Women’s Guild members at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Washington (2016 photo courtesy St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church)

Recipe Corner: The Armenian Kitchen Klatch


By Polly Clingerman*

Contributed by Christine Vartanian Datian.

This following story about the many devoted and dedicated members of the Women’s Guild at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Washington, D.C., was published on November 3, 1993 in The Washington Post by Polly Clingerman. The Women’s Guild programs include the following service projects for the parish and Armenia: Annual Women’s Saints Day Celebration; fundraising activities such as the Annual Food Festival and Lenten Food Festival and Armenian Cultural and Christian educational programs. This year, the St. Mary 74th Annual Fall Food Festival was held on Friday and Saturday, October 7 thru 9.

Every autumn for 44 years, the women of St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church have plunged into a six-week frenzy of chopping and stirring and rolling and patting and baking that ends in four days of glorious eating: the buffet lunches and weekend dinners of the annual bazaar. Today, when the bazaar opens its doors for the 45th year, Washingtonians will throng buffet and carryout lines. Many will leave laden with jars and bowls of soups and spicy mixtures (the regulars bring empties), boxes and bags of pastries, meatballs and meat pies. And no wonder. The food is rich-flavored, but the cooks are quick to point out that Armenians don’t do much frying.

Every Thursday right up to the big day finds 30 to 40 women bustling about the big church kitchen and community rooms, turning out vast quantities: 200 quarts of the garlicky mixed pickles called tourshi; 4,000 cheese boureg (chubby, Muenster cheese-filled turnovers); 4,000 yalanchi (rice-and onion-stuffed grape leaves); 2,000 luleh kebabs, ground lamb rolls scented with allspice, cumin and paprika. Then there are the stars in the crown of Middle Eastern cookery — giant trays of nutty, flaky, buttery, syrup-soaked, cholesterol-be-damned pastries: baklava and bourma (baklava’s lighter, cylindrical cousin — only two layers of buttered phyllo).

It was bourma-making day when the photographer came. Thirty-five women bustled about the kitchen chopping nuts, melting butter, baking huge trays of the crinkly bourma rolls in the church’s restaurant-size ovens. Others worked at long tables painting butter on phyllo sheets with 2-inch-wide natural-bristle paint brushes (so much more sensible than my wimpy little pastry brush), strewing nuts and rolling the dough sheets around half-inch dowels. “Paint the butter as you roll,” the bourma honcho cautioned a learner/neophyte/- wife-of-an-Armenian. “Don’t touch the dough with your fingers.”

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Not everything is made ahead. Some things taste best freshly made. So today the church kitchen will be a madhouse. Cooks will wrestle huge trays of tava and mock sou boureg and brown-edged meat pies in and out of the giant ovens. Shish kebab will sizzle on the grill. And the priest’s wife will mix up gallons of crunchy cracked-wheat salad called eech, a specialty of her native Damascus that she has made for the bazaar for the last 15 years. The Armenians note that eech is quite different from tabbouleh: The bulgur is not soaked but steamed in a broth of sautéed onion and tomato and then loaded to bursting with crunchy vegetables.

As you can see, this is serious cooking. Witness the grocery list: 48 quarts of lemon juice; 150 pounds of bulgur; 250 pounds each of rice, Muenster cheese, walnuts and butter; 500 pounds of ground beef; 1,000 pounds of ground lamb.

And guess what? “We always run out!”

Here are a few of the cooks’ recipes to try at home.


MOCK SOU BOUREG (10 servings)

Packaged wide noodles replace the traditional giant homemade ones, making this dish easier and quicker to make.

8-ounce package square, wide egg noodles (Pennsylvania Dutch “Bot Boi”)

1 pound Wisconsin sharp brick cheese, grated

8 ounces small-curd cottage cheese

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon butter or margarine


Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix grated cheddar, cottage cheese and eggs. Divide mixture in half and add parsley to one half. In a 7-by-12-inch pan, place half the noodles. Top with the parsleyed cheese. Add the remaining noodles, then the plain cheese mixture. Dot with butter. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let the Mock Boureg sit for 10 minutes before cutting in squares.

Per serving: 318 calories, 19 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 11 gm saturated fat, 118 mg cholesterol, 403 mg sodium


EGGPLANT TAVA (Eggplant Slices With Beef and Tomatoes)

(10 servings)

1 1/2 pounds ground lean ground beef

28-ounce can Italian tomatoes, juice reserved

1/4 cup tomato paste, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each), unpeeled

A little oil for rubbing

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Mix ground meat with 1/2 cup of the juice from the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of the tomato paste. Add onion, green pepper, allspice, pepper, salt and garlic. Mix well and set aside.

Rub the unpeeled eggplants all over with oil. Then cut them in 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place half the slices in a 9-by-13-inch pan, top them with the meat mixture, then with the remaining eggplant slices.

