WASHINGTON— Carrie Nahabedian’s mother ushered her out the door to her flight to Washington, D.C. for the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, this was her advice to the Michelin-starred chef, “Don’t brown the sou boreg too much.”
Armed with her beloved grandmother’s original rolling stick, Nahabedian blew into the Hatsatoun prep kitchen along with the end of a storm on our opening day, ready to demonstrate her Grandma Rose Nahabedian’s recipe for sou boreg, a cheese-filled, layered noodle dish. She had prepared it once the previous evening, teaming up with Chef Michael Costa at <https://www.zaytinya.com/location/washington-dc/> Zaytinya to serve alongside roasted leg of lamb and fasoulia (braised green beans), topped with fresh herbs, chive oil, and lamb jus.
Nahabedian credits her Grandma Rose from Chicago for teaching her all about Armenian cooking and preparation. “My grandmother cooked every day,” she says. “She made her own homemade yogurt, her own bread, her own phyllo dough. I believe that our beloved moms and grandmothers are the people who learn and who teach and pass on these unique family food traditions and customs to their children.”
Nahabedian began cooking in high school, when she would go to Grandma Rose’s house each week and learn a new dish until she had cooked through her grandmother’s repertoire. She would measure her grandmother’s hand to learn the amounts of salt or olive oil used. When it came time to choosing a dish to demonstrate for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival visitors, everyone in her family and at church had an opinion: from crème kadayif (a cream-filled pastry made with crispy phyllo) to boreg (a rolled version of baklava). But the fact that Nahabedian had her grandmother’s rolling stick, which itself is almost 75 years old, cemented the decision to make sou boreg.
Nahabedian says, “My mother Helen cooks tremendously, and my Grandma Rose, who passed away in 1991, was famous in Chicago as the queen of Armenian cooking. I learned how to make pilaf, yalanchi and other dishes from Grandma Rose, and I have clipped recipes from both these women to the back of my favorite Armenian cookbook (Armenian Cooking Today by Alice Antreassian [St. Vartan Press, 1989]). Everyone in our family cooks and entertains with great style and flourish. I don’t like shortcuts or not putting your best foot forward all the time.”
The most time-consuming part of this dish is making the noodles from scratch, but as Nahabedian attests, once you’ve had it with fresh noodles, you can’t go back to mock sou boreg, a variation using purchased dried egg noodles.