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The Making of ‘Jingalov Hats’

Special for the Armenian Weekly

After finally receiving my 10-year residency card in Armenia, I knew the best way to celebrate would be to travel to Arstakh (Karabagh) without—finally!—needing a visa. Although I was one of the few people who still had to get out of the mashootka to prove I had it at the border, it still felt like a small victory.

The author helping prepare jingalov hats

The author helping prepare jingalov hats

I had farmers to meet, fields to visit, people to interview, and had asked our wonderful host family of Saro and Hasmik if they could organize one additional activity for me: a lesson on how to make the legendary jingalov hats.

For those who have never tried it, jingalov hats is a Karabaghtsi specialty. It’s a flat bread filled with more greens than you can count. I tried it on my first trip to Artsakh after happily discovering it was vegan, and its unique flavor piqued my curiosity right away. When I began asking about it, the information I received varied depending on who I asked; the general consensus, though, was that there are more than 40 wild herbs in it. This would have explained why I couldn’t put my finger on what the myriad of flavors was, but I knew by that point to always take such comments with a grain of salt. I tried jingalov hats from various places in Yerevan when I returned, even though I was warned not to, and of course the advisories were correct: horribly bland imitations with salt and oil as the main ingredients were what was available in most shops. The information I found online about it was very vague and often not true.

Hasmik said we would prepare it together the second night I was there, and that I could collect the herbs with her. On the first day I arrived in Shushi, I went to a small café with my German friend Monika and while we waited for our host family to finish work to meet them, she ordered a coffee and I ordered a tea. What we received instead were two servings of jingalov hats and a jug of red wine. A worker there had decided that would be best for us, and insisted that it was a rule that one could not eat jingalov hats without a fine red wine.

We laughed and dug into what was a very delicious and unexpected meal coupled with a surprisingly good wine, while he confused us with his Karabaghtsi dialect. I noticed one of the women in the kitchen had come back inside with a huge bowl filled with various greens she had clearly just picked. I bombarded her with questions and got the names of just some of the various herbs involved (once they were translated from Russian, of course). Right away I understood that this is a recipe-less dish.

When we finally arrived at Saro and Hasmik’s home, full and a little tipsy, Hasmik said she had already collected the herbs and showed them to me. I asked her about the rumor I had heard of the 40-plus greens and she laughed, saying that it can be more than 20 depending on the season, but it is usually between 15 and 20 different herbs, which I still thought was impressive. She said spring and fall were the best times to make it, as during any other time the greens tend to be too bitter. I was very happy to recognize stinging nettle featured in the greens used; it is a plant commonly treated as a weed, but is actually an adaptogen high in iron. I tried to get more names of the herbs that I did not recognize, but Hasmik had to remind me that there was no specific recipe one had to follow. Still, she had rules about what herbs did not go in. Thyme apparently does not make the cut, for example. Just as I was getting used to the no-rule mentality, I realized there were indeed some rules.

Jingalov hats remains an enigmatic dish that you must come to Artsakh to discover for yourself.

Jingalov hats remains an enigmatic dish that you must come to Artsakh to discover for yourself.

 

Hasmik learned how to make jingalov hats from watching her mother, and told me she was no professional. Still, she had lots of information and mentioned that it was created during difficult times with the mentality that “Karabaghstin sovadz chi mnoum” (the people of Karabakh do not remain hungry), noting the strong will and determination of the people. She said that was why it was more often translated as “forest bread,” as the idea was for people to eat whatever they could find in order to survive.

Saro recalled reading how under the reign of Louis XIII, peasants complained that they were hungry, to which Louis XIII responded, “Go into the forest.” During the war, the people of Artsakh made the first vegetarian broth of local wild greens, which, Saro shared, was better than any khash he had ever tasted, by gathering greens from the forest. This idea of gathering greens from the forest during difficult times is the same principle that is behind jingalov hats. Saro shared that it was through the story of jingalov hats and the vegetarian khash that he finally understood what Louis XIII had meant. It seems that Hasmik was right—“Karabaghtsin sovatdz chi mnoum.”

