Recipe Corner: Lenten Recipes from St. John Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco


SAN FRANCISCO — The St. John Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco offers these traditional Lenten-friendly recipes at its website. “The Great Lent is approaching and the Christian world is preparing for the season of fasting and self-reflection. Each recipe is modified to suit the taste of the cook and you are free to make changes based on your own preferences.  A strict Lenten fast in the Armenian Church prohibits animal products, but if your health or circumstances cannot allow for it, start smaller. It shouldn’t become an obsession, but a precursor to spiritual growth,” says Fr. Mesrop Ash, Parish Priest at St. John Armenian Apostolic Church since 2012.

“The true understanding of Lent rests on a sturdy tripod of prayer, abstinence, and charity. Lent reminds us that man is always confronted with choices — choices that lead us to two paths in life. The first path is one of darkness, evil and sin. The second is that of light, God, righteousness, and goodness. At the juncture of these two paths stands the fortress of prayer, abstinence, and charity, which leads mankind forward to seek perfection. This is the purpose of Great Lent in the Armenian Church.”*

According to the book Saints and Sacraments of the Armenian Church by Bishop Shnork Kaloustian in 1969, Lent begins on the Monday following the Sunday of Poon Paregentan (Paregentan literally means “good living.”), and ends the evening of the Friday before Palm Sunday.

The oldest Armenian Lenten traditions hardly allowed for the consumption of any food at all. Indeed, the Armenian Church sometimes refers to Lent as Aghouhatzk, meaning “salt and bread,” because at one time these elements were the only permitted foods. Over time, Lenten rules have changed to allow any food that does not derive from animals (meat and milk, e.g.). Alcoholic beverages were also forbidden.

Lenten Taheen Cookies


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2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup margarine, soft

1/2 cup tahini, well stirred

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup water


Measure flour into a bowl and stir in the salt and baking soda.

In a larger bowl, add margarine, tahini, and sugar, using a fork to mix together. Then add the flour mixture, blending together with a fork or your hands. Gradually add the water and continue to mix.

When dough is well integrated, shape into 3/4-inch balls and place them on a cookie sheet, about 3/4-inch apart. Press down lightly on each one with the times of a fork.

Bake in preheated oven to 375°F for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Yield: 6 dozen cookies

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Armenian Potato Salad

1 pound small new potatoes

4-5 scallions, chopped

1/4 cup minced dill, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Boil potatoes, just until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, peel and set aside to cool. Cut them into thin, round slices.

Mix together in a bowl scallions, dill, salt, and pepper. Stir in potatoes. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Turn potatoes into a flat dish, heaped in a mound. Garnish rim with tomatoes and cucumbers.

Yield: 4 servings

*This recipe is from The 40 Days of Lent by Alice Antreassian, published March 28, 1989 by St Vartan Press.

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Red Lentil Cakes with Parsley

Red Lentils with Cracked Wheat Vospov (Kheemah or Kufta)


1 1/4 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

3 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup bulgur, fine

3/4 cup olive oil

1 cup coarsely chopped onion

1 teaspoon red pepper, to taste


1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup finely chopped red and green pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped scallions or onions


Place lentils in a kettle, add water and bring to a full boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, removing thick foam that rises to the surface.

Add salt and continue simmering, covered, for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. When mixture has cooked to a thick, yellow mass and water is absorbed, remove from heat.

Measure bulgur into a deep bowl and spoon cooked lentils over it, mixing to blend. Set bowl aside, covered for 10 minutes.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet and add onions, sautéing them just until they begin to brown. Add pepper; then add skillet contents to the bowl and knead or mix thoroughly. Adjust seasonings.

Moisten hands and shape mixture into finger-or-sausage-shaped patties: pinch off a piece, squeeze it gently in your clenched fist and release it. Arrange patties on a dish or platter. Combine garnish greens, sprinkle over patties, and serve.

