Basterma Katah, photo courtesy Dolly Matoian

Recipe Corner: Chemen – It’s Not Just for Basterma


SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — “In our family, chemen (or chaimen) was used to flavor more foods than just basterma (or basturma),” said Nancy Horasanian Kazarian. Her family recipe for chemen was passed down from her beloved grandmother, Haiganoush Baylerian Sarkisian. Nancy grew up in her “maireeg’s” house in Highland Park, Mich., “She insisted I watch while she made many traditional Armenian foods and baked goods for our family dinners. Maireeg was Sepastatzi, and she taught me how to make sou beoreg, katah (which she called teroun pagharch), and all sorts of Armenian delicacies.”

According to producer and director, Nigol Bezjian, Armenians who survived the 1915 Genocide brought basturma with them to the Middle East. Bezjian recalls his grandmother used to prepare “basturma omelets fried in olive oil with pieces of lavash bread.” He notes that Armenians from Kayseri were particularly renowned basturma producers. In Palestine, where Armenians have lived for 2,000 years, Armenian families gather on New Year’s Eve and eat traditional foods including basturma, çiğ köfte and a traditional Anatolian confection called kaghtsr sujukh (քաղցր սուջուխ). Basturma-topped pizza is served in many Armenian-owned pizzerias in the Baltic capitals, in Yerevan, Los Angeles, or Boston. Basturma sandwiches are common in many cities around the world. And you can find it sold whole or thinly sliced in Armenian-owned grocery stores in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Sidney, Tehran, Moscow, and far beyond. “Fenugreek seeds are one of the ingredients used by the Armenian Church to make Muron (Chrism) since 301 AD,” he adds.

An aromatic spice blend from Armenia, chemen is a mix of fenugreek, paprika, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic. It is often used with cured meats such as basterma. Basterma is best served as part of a mezze platter with pita triangles, grape leaves, Armenian string cheese, cured olives, slices of ripe tomatoes and cold crisp cucumbers. It is delicious diced and mixed into scrambled eggs or left in strips and served in place of bacon or ham.

Nancy’s family used this chemen recipe when they made basterma at home, but they also enjoyed it in other ways. “We added chemen to our lamb stew with green beans, and to dolma for a different flavor. For a treat, we’d spread it on our homemade lavash.” Her mother, Rose Sarkisian Mardossian, even created a katah appetizer by sprinkling chopped basterma over the rolled-out dough, then shaping and cutting into small rolls to be served as part of a mezze.

Nancy married Sam Kazarian, an Air Force pilot, and they lived in Holland and Germany. When they returned stateside and settled in Sam‘s hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, she became a proficient Armenian cook and baker. Making chemen brought back fond memories of being in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother who, sadly, passed away while Nancy and Sam were overseas.

At almost 90 years of age, Nancy continues to make Armenian foods and baked goods, “As she was about to sail to America, my grandmother made a promise to her father-in-law that she would not lose touch with her Armenian customs and faith. She was determined to raise her children, grandchildren and all who came after with the knowledge of Armenian traditions and pride in their heritage, especially their religion.” Today, there are 87 young and old family members who remain close to each other and celebrate their Armenian culture instilled by Haiganoush Sarkisian.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Nancy and her cousin Dolly Matoian contributed many family recipes to St. John’s Armenian Church Women’s Guild’s cookbook, Armenian Cuisine: Preserving Our Heritage, including this recipe.

Basterma Katah, photo courtesy Dolly Matoian

Basterma Katah

By Nancy Kazarian and Dolly Matoian

Ingredients for the dough:

12 oz. whole milk

1/4 lb. butter, melted

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup warm water

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

5 – 6+ cups flour, enough for a medium dough

1 egg for egg wash

Sesame seeds


1/2 Ib. butter, melted

1 cup chemen (see recipe below)

8 oz. basterma, sliced thin and chopped


In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a mixer, combine the milk, water, melted butter, eggs, and oil. Meanwhile, combine yeast into warm water, and add ½ teaspoon sugar, mix to dissolve, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to proof, then add it to the liquid mixture.

Combine the baking powder, salt, and flour and add this little by little to the mixer ingredients. Knead the dough well, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour. When dough has proofed to slightly doubled in size and soft-to-the-touch, divide it into balls slightly larger than an orange or approximately 5 oz.

Roll out each ball to approximately 8” x 7” rectangle.  Add the filling ingredients in this order: brush the surface of the dough with melted butter, spread 2 tablespoons of chemen thinly over the butter, then sprinkle 1–2 tablespoons chopped pieces of basterma over the surface. Begin rolling from short end, as in a jelly roll, tucking ends under. Slice 1” thick and place on a parchment-lined tray. Using 2 fingers, press down on each roll so each is approximately 1/2” in height, and space them 1” apart on the tray.

Brush tops with egg wash and place in a preheated 375°F oven for about 10 minutes. Turn tray, reduce heat to 350°F and bake another 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.


3/4 cup ground fenugreek (bought in most Middle Eastern stores)

2 tablespoons kosher salt

3/4 cup paprika

2 tablespoons cumin (kimion)

1 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3-4 medium cloves of garlic, crushed

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water

Whisk all ingredients except garlic and water in a medium bowl. Add the crushed garlic to your taste. Begin adding water, a little at a time, to a wet consistency to spread. Store in a tight-fitting jar in the refrigerator or freezer.

Note: This mixture can be used in various geragoors (dinners) with spinach, lamb, etc., or in Armenian hamburgers, or even in pastry dough for mezze. It can be kept in a plastic bag or bottle in the freezer to be used as needed. This recipe may be doubled or tripled.

Women’s Guild of St. John Armenian Church:

Armenian Cuisine: Preserving Our Heritage Cookbook

Over 450 tested recipes from the Detroit metropolitan Armenian community, updated using modern techniques and equipment. Detailed description of cooking and baking methods including tips for preparation. The cookbook has a wipe-clean cover that lays flat when opened. This cookbook is made to last and will be a treasured addition to your collection. $35 with free shipping. To order, go to:

Pomegranate Apron

With 2 handy pockets and adjustable straps. Great for the kitchen, garage, or garden. $20 with free shipping.

Consider a donation to support the mission of the Women’s Guild of St. John Armenian Church. Women’s Guild strives to nurture fellowship and service to our Church and community through a variety of activities and events. Your funds will help us continue outreach activities in Armenia such as sponsoring orphans and supporting Mer Doon, which provides young women with a safe home and instructs them in life skills.

For information, contact:

Women’s Guild of St. John Armenian Church

22001 Northwestern Highway

Southfield, MI 48075

Tel: (248) 569-3405

Fax: (248) 569-0716


Also see:

Copyright © 2024 Women’s Guild of St. John Armenian Church.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: