Sylvia Kalajian’s Lavash

Recipe Corner: The Armenian Kitchen: Sylvia Kalajian’s Lavash

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“As in many cultures of the Caucasus and Middle East, bread and wheat are important elements of Armenian lifecycle events and festivals. Families offer bread and salt to their houseguests to welcome them. Hosts of births and weddings serve or display wheat kernels and special stews and breads. A new bride has a piece of lavash placed on her shoulders, signifying luck, wealth, and the new life she will bring into the family,” says Rebecca Wall at Smithsonian Magazine.*

“To break bread with someone is to share a common experience, and to experience Armenia you have to witness the baking and enjoy the simple pleasures of lavash. Many Armenian words and expressions derive from the simple, yet significant, act of breaking bread. For instance, the word for a gathering or party, utel-khmel, literally translates to ‘eat-drink.’ The word for friend, enker, means ‘eating together.’ Foods create and mark relationships and identity-wife and husband, family, community, nation.”

“Making lavash requires flour, water, sometimes yeast, the wood-fired tonir oven, and time, but preparations differ almost from village to village. Just as Armenia’s mountainous South Caucasus terrain creates multiple distinct microclimates that nurture diverse plant and animal species, so too did the mountains create a historic diversity in cultures and foods. Neighboring villages were isolated by cliffs and gorges, so each developed different ways of baking this seemingly simplest of foods,” adds Rebecca.

This culinary range traveled with Armenians around the world. Armenian-American author and retired journalist Doug Kalajian recalls of his mother Sylvia’s variation: “Her lavash was tremendously different from other lavash, even from the lavash baked in the next village where my father’s family was from. Her memorable recipe was rich, buttery, and flaky.” Doug and Robyn Kalajian write the successful blog,  The Armenian Kitchen, chronicling food and memories through traditional Armenian recipes from around the world.

“It’s also something of a family treasure, handed down by Doug’s mother Sylvia who learned it from her clan’s master chef, Aunt Baidzar Doramajian. We’d hate to see it turned into some sort of snack cracker, or worse. So please, let’s keep this between us,” says Robyn.

Sylvia Kalajian

“This lavash is flaky cracker bread rather than the soft, foldable type. It’s perfect with Armenian string cheese – or any cheese you like – and goes well with Armenian coffee or tea,” adds Doug.

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In case your kitchen didn’t come with a wood-fired oven, you can produce a very passable version of lavash in a standard home oven. Here’s a soft, buttery version from the kitchen of Sylvia Kalajian:

Ingredients:

8 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 heaping tablespoon baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

3 cups warm water

1 egg mixed with a little water for egg wash

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Sift the salt, baking powder, and sugar into the flour. Stir well. Add the melted butter and most of the water.

Mix well until dough forms. If the dough seems too dry, add some of the remaining water and continue to mix. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide the dough into 5 or 6 balls.

Working with one ball at a time, roll dough into a rectangle shape – about 1/4″ thick — that will fit on a 16″x12″ baking sheet. Fold the rectangle-shaped dough into thirds, then in thirds again, creating a little bundle.

Roll this bundle into a large rectangle to 1/4″ thickness a second time (this will create flaky layers). Place rolled dough on an ungreased 16″x12″ baking sheet. Brush the surface with the egg wash.

Bake on the lower oven rack for 15 minutes or until bottom starts to brown. Move the tray to the upper oven rack for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the top becomes a golden brown.

Remove from the oven. Cool lavash completely on wire racks. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut lavash into 12 or 16 pieces. Repeat this process until all balls of dough have been shaped and baked. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with assorted cheeses, fruit, and Armenian coffee or tea.

Note: Before using the baking powder, test it to make sure it is active. To do this, sprinkle a little baking powder in a half cup of water. The powder should begin to bubble and foam. If it doesn’t, the baking powder should be discarded.

For this recipe, see:
https://thearmeniankitchen.com/what-lavash-means-to-me-tell-no-one/

We aim to capture and preserve the recipes that our Armenian grandmothers never had time to write down.

*See: “Tastes of Memory: How to Bake an Authentic Armenian Lavash Preserving Armenian culture, memory and identity in the kitchen,” at:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/tastes-memory-lavash-and-armenian-identity-180958673/

Also:

https://www.facebook.com/armenianandmiddleeasterncooking/photos/a.3016371507
93/10155344912330794/?type=3

References:

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/breads-armenian-style-and-a-lavash-story-by-a
ndrew-janjigian/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/homemade-stovetop-lavash/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/geghard-monastery-garni-temple-and/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/paklavash-paklava-made-with-whole-wheat/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/jingalov-hats-lavash-bread-stuffed-with-herbs

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/two-meals-no-waiting/

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/happy-mothers-day/

https://www.csmonitor.com/1985/0920/hfarm.html

Copyright 2023 @ thearmeniankitchen

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