In a bowl, mix the canned tomatoes, what’s left of their juice, and the remaining tomato paste. Pour this over the stacks of eggplant.Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven until the liquid starts to boil. Then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour longer.

Per serving: 223 calories, 14 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 448 mg sodium


EECH (Cracked-Wheat Salad) (6 servings)

1 small onion, chopped medium fine

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup very fine bulgur*

3/4 cup green onions (scallions), chopped

2 cups chopped parsley

1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped

1/2 sweet red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup tomato paste

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cayenne pepper to taste

Garnish: slices or coarsely chopped chunks of peppers, green onions, tomatoes, parsley


Sauté onion in olive oil until limp. Add 1/2 cup of boiling water and mix well. Place bulgur in a container that can be tightly covered and pour the onion mixture over it. Cover tightly and allow mixture to steam while you chop the vegetables, about 15 minutes.

Uncover bulgur and add green onions, parsley, tomato, red pepper, tomato paste, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. (Mixture can be mild with no cayenne, or quite nippy, according to what you enjoy.) Toss to mix thoroughly and refrigerate.

To serve, garnish the top with lots of peppers, green onions, tomatoes and parsley, all sliced or coarsely chopped. Serve chilled. This will keep well in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.

*Available in most supermarkets, at health-food stores or wherever Middle Eastern ingredients are sold.


Per serving: 143 calories, 5 gm protein, 28 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 188 mg sodium


BOURMA (Makes about 50 to 60 pieces)

1 package phyllo dough, thawed and at room temperature

1 pound walnuts, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons sugar

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted and separated (discard the white milk solids)



2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Be sure the phyllo is thawed according to package’s directions.

In a bowl, mix the walnuts, cinnamon and sugar.

Set the pile of phyllo sheets on your work surface, covered with a very slightly damp towel so they don’t dry out while you work. Place one sheet of phyllo in front of you, with a long side facing you. Brush lightly with melted butter (you don’t have to cover every bit of surface). Top with a second sheet. Cover this with a thin layer of walnut mixture, leaving at least a 1/2-inch margin all around. Fold in the two short sides 1/2 inch. Lay the dowel along the long side near you, fold the edge over the dowel and start rolling loosely. As you roll, brush the bottom side of the phyllo lightly with butter so the finished cylinder looks shiny. Don’t touch the dough or you’ll disturb the butter glaze. Now gently nudge the roll toward the center, first from one end, then from the other. It will shorten (like an accordion) by a couple of inches. Slide off the rod onto a baking sheet. Continue preparing and rolling sheets until all ingredients are used.

Bake the bourma in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until nicely golden. Cool. Cut in 1-or 2-inch lengths. Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks. (Some of the cooks freeze their bourma at this point, some view this idea with horror — all assured me that their bourma are excellent). The bazaar bourma have not been frozen.

For the syrup: Before serving (this can be the day before), mix sugar and lemon juice with 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Simmer for 10 minutes. Holding each piece of bourma with your fingers, dip each piece into the hot syrup, immersing it completely, then holding for a moment to drain. Place on a rack to drain or put directly on serving plate lined with a paper doily.

Note: The trick for bourma and baklava is to have syrup and pastry at different temperatures. If pastry is hot, syrup must be cold. If pastry is cold, have syrup hot.

Per piece: 146 calories, 3 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium


St. Mary Armenian Church is proud to serve the Greater Washington, DC and Baltimore communities. For information, contact:

St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church

Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan

4125 Fessenden St. NW

Washington, DC 20016

Office: (202) 363-1923

Email: stmarychurchdc@gmail.com

Web: stmaryaac.org





*Ruth M. “Polly” Clingerman is the author of 12 cookbooks, including Polly Clingerman’s Kitchen Companion and Polly Clingerman’s Dinner CompanionGlorious, Easy Meals in Less Than an HourKitchen Companion, published by the American Cooking Guild in Gaithersburg, was nominated best cookbook for the 1995 James Beard Awards. She started writing in the mid-1980s, including food articles for The Washington Post, and did consulting work for The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking, published in 1997. She was a native of Lansing, Mich., and a graduate of Michigan State University. She received an associate’s degree in African affairs from the Sorbonne in France. She passed away in 2000. Her husband was John R. Clingerman, a retired Foreign Service Officer and former U.S. ambassador to Lesotho from 1979 to 1981, who passed away in 2004.

See Polly’s 1994 “Once More With Phyllo” story at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/food/1994/03/09/once-more-with-phyllo/76af3226-bd1b-4457-a177-6243d6a5f2a5/

Also see her excellent recipe for Russian Shepherd’s Pie at: https://iowasue.blogspot.com/2018/12/russian-sheperds-pie.html

For a list of Polly’s cookbooks, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Polly-Clingerman/e/B001KCG0GK/ref=aufs_dp_fta_dsk

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