Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse’s Lahmajoun

Recipe Corner: Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse’s Lahmajoun

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — “I grew up in Troy, NY, the daughter of an Armenian meat and grocery man and a stay-at-home mom. We lived in the city, but I developed an early love of rural life through frequent visits to my cousins’ homes in the country and at an overnight YWCA camp. I took dance lessons, and was dragged kicking and screaming to piano lessons. Eight years of lessons, and I can barely play,” says author Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse.

“My early years were spent in a three-family house purchased by my grandfather in 1914 and located a block away from our church. My grandfather, Marderos Essegian, immigrated from his ancestral home along the Silk Road in Kharpert (Harput) to Troy in 1895, and was joined by my grandmother Soultani in 1907. Sadly, both died before I was born. My grandfather was one of the founders of our church (seated on the left in the photo below of the original church elders). I had an interest in all things medical, but when it came time to make career decisions, I wanted to be a writer. Convinced by parents and guidance counselors that it wasn’t a practical career, I opted for nursing. That choice had one fatal flaw – I fainted at the sight of blood. Somehow, I made it through the nursing program at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY.”

“Our church began as a Presbyterian Armenian Church — about half the original congregation was Congregational and the other half Presbyterian, but only the Presbyterian

hierarchy offered some financial assistance. Armenians are strong willed. Within a few years (1910), about half the congregation, led by the Congregationalists — including my grandfather and his brother — broke away from the Presbyterians and started their own church, holding services in borrowed space until building the church I knew in 1916. The tragedy of the Armenian Genocide pulled the Troy Protestant Armenians together to support the survivors as they arrived in waves. The two Protestant churches came together again, their first official service together was held in 1919. The original church ceased services and the building was turned into a parsonage. The new name of the combined church, United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church (UACCC), reflected the joining together to honor those masses of Armenian men, women, and children who were lost at the hands of the Ottomans. A stained glass window in the church balcony honored and remembered those who were lost.”

“I obtained an MS degree in Health Services Administration, and eventually retired from the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute. During the last decade of my career, I began writing, completing five novels and publishing four. Since 2019, I’ve been writing about the Armenians who settled in Troy in the late 19th century and who founded the church where I spent my childhood and early adulthood. Sadly, the church held its last regular service in 2011, and sat vacant and neglected for nine years. But my obsession — combined with the support of many interested members — led us to a final closure service in 2020 before a developer converted the church building to apartments. Most of my blog posts (JustWriteIt.live) have focused on what I’ve experienced on my way to a historical fiction about Troy’s early Armenians and the Evangelical Protestant church they built,” says Dawn.

Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

“In retirement, I looked forward to making more traditional Armenian recipes, and one of my favorites, lahmajoun, was at the top of my list. My siblings and I were raised in our church, and I was active in the Armenian Protestant Youth Fellowship (APYF) until my career took me elsewhere. My mother continued as a church member until she died in 1992. I recalled the delicious lahmajoun served at our church dinners as being the best I’ve ever tasted, and couldn’t wait to make it. The elder church ladies made them exclusively with lamb, and after trying commercial lahmajoun made with beef, I knew lamb was the only way to go.”

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“My first attempt at making lahmajoun fell flat — the recipe in my cherished Rose Baboian The Art of Armenian Cooking (1971) cookbook didn’t really match my memory. I learned that the ladies of our church had their own recipe — in their heads — and most of them were no longer with us. Our church luncheons and dinners had ended decades ago. A friend and I collaborated on a series of experiments to match it. After testing various combinations of seasonings and spices through several batches, we hit on the right recipe, the recipe that I now use exclusively (below).”

A combination photo of the original church elders of Dawn’s family church, United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church in Troy, NY, and a group photo
of the attendees at the church’s closure service in 2020

Dawn adds, “That first aroma (and bite) of a fresh batch of this recipe never fails to bring me back to our old church kitchen and the hall where many of my memories were first formed. I don’t make this dough recipe from scratch too often due to my time constraints. I occasionally buy bread dough, but more often, I substitute soft white tortillas now — the thickest I can find. I make and freeze lahmajoun in batches of 4-6 dozen. This shortcut allows me to have an ever-present supply of lahmajoun ready to thaw on a few hours’ notice. Flour tortillas can always be used instead of making the dough from scratch, which makes it a lot easier on the preparation time.”