Yield: 6 or more servings

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Great Lent (Medz Bak) is also called Karasnork in Armenian, since it lasts forty days. Great Lent is the longest of the fasts prescribed in the liturgical calendar and it begins on the Monday following Poon Paregentan and lasts for forty days up until the Friday prior to Lazarus Saturday.

Spinach Soup


4 cups hot water

1/2 cup lentils, picked over to discard residue and rinsed

1/2 cup bulgur, large

1-2 cloves garlic, mashed

1-2 teaspoons salt

1 16-oz. can whole tomatoes, broken up

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 10-oz. package whole-leaf frozen spinach (or its equivalent in freshspinach leaves)

1 teaspoon crushed, dried or 2 tablespoons fresh minced basil


Bring water to a full boil, add lentils and bulgur, bring to a boil again, and let simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Add garlic, salt, tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until lentils are soft. Add the spinach and basil during last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time. Add more water, if needed. Remove from heat and serve hot.

Yield: 6 servings

*This recipe is from The 40 Days of Lent by Alice Antreassian, published March 28, 1989 by St Vartan Press.

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Bean Casserole Loopyai Aghtsan (Plaki)


1 20-oz. can white kidney beans (cannellini beans), rinsed and drained

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 medium celery ribs, diced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup minced parsley

2 tablespoons minced dill

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon red pepper

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon tomato paste, to taste

1 medium tomato, diced

1/3 cup olive oil

Lemon slices



Rinse and drain beans in colander; set aside.

Add drained liquid to saucepan; add water and all remaining ingredients, except the tomato paste, tomato, olive oil, and beans. Cook over low flame for half an hour, stirring.

Add the tomato paste and tomato. Cook another 15 minutes. Add olive oil. Cook 10 minutes more or until vegetables are soft and mixture is of a thick-soup consistency.

Add beans, bring mixture just barely to a boil, stir, and check seasoning. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate overnight to permit flavors to blend.  Serve cold, garnished with lemon slices.

Yield: 6 servings; 10 or more, serve as an appetizer

*This recipe is from The 40 Days of Lent by Alice Antreassian.

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Stewed Celery


2 medium onions, sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 bunch celery, washed, leaves removed

1/2 cup water

3-4 garlic cloves, coarsely sliced

1/4 cup medium red or green pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper

1 rounded teaspoon tomato paste

Juice of 1 large lemon


Sauté onions in olive oil over moderate heat for about 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning.

Cut celery stalks crosswise into 1-inch pieces, there should be about 3 cups. Add to onions, with the water, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, covered. Stir occasionally.

Add garlic, bell pepper, and seasonings. Mix tomato paste with lemon juice and add to saucepan, stirring to blend. Cook an additional 20-25 minutes or until celery is crisp yet tender. Serve warm for best flavor.

Yield: 4 servings

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Vospov Prinzi Yeghintz (Rice Pilaf with Brown Lentils)


1/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed

1 bay leaf, water to cover

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup long grain rice

2 cups hot water or vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon crushed lemon balm or minced parsley

1 cup chopped onions


Pick over lentils, rinse, then add to a 2 or 3-quart saucepan with just enough water to cover lentils. Add bay leaf, bring to the boil, then cook gently. Covered, for about 5 minutes or until water is absorbed. Discard bay leaf.

Add 1/4 cup olive oil and the rice to the saucepan, stir to coat, then add the hot liquid and seasonings. Bring to boil, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice and lentils are tender.

Remove saucepan from heat, add lemon balm or parsley and stir gently. Keep covered for 5 minutes before serving.

While rice is cooking, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and add the onions. Gently sauté for 15 minutes or until onion just begins to brown at edges. Serve a spoon of sautéed onion mixture onto each serving of the pilaf.

Yield: 4 servings

Lenten Sundays

Saint John Armenian Apostolic Church


St John Armenian Church of San Francisco was founded in 1924.

275 Olympia Way

San Francisco, CA 94131



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