After a busy second day, we came home covered in mud and Hasmik said it was time to get started. The first thing she told me was that although some people use a lot of salt in their versions, she believed that greens do not like salt since it removes their water, and therefore used very little. Saro overheard this and said that a lot of salt was tastier. Hasmik politely asked him to leave the kitchen and do dghamartgants work. She cut up all the greens quicker than I would ever think possible, and Monika and I asked how many servings it would make. She told us “we’ll see,” reminding us that it was a recipe-less dish. She rolled the dough flat and put in generous amounts of the cut-up greens mixed with some salt, oil, and pepper, and closed it up.

While it looked simple enough, the moment it was my turn to put theory into practice, I could not even roll the dough thin enough, let alone close it without creating holes. I finally patched it up to meet the minimum standard, and while Hasmik assured me it was not the appearance that mattered, Saro asked me if I had ever cooked before. My confidence was re-gained once Monika (who bakes constantly, I might add) had her try. Hers was so bad that Hasmik made her re-do it and jokingly told her that she would get a 2/10 as a student and I confirmed with her that mine was in fact better. Victory number two.

We cooked them all on the saj pan until the dough was crispy, but it was important that the greens still remained fresh and crunchy. Right before we sat down to finally eat the fruits of our labor, Saro pulled out a wine and reiterated the apparently common knowledge of jingalov hats having to be coupled with a good red wine. Needless to say, as it was the freshest I had ever eaten it, it was the best one yet, and even Monika’s fish-shaped one was a hit (with her). When Saro asked if we would now make it ourselves, I had to remind him that it was a recipe-less dish, since people work with the greens available at the time, add the salt and oil to their liking, and no one has a full list of the greens usually used, just of the ones that shouldn’t be used.

I planned to return to Yerevan with a detailed recipe. But even though I watched it being made, asked as many questions as could be acceptable in a hot kitchen with too many people, and made it myself, jingalov hats remains an enigmatic dish that you must come to Artsakh to discover for yourself. I can live with that!

7 Comments on The Making of ‘Jingalov Hats’

  1. avatar Anita Nazarian // March 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm // Reply

    I would love to see how this is made so I can do it to.

  2. avatar Carolann Najarian // March 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm // Reply

    My favorite all time — healthy — delicious food! Jingalov Hatz. I actually came up with a version here in the U.S. as I’ve missed that wonderful hatz so much. I use one of the sofe roll up breads from the market, and then cook all the bitter greens I can find with parsley and onions in some butter — and roll it up. It isn’t Jangalov Hatz — it doesn’t have the mountain air, or the smell of the mountains or the wild flowers, nor the love of the women of Arstakh who pick the greens and make this delicious traditional food of ARstakh.

  3. avatar Carolann Najarian // March 28, 2014 at 3:04 pm // Reply

    I didn’t quite finish that post. I meant ‘soft’ roll up breads. I wanted to finish up by saying — but it does remind me of it and I love eating it.

  4. avatar Vicki Krikorian // March 28, 2014 at 7:09 pm // Reply

    I was in Yerevan and Artsakh last summer. I never knew about this bread and never saw it on the menus. I can’t wait to go back and have some. After all, we include some kind of bread with all our meals as Armenians, what better bread than with fresh greens !!!

  5. Your sweet article is causing my eyes to well up with melancholy. I am remembering my Hayastansi father’s love of his garden greens, and the joy he and his ‘DP’ friends had eating fresh lavash (whatever could be obtained in the States) filled with fresh herbs and washed down with a glass of tahn or the occasional beer. Such a simple pleasure served as a conduit for hours of joking, playing nardee, and discussing Hai Tahd or great Armenian writers. Thanks for evoking these precious memories and I wish you many years of memory-making in Armenia.

  6. I love jingalov hats but I want to know the greens that they use in bread

  7. Was wondering what are the greens in tha hatz

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