 

Ingredients:

Meat mixture: combine together in a large mixing bowl:

1 pound lean ground (not fatty, but not too lean) beef, pork or lamb

1 cup finely chopped parsley

1 cup finely chopped mixture 3/4 red and 1/4 green bell pepper

2 large cloves garlic or 2 teaspoons minced garlic

3/4 teaspoon allspice plus 1/4 teaspoon cumin (Dawn uses more allspice than the recipe calls for – do it to your taste)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon Near East red pepper (or 1/2 teaspoon paprika mixed with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)

1 1/2 to 2 cups canned diced or crushed tomatoes, drained

6 oz. can tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Optional: 1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (or to taste)

Choice of sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs and lemon wedges as garnish

Dough:

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon yeast

3 tablespoons + 2/3 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons melted shortening

2 1/2 – 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

 

Preparation:

Cover the combined meat mixture and let it marinate at least 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

For the dough: Soften yeast in 3 tablespoons lukewarm water. Mix in the additional water as per chart. Add salt, sugar, and melted shortening (measure before melting). Blend in flour. Add a little more flour or water to make a stiff dough. Knead on lightly floured board until well blended and smooth.

Place dough in a greased pot. Grease the surface of the dough. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Set aside about 1 cup flour for cutting and opening the dough.

Cut dough and shape into balls the size of a small tangerine. Dip each ball in flour. Arrange 2 inches apart on a floured board or baking sheet. Cover with dry towel and top with wet towel. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Roll out each ball on floured surface into a circle 7-8 inches in diameter. Arrange on baking sheet. Spread with meat mixture (1/3 -1/2 cup each).

Make sure to use your fingers and spread out the meat to a medium layer. Using your fingers helps the meat adhere to the dough well and you can also control the amount better versus using a spoon. You want the meat layer so thin that any thinner will leave bare dough. (Thick meat will fall off the tortilla/dough and bleed grease onto the baking sheet.)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Bake 1/2 to 1 inch above the bottom heat for 5 to 7 minutes to slightly brown the crust. Then place baking sheet to upper part of oven (about 4 inches from the top heat) and bake for 4 to 6 minutes or until the meat is light brown. Bake alternately in this manner (1 tray on the bottom and another on the top — be sure to brown on the bottom first.)

Serves 10-12.

This recipe was originally featured at the Armenian Museum of America website on July 21, 2020 at:

https://www.armenianmuseum.org/armenian-recipes

Author Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

“My last three novels, THE EYES HAVE IT, IN HER MOTHER’S SHOES and STAR CATCHING, are available in e-book format through Amazon and other formats by request here or on my website. AUTUMN COLORS was my first novel and is still available through Amazon and B&N in multiple formats. My early writings are women’s fiction, one also suitable for YA. My work-in-progress is a historical fiction about the Armenians who settled in Troy, NY in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Visit Dawn’s website: www.dawnlajeunesse.com

To order her books, go to: https://dawnlajeunesse.com/my-books/

For her blog, go to: https://dawnlajeunesse.com/blog/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/people/Dawn-Essegian-Lajeunesse-Author/100063657274165/

See:

https://www.amazon.com/stores/Dawn-Lajeunesse/author/B004KHLXWS?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

 

References:

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/hungry-for-lahmajoun-take-shortcut/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/the-great-lahmajoun-dough-experiment_16/

https://www.facebook.com/armenianandmiddleeasterncooking/photos/pb.100064551169859.-2207520000./10159430044510794/?type=3

https://www.facebook.com/armenianandmiddleeasterncooking/photos/pb.100064551169859.-2207520000./10159325712990794/?type=3

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Armenian-Cooking-Rose-Baboian/dp/0385034830

https://www.facebook.com/armenianandmiddleeasterncooking/photos/pb.100064551169859.-2207520000./10159093010145794/?type=3

https://www.amazon.com/Simply-Armenian-Barbara-Ghazarian/dp/1931834067

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/armenian-pizza-comfort-food-you-didntknow-you-were-missing-recipe-180967676/

https://thestuffedgrapeleaf.com/lahmajoun/

©2023 DAWN LAJEUNESSE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

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