Greek spinach hand pie recipe (Photo courtesy https://www.todaysparent.com/)

Recipe Corner: Mrs. Bezjian’s Swiss Chard and Tahini Bureks – Armenian Turnovers

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LOS ANGELES — Celebrated chef and author Alice Bezjian was born in 1913 in Cairo, Egypt of Armenian parents. Her grandparents left Turkey before the Armenian Genocide. The family moved to Syria before finally settling down in Beirut. Alice came from generations of gifted cooks and culinary experts. At an early age, she was introduced to the joy of food and cooking by her maternal grandfather. Her grandfather often traveled the world at a time when traveling was neither easy nor fashionable. He then returned home with new recipes, and cooked large dinners for his family. He said cooking was exciting, but the greatest pleasure was sharing one’s new and creative dishes with an appreciative family and friends.

Alice attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and studied with international culinary teachers in Beirut, and later in Beverly Hills. In 1964, Alice and her family moved to Los Angeles where she, her husband Hagop, and their son Jack created Bezjian’s Grocery and Bakery near Vermont on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

“The market was successful and eventually became a landmark for gourmet cooks, chefs, and Middle Eastern food lovers throughout Southern California. Bezjian’s Grocery and Bakery was the first Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Persian, and especially Indian supermarket of its kind in Los Angeles,” says Jack. Customers came from great distances to purchase specialty foods, spices, and herbs, and to congregate, share knowledge, exchange recipes, and to visit with Alice and her family. One customer summed it up at the time by saying “’If It’s Bezjian’s, You Know It’s Good!’”

 

In the 1970s photo above, Hagop Bezjian holds a tray of his famous baklava made with ghee (clarified butter prepared at their bakery) and real sugar, not corn syrup. Alice is shown serving her celebrated Armenian coffee that the couple introduced to Los Angeles. It was a special blend of Armenian coffee from Central America that the Bezjians had prepared to their specific requirements. It came in three blends that became known as B1,B2,and B3 (B standing for Bezjians). This coffee is the one sold in most Armenian markets today, known as the best for “Armenian Coffee” (known as Middle Eastern light, medium and dark roast).

“Mrs. Bezjian and her family brought years of experience and background in the Middle Eastern food business, and enough capital to start over,” said the Armenian International Magazine in 1993. “The Bezjian Grocery sold retail goods to the public, wholesale markets, had a bakery, and did very well.”* Her family says that Alice was always at her store, graciously and proudly dispensing recipe tips and culinary expertise with her friends and appreciative customers. Sunset Magazine and New West wrote stories about the grocery store, and her recipes were published in several magazines. Jack remembers his mother meeting with her old customers and exchanging stories and Armenian recipes before she passed away in 2003.

Since 1966, Jack has been baking bread and owns Bezian Bakery (home of the Los Angeles sourdough) in Santa Monica. He has been one of the most influential vendors at the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market for many years. His acclaimed gourmet wild yeast breads have been sold for almost 55 years at the bakery, and for over 32 years at Southern California farmers markets (including Pasadena and Hollywood). His ground breaking baking techniques and nutritional discoveries have made his sourdough products an essential part of the community. Jack is a wellspring of information about the history and benefits of true, slowly-raised, fermented, wild yeast sourdough. He also took most of the photos in his mother’s bestselling cookbook, and the entire family prepared and tested each recipe over a four-year period before the cookbook was published.

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Alice Bezjian has long since elevated Middle Eastern cooking to a level of haute cuisine, all the while adapting her easy to follow recipes to the contemporary kitchen. This recipe is featured in her bestselling The Complete Armenian Cookbook: Including Favorite International Recipes, originally published in 1983. Beurek is a staple in many Armenian households, and is considered the Armenian version of the Greek tiropita and spanakopita. In Armenia, byorek (բյորեկ) or borek (բորեկ) consists of dough, or filo dough, folded into triangles and often stuffed with spinach (or other vegetable), onions and feta cheese or ground beef. It is from a family of pastries or pies also found in the Balkans, the Middle East and Central Asia. Her Swiss chard turnovers are versatile; they can be served warm or at room temperature, as a brunch/lunch dish, snack, or part of a large buffet. If you love tahini, you will love this combo: tahini and Swiss chard are a perfect match.

