Lula kabab (All photos courtesy https://dawnlajeunesse.com/blog/ or JustWriteIt.live)

Armenian Lula Kebab and the 9th Street Church: Memories from author Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

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TROY, N.Y.  — “Growing up in Troy with an Armenian father and a non-Armenian mother, boiled chicken and pilaf was a staple meal in our home,” writes author Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse. “My exposure to the world of Armenian food, cooking and cuisine really began at the annual church dinners and smorgasbords held at the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church on 9th Street. At these dinners, buttery Armenian pilaf was served with shish kebab and a fresh green salad. Juicy lula kebab was made with lamb, and to this day, I can still remember its distinctive smell and flavor every time I entered the church hall. Lula kebab (or lulu kabob or lule) is a key component in many Armenian diets. The recipe is usually a blend of ground lamb or beef (or all lamb in many cases), onions, seasonings and fresh herbs. It is cooked on skewers and often served with pilaf.”

Food editor and baking instructor Andrew Janjigian writes, “While Armenian grilled meats — or khorovats, which just means ‘grilled’ in Armenian—are most associated with the skewered chunks of meats called shish kebab, Armenians are equally enamored with ground or minced meat patties or on short wooden skewers on the grill. These grilled, spiced ground meat kebabs go by a few different names, depending upon how they are formed and grilled (the meat mixture and seasonings are essentially the same, whatever the shape). Lula or lule kebabs — lule means ‘rolled’—are formed into sausage-shaped logs (skewered or freeform) or into long, flat patties by pressing them onto special flat, sword-like skewers. But in New England, where I grew up, Armenians instead make ‘losh’ kebab, which are round, freeform patties exactly like hamburgers, except with more zing to them.”*

“Our church dinners often drew over 500 attendees at each event. Long buffet tables were laden with homemade Armenian appetizers (mezze), main dishes, desserts, breads, and sweet pastries (including paklava, gata, and bourma). Our gifted church ladies who were all excellent cooks often began cooking the week before, putting in full workdays while donating their time and efforts. Their extensive prep work was done entirely by hand – no food processors or modern devices were used in those days. ‘They really pulverize the vegetables,’ was the explanation always given. Everything had to be perfect for these church dinners,” adds Dawn.

“As the week progressed, the church ladies and men’s group worked together to create a cookbook’s worth of outstanding foods and desserts, including the mixing of the lula kebab ingredients on Friday, so it could marinate overnight before being wrapped on individual serving sticks. On Friday, the preparation of the church hall began, with the men coming forward to prepare the steam tables and arrange the dining tables and chairs. On Saturday morning, the meat was wrapped on sticks and handed off to the men who would handle the grilling. A devoted church member owned a large meat market in our town, and he often donated the lamb for these events. It was traditional for these men to cook the meat selections on the afternoon of the event, so all was fresh when served.

Author Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse All photos courtesy https://dawnlajeunesse.com/blog/ or JustWriteIt.live

“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 financial assistance. 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 a 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, and 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.”

“In 2019, I began writing about these Armenian immigrants 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 land developer converted the church building to apartments. Most of my blog posts have focused on what I’ve experienced on my way to writing an historical fiction about these early Armenians and the Evangelical Protestant church they built. At the closure of the last service, attendees gathered at the altar for a group photo followed by a COVID-friendly reception. A history table dating back to the earliest days and photos reminded all of the experiences and spiritual strength the church provided its members for over114 years. Our church was converted to apartments the following year. The familiar internal church structure is gone, but the exterior looks pretty much the same – in the end, the beloved United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church remains in its members’ hearts forever,” adds Dawn.

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“These dinners and the original lula kebab recipe died with the dedicated church ladies and loyal members who worked each year to make these events so successful. For the recipe below, I researched a similar recipe in The Art of Armenian Cooking (1971) by Rose Baboian. My recipe is based on my memories of the wonderful foods and tastes from our church. Making these lula kebab requires individual skewers for serving, unlike chunk meat shish which can be threaded onto long metal skewers. The traditional way to eat this dish is on the sticks, so they cannot be fragile enough to splinter and risk injury. Finding substantial shish sticks that didn’t break under the weight of the meat proved to be a challenge. A cousin found the substantial sticks available online. Look for sticks that are close to 1/4 inch in diameter.”

Members of the ladies guild prepare salad and fresh vegetables for the annual church dinners All photos courtesy https://dawnlajeunesse.com/blog/ or JustWriteIt.live

Ingredients:

2 pounds lean ground lamb, beef, pork or bison (Dawn uses lamb for this recipe)

4 tablespoons flour or oatmeal (or some of each)

4 tablespoons tomato paste

4 tablespoons finely chopped onions

1/2-1 teaspoon allspice

1/4-1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/2-1 teaspoon garlic (ground or fresh, finely chopped)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1-2 teaspoons salt

Note: Dawn adds 3-4 tablespoons (or more) of finely chopped red and green pepper and chopped parsley to stretch the meat and add more color and texture. Serves 4-6.

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours.

Bring meat to room temperature and wrap on butcher sticks (about 1/4 inch in diameter and 6-8 inches long is best). Cook over charcoal (best), on a gas grill, or in the oven, turning until kebabs are browned on all sides. Serve with Armenian rice or bulgur pilaf.

“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 Barnes & Noble in multiple formats. My work-in-progress is a historical fiction about the Armenians who settled in Troy, NY in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” To order, go to Amazon and search Dawn Lajeunesse. For her blog, go to JustWriteIt.live

https://justwriteit.live/2021/04/05/the-miracle-photo/

https://justwriteit.live/2020/03/02/birth-of-an-armenian-american-community/

https://justwriteit.live/2020/05/13/birth-of-an-armenian-american-community-2/

*https://www.seriouseats.com/losh-kebabs-armenian-grilled-meat-patties-7091816

©2024 DAWN LAJEUNESSE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

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