Ma’amoul (also spelled m’aamoul, m’amul, m’aamul) is an Arabic filled butter cookie made with semolina flour. The filling can be made with dried fruits like figs or dates or nuts such as pistachios, walnuts, and occasionally almonds.  Ma’amoul is usually made during the Easter holiday, and a few days before Eid (then stored to be served with strong  Arabic coffee and chocolate to guests who come during the holiday). The Mizrahi Jewish version of ma’amoul differs from the  Levantine or  Turkish versions by being made with pure white flour and no  semolina, today this variation is eaten in Syrian and Egyptian Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora.

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A more elaborate version known as Karabij (Kerebiç in Turkish) is used on special occasions. For this, nut-filled ma’amoul balls are stacked in a pyramid and served with a white cream called Naatiffe made from egg whites, sugar syrup and  soapwort  (Saponaria officinalis). It is popular in  Syria, Lebanon, and other Levantine countries.

The semolina dough for these cookies is an abridged version of Mrs. Bezjian’s recipe from The Complete Armenian Cookbook, and is available at the “This Is How She Does It” food blog (https://1.shortstack.com/5vWPbq).  These cookies may be made in the shape of balls, domed or flattened cookies. They can either be decorated by hand or made in special wooden molds called tabe.

Ingredients:

Dough/crust:

3 cups semolina (fine)

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

3 tablespoons orange blossom water

1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

 

Filling:

1 pound Medjool dates, pitted and smashed into a paste

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons orange blossom water

1 teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preparation:

To prepare the dough, in a mixing bowl, combine the semolina, flour, melted butter and orange blossom water. Knead well until the mixture holds together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, in a small bowl, bloom the yeast in the water. Then add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture that you prepared the day before, kneading well. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the filling ingredients together, mixing well. Set aside.

Divide the dough into 1″ to 1 1/2″ balls.  To form the ma’amoul, place a ball in the palm of one hand.  With the forefinger of your other hand, press an opening into the dough.  Continue turning and pressing against your palm with your finger until the hole is enlarged enough to hold about a teaspoon of the filling.

Pinch off a gumball-sized piece of the filling and put it inside the hole. Press the edges of the dough together and roll between your palms to seal and shape it. Gently flatten the cookie and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.  Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes until golden (but not brown).  Transfer to wire racks to cool.  Dust with powdered sugar and store for up to one week.

For a story about this famous shortbread cookie, see: Maamoul: An Ancient Cookie That Ushers In Easter And Eid In The Middle East at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/11/522771745/maamoul-an-ancient
-cookie-that-ushers-in-easter-and-eid-in-the-middle-east

The Art of Armenian Cooking

A Cultural Heritage Video

Dr. J. Michael Hagopian (filmmaker)

Armenian Film Foundation

Released: 1975

Time: 60 minutes

Go to: http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/films/art-of-traditional-armenian-cooking

All films (on DVD format) cost $19.95 except Supplement to The Forgotten Genocide, which costs $14.95. For other films available purchase (on DVD format), go to http://armenianfilm.org/drupal/affstore

To purchase Alice Bezjian’s The Complete Armenian Cookbook, go to:

https://www.amazon.com/COMPLETE-ARMENIAN-COOKBOOK-INCLUDING-INTERNATIONAL/dp/B000YI8NYI

http://www.abrilbooks.com/complete-armenian-cookbook-the.html

https://agbubookstore.org/products/pre-order-here-the-complete-armenian-cookbook

For information, contact:

Armenian Film Foundation

17328 Ventura Blvd, Suite 123

Encino, California 91316

Email:  info@armenianfilm.orgDonations:

Support the work of the Armenian Film Foundation by sending a tax-deductible donation to the above address or by donating by credit card or PayPal.  Contact the Armenian Film Foundation at: (818) 702-6877 to make a donation via credit card.

http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/donate).

A legacy of excellence in documentary filmmaking on Armenian heritage and the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

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