Hagop and Alice Bezjian were Armenian and Middle Eastern food, grocery store and bakery pioneers in Southern California

Dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

Filling:

6 cups Swiss chard (or rainbow chard)**

4 tablespoons salt (to taste)

3 onions, minced

1 cup olive oil

3/4 cups chopped walnuts

1 cup fresh chopped parsley

2 ounces tomato paste

6 tablespoons lemon juice

5 cloves garlic, pressed

1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

1 teaspoon hot red pepper

Salt to taste

1/2 pound jar tahini (8 ounces)

1 egg, beaten, for giving a shine to the dough (optional)

Preparation:

In a large bowl sprinkle the yeast into the warm water with the sugar and one tablespoon of flour. Let stand for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Stir in the flour, oil, one cup water and salt until well blended. Knead for about 2 minutes until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. (If you feel the dough is not soft enough, knead a few minutes more adding more oil.) Cover the dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place for 2 or 3 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Wash and slice the green part of the Swiss chard to measure 6 cups. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the salt. Set aside for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the other 2 tablespoons salt on the onions and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse the Swiss chard and onions separately with running cold water, drain and squeeze out any remaining moisture with your hands. In a skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in all other filling ingredients, except the tahini. Cool. Add the tahini, mixing well, and taste. Add more pepper and lemon juice, if desired.

Form the dough into 20 small balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball out into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Spread the filling over half the circle and fold the other half over to form a half moon. Seal the edges either by crimping or pressing with the tines of a fork. Repeat this process with the other balls of dough. Brush with the beaten egg. Place on lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield: 20 beureks

*“The Mom-and Pop Shops That Could,” Armenian International Magazine, July 1993: https://issuu.com/armenianinternationalmagazine/docs/july1993

**“There’s something about Swiss chard.” See: https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/columns/2022/09/theres-something-about-swiss-chard/

For this recipe, see: http://realafricandishes.blogspot.com/2011/09/mc-allethnic-recipes-mrs-bezjians-swiss.html

The Complete Armenian Cookbook (Copyright: 1983) by Alice Bezjian elevates Middle Eastern cooking to the level of haute cuisine with each dish being a unique, creative, gourmet touch. The recipes can be executed as a beginner, as well, with simple-to-follow instructions. Purchase at:

https://www.amazon.com/COMPLETE-ARMENIAN-COOKBOOK-INCLUDING-INTERNATIONAL/dp/B000YI8NYI
http://www.abrilbooks.com/complete-armenian-cookbook-the.html

https://agbubookstore.org/products/pre-order-here-the-complete-armenian-cookbook

For information about today’s Bezian’s Bakery, call (323) 663-8608 or go to: https://www.bezianbakery.com/

See: https://www.yelp.com/biz/bezians-bakery-los-angeles

Armenian Film Foundation

The Art of Traditional Armenian Cooking

A Cultural Heritage Video Dr. J. Michael Hagopian (filmmaker) Armenian Film Foundation Released: 1975.

Go to: http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/films/art-of-traditional-armenian-cooking

Purchase the film at: http://armenianfilm.org/drupal/affstore

References:

https://www.bezianbakery.com/

https://renourishment.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/jack-bezian-on-sourdough-bread/

https://sourdoughbreadlady.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/about-jack-bezians-sourdough-bread-by-cheeseslave/

https://mirrorspectator.com/2022/01/06/alice-bezjians-walnut-date-maamoul-lebanese-cookies/

https://mirrorspectator.com/2022/10/06/recipe-corner-mouhalabiye-mouhalabieh-from-the-armenian-kitchen/

https://armenianweekly.com/2018/11/15/suburban-america-through-the-recipe-cabinet-of-my-immigrant-mother/

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1995-06-08-fo-10689-story.html

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/?s=alice+bezjian

https://www.tasteofbeirut.com/swiss-chard-beoreg/

https://www.177milkstreet.com/recipes/armenian-swiss-chard-tomatoes-chickpeas

https://www.facebook.com/ARMENIANANDMIDDLEEASTERNCOOKING/posts/-armenian-nivig-chard-and-chickpeas/339734672794410/

Copyright © 2024 Bezian Bakery, Inc. All rights reserved. bezianbakery.com – bezianbakery@gmail.com

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