Elise Kazanjian’s Armenian Beet Leaves with Rice (Jaguntegh Yev Purintz)

Recipe Corner: Elise Kazanjian’s Armenian Beet Leaves with Rice (Jaguntegh Yev Purintz)


SAN FRANCISCO — Elise Kazanjian is a member of the Wednesday Women Writers in San Francisco, a group of writers who have been meeting for over a decade. From September through November, many Bay Area Armenian churches present fall bazaars and festivals, featuring a dazzling variety of Armenian foods and desserts, the result of months of dedicated effort and capacious freezer space in homes across the area. She is also a member of St. John’s Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco. She prepared traditional dishes, including her family’s Armenian Beet Leaves with Rice recipe at a sumptuous multi-course dinner event for KQED News in 2013, celebrating “Food & Spirituality: Fall Feast with Armenians in San Francisco.”

A poet/writer, Elise grew up in Tientsin (now Tianjin), China, where her father managed an Armenian rug factory. She worked at Sunset Magazine, at CCTV in Beijing, China, for August Coppola’s Audio Vision Project at San Francisco State University, and has been a pawnbroker. Her poems/essays have appeared in Fog And Light, San Francisco Through The Eyes of the Poets Who Live Here. (Elise was honored to be in this anthology, which begins with a poem by the great poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.) Other publications include: Poets Eleven, New Millennium Writings, A Kind of Hurricane Press, and SF Chronicle and the Marin Poetry Center Anthology. She serves as a Co-Judge in the Prose Poetry Category, Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and has a collection of over 150 fountain pens and mechanical pencils.

“This is a lovely vegetable dish my mother, Alice Artinian Shabas, often made,” says Elise. “She was born in 1906 in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul, and always called the city Constantinople. In 1918, because of the Armenian Genocide, her father sent her and her sister to Vienna, Austria to their uncle’s home. She and my father (Hagop) were friends at that time, and their relationship blossomed in Vienna. My father went to Tientsin, China, in 1925 to work for his brother-in-law, Arshak Karagheusian, who ran a hugely successful rug production company, A. & M. Karagheusian, Inc. My father often said that the US Freehold factory and the China operation combined employed close to 7,000 people…”

“My mother spoke seven languages, dressed elegantly, and had an aura of gentility,” says Elise. “She had a collection of over hundred handkerchiefs, many delicately embroidered in Tientsin during an era when honor, respect, dignity were the essential cornerstones of society. Her yalanchi dolmas, kuftas, and bourma were acclaimed among her many non-Armenian friends. She was equally adept at vegetarian dishes like roasted beets, vospov kheyma, fassoulia, and bamia stews. During World War II, our family were prisoners of war under the Japanese. In 1946, we came to San Francisco where my mother was a devoted member of the St. John Armenian Church Ladies, and contributed her vast culinary skills and service at church events and dinners for many years.”

Elise adds, “My memories of living in China are based on the senses. I like the Chinese opera, always have; I love the Chinese discordant music; I like tactile things that were part of my life. China also means my nanny (amah), who was a second mother to me. She had bound feet. “China means bound feet to me in more ways than just the binding of the feet…”

“Beets are relatively inexpensive and often used in soups and salads. The root can be made into beet juice, which is popular for detoxification. Beets need to be washed and the greens removed prior to cooking; they don’t have to be peeled. There were always vegetables on our family table, beet salad, tomato and green bean salad, olives, and a rice pilaf with beet stalks. Kazanjian adds, “Growing up, we used everything on the vegetable, sort of like the Chinese eat. You know, even the oink on the pig.”

Elise Kazanjian manages a multi-course meal in her San Francisco kitchen. Photo: Gina Scialabba

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Beet Leaves with Rice (Jaguntegh Yev Purintz)

Serves 4 (as a side dish)


1 bunch beets with leaves and stems, washed (Select smaller size beets as the leaves will be younger and more tender. And beets will be more succulent.)

1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup long grain rice

1 cup boiling water

Fresh ground black pepper



First, take the beets, don’t cut off root end, leave the stem tail, wrap beets in heavy duty aluminum foil, and roast in a 350º oven for about 45 minutes. Turn off heat, leave the packages in the oven for another 15 minutes, then take out, open packages and cool. When cool, hold each beet with a fork to avoid getting beet juice on hands, and the skin should peel off easily when you gently scrape with a knife.

Slice and serve cold with thinly sliced onions, chopped parsley, fresh basil leaves, a sprinkle of olive oil, and a splash of balsamic red vinegar.

Preparation for the leaves, rice, and onions:

Heat olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Don’t brown or burn the onions.

Add beet stems and layer over the onions. Add chopped leaves. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes over low heat.

Add salt and rice, tenderly mixing ingredients. Add the boiling water making sure the rice is covered by water, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender.

Remove rice from stove, keep covered and let rest for a few minutes. Stir gently, sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Optional: Serve with a dollop of Armenian yogurt (madzoon) on the dish with the beets.

*This recipe is adapted from a recipe in The 40 Days of Lent by Alice Antreassian, St. Vartan Press, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

For Elise’s recipe, go to: “Food & Spirituality: Fall Feast with Armenians in San Francisco,” October 16, 2013: https://www.kqed.org/bayareabites/70323/food-spirituality-fall-feast-with-armenians-in-san-francisco

Alice Shabas’s Armenian Cheese Beoreg

Filo (or phyllo) is a very thin unleavened dough used for making pastries such as baklava and boreg (beoreg) in Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines.


1 lb. filo dough (24 sheets)

1-1/2 lb. Monterey Jack Cheese, grated

1 medium bunch parsley, washed, finely chopped

2 large eggs

1 lb. butter, clarified, melted



Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix together the grated cheese, eggs, and parsley until the eggs are well blended.

Filo dough: use a full a sheet for entrée size or cut in half for appetizer size.

Note: Unroll filo sheets and lay them flat on a dry surface. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and then a damp towel. Keep filo covered when not working with it, and don’t leave it uncovered for more than a minute at a time.

Take one sheet of filo, brush with butter, fold edges to middle. Place one heaping teaspoon of filling in one corner of dough and fold into a triangle. Keep folding like folding a flag to form a triangle package.

Tuck left over piece into the last fold. Place on baking sheet, butter the top. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. (Oven temperatures vary so do not let beoregs turn very brown.)

The A & M Karagheusian rug factory was one of the hugely successful Armenian-owned businesses, which employed close to 7,000 people in China and the U.S. (Photo: Elise Kazanjian family archive)




Elise Kazanjian reads @the Soulmaking Keats Literary Awards at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofaqmFwuIYI

Reference: Armenians in China (1880s-1950s):



*A. & M. Karagheusian, Inc. was a rug manufacturer headquartered at 295 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Manufacturing was located in Freehold Borough, New Jersey and operated for 60 years before closing in 1964. It employed 1,700 people at its peak operation in the 1930s. Bruce Springsteen wrote about the Karagheusian Rug Mill’s closing in his 1984 song “My Hometown.” They developed, and were the only manufacturers of “Gulistan Rug” carpets. They made the carpet for Radio City Music Hall in 1932 and for the United States Supreme Court building in 1933. They stopped manufacturing oriental carpets in 1953.

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