Lemon and pomegranate syrup add tanginess to this Armenian soup. Credit. David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Recipe Corner: A Lentil Soup With Its Heart in Armenia

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This recipe was featured on July 1, 2022 in The New York Times Food Section. Recipe from Marina Sarukhanyan, adapted by Joan Nathan.

For her birthday, my friend Audrey wanted one thing: a lentil soup from Yerevan Market and Cafe, an Armenian spot in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Ethereal yet somehow earthy, it was unlike any lentil soup we’d ever had — orange and slightly tangy. We were left curious about its flavor.

It turned out the secret ingredient was apricots, the national fruit of Armenia.

Though apricots originated in China, their tie to Armenia is strong. They’re botanically known as Prunus armeniaca (or “Armenian plum”). The wood of the tree is used to make the duduk, an ancient Armenian wind instrument still played today. When Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, its new flag was striped in red, blue and an orange hue that recalls what else but the apricot.

“Armenians are very much in love with apricots,” said Marina Sarukhanyan, the owner of Silk Apron Catering in Gaithersburg, Md., which counts Yerevan among its customers.

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According to Armenian folklore, apricots were among the fruit that Noah brought on the ark to cultivate after the floodwaters receded. These most coveted trees are in the Ararat Valley, beneath Mount Ararat — the mountaintop on which the ark supposedly landed.

Armenians collect apricots quickly during their short season, to be put to use in pies, breads and punch. Often, the fruit is cut and dried in the sun for fruit leathers, frequently called fruit lavashes, one of the oldest-known snacks. Mostly they’re eaten fresh.

But possibly the most exquisite, yet simple Armenian dish in which apricots feature is simmered and savory. It was that very soup we tasted: tsirani vosp apur, which is among the modern Armenian dishes Sarukhanyan prepares for her clients, alongside lahmajoun and jingalov hats with 14 different herbs and greens.

Traditionally eaten in and around Yerevan, the Armenian capital where Sarukhanyan was born, the soup is prepared with fresh apricots in the summer and dried apricots throughout the year and can be eaten hot or cold.

“This contemporary soup is as common today as vegetable soup in other countries,” said Sarukhanyan, who came to the United States in 2006. “But Armenians from outside Armenia may not even know this dish.”

Lentils (red, orange or yellow), tomatoes and sometimes carrots are simmered in vegetable broth, though you could also use chicken broth. Lemon juice lends a punch of acidity. Then, it’s drizzled with pomegranate syrup and finished with a few bright red pomegranate seeds, if you have them. But the defining feature of this distinctive soup is, of course, the apricots.

“We have the best in the world,” Sarukhanyan said.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups roughly chopped fresh apricots (about 7 ounces, from 2 large or 4 small apricots), or 1 cup sugar-free, unsulfured dried apricots

2 tablespoons avocado or vegetable oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt

1 medium tomato or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped

5 to 6 cups vegetable broth

2 cups red, orange or yellow split lentils, rinsed

2 medium carrots, roughly chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 lemon, juiced, plus more if desired

Pomegranate syrup, for drizzling

 

Preparation:

If using dried apricots, at least 40 minutes before cooking, cut them into quarters, soak in warm water to cover, then drain and set aside. (This can be done up to a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature before using.)

Warm the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to turn golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring frequently.

Pour 5 cups of the vegetable broth into the pot, scraping any stuck-on bits from the bottom, and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the lentils are soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in 1 more cup of broth if the soup is too thick, then add the carrots, apricots and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and season with pepper to taste. Increase the heat to bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered and stirring once or twice, for 10 minutes, or until the carrots are as cooked as you’d like.

Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice, then taste. If it’s not sour enough, add a little more, and adjust for salt and pepper.

 

Ladle into bowls and serve warm, with pomegranate syrup drizzled over the top.

For this recipe, go to:

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1023297-tsirani-vosp-apur-armenian-apricot-and-lentil-soup

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/01/dining/armenia-lentil-soup.html

Also see:

Dzerani Abour (Cold Apricot Soup)

By Gadar Tanelian

This soup is featured in the Adventures in Armenian Cooking Cookbook from St. Gregory’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Indian Orchard, MA., 8th Printing, 1994. The cookbook’s dedication says, “This book is dedicated to all who enjoy the delights of cooking; with special appreciation to the Armenian women who have passed their treasured recipes down through the generations. Although some of the recipes have been adapted to using modern ingredients and methods, the spirit of traditional Armenian cooking has been kept. We hope the good feelings Armenian Cooking has given us, is passed on to you through this book.” To purchase, contact: Mrs. Elizabeth Setian, 29 Linwood Dr., Wilbraham, MA 01095.*

Ingredients:

1/3 cup dzedzadz (hulled wheat)

2 qts. Water

1 11-oz. box apricots

2 cups water

1/2 cup prunes (approx. 8 prunes)

1/3 cup raisins

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

 

Preparation:

Cook the dzedzadz well in 2 quarts of water and salt. Cook the apricots well in 2 cups of water. Mash and strain if skins are tough. Add the cooked apricots to the cooked wheat. If this mixture is too thick, add another 1/2 to 1 cup water. Add the prunes and after cooking a bit add the raisins. Add the sugar and cook until the prunes and raisins are cooked. Chill. Serve cold.

 

Serves 6.

NOTE: Water may be added if you prefer a lighter consistency. This may be diluted with ice cubes.

* Adventures in Armenian Cooking – This collection of 200 recipes was originally published in 1973 by St. Gregory’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Indian Orchard, Massachusetts as a fund raiser.

Called tsiran in Armenian, the Armenian apricot has a soft, juicy and plump pulp that is encased within a velvety outer skin and surrounds a stone that hides an edible kernel inside. Praised as the national fruit of the country, the apricot owes its exquisite honey-like sweetness and pleasant flavor and fragrance to Armenia’s volcanic soil, mild climate, and plenty of sunshine it gets throughout the year. In Armenia, people consume the fruit fresh or dried and prepare a vast number of delicacies with it — be it marmalades, jams, preserves, juices, desserts, apricot vodka, apricot leather wraps, or various meat dishes. Apricots grown in the Ararat valley and the Meghri region have long been deemed as the best in the country. See: https://www.tasteatlas.com/armenianapricot

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