My phone rang, and I almost missed the callÂ because my arms were buried to the elbows in a bowl of ground lamb.
My sister Parry was on the other end of the line, and I told herÂ I was making lahmajun, aÂ thin pizza-like dish made with lamb, onions, peppers, and tomato. Lahmajun was one of our favorite things to eat when we were kids, and we frequently begged our Nana to make them. Rolled up like skinny burritos, we’d easily scarf down three in one sitting.
Lately, I’ve been flipping through my Armenian recipes, looking for the most beloved foods of my youth. My Nana gave me her recipes to follow, but cooking her food is so much more than following the instructions. It’sÂ remembering, thinking back to how the dish looked and felt and smelled to me as a child. I channel my grandmother’s practiced way of spreading the topping, hear her voice telling me to makeÂ the meat layer thin. Even thinner than that, my hokhis.
The recipes are a connection between my sister and me, too, because we’ve shared tips and advice for making these traditional foods. We’ve both attempted choereg,Â the sweet bread rolls that were our favorite snack. Nana would make a big batch and put itÂ in the freezer. When I cameÂ home from school, I’d take theÂ bagÂ fromÂ the freezer, defrost one (or two or three) in the microwave, and eat it, plain, or with whatever IÂ wanted slathered inside. I preferred them with jelly, Parry with cheese.Â I remember Nana braiding the dough. Parry says she knotted it.
When my kids and I made choereg recently, my daughter and I had a good laughÂ at our dough-knotting incompetence. Between the mixing and the rising and the shapingÂ and the baking, it was a day-long adventure. AndÂ now we, too, have a big bag of choereg in our freezer.Â When my daughter comes home from school and defrosts her choereg (she takes hers with jelly), or when my kids have their first tastes of lahmajun, it makes me feel like I’ve done something good.
This food goes beyond sustenance.Â Cooking these dishes connects my kids and meÂ to ourÂ Armenian heritage, especially to my Nana, who even now cooks up yalanchi and boereg when the family gathers. I love the feeling that I am carrying on herÂ role, and sharing an important traditionÂ with my children.
I’m givingÂ themÂ something that theyÂ will remember.