Say Yes! to ‘Keghetzi Seroun’

This is a story about what an Armenian mother will do for her son. Nothing is impossible. Ask and you shall receive. And the reply I got when I asked my first-born son what Armenian food he really loves? “That soup made with yogurt.”

“Do you mean tutmaj abour?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s the one. You made it with seashell pasta, chickpeas, garlic, and I think mint. You said it was also Grandpa Mac’s [Apigian] favorite.”

“The other thing I loved was that dish you and Grandma Takouhie made with a lot of layers of lavash hatz, melted butter, and tahn.

“You mean Keghetzi seroun,” I asked.

He smiled and rubbed his hands together in acknowledgement and in anticipation of pleasing his palate and satisfying the hole in his tummy.

We’ve all heard the term “golden Armenian son” in reference to the royal treatment being given to sons born to parents of Armenian heritage. I am here to say that slogan is still a truism that carries a lot of weight.

Gathering ingredients for tutmaj abour was not a problem. Plain yogurt, chicken broth, etc., is easily found in supermarkets. But where was I going to get lavash hatz, the round, supple, thin bread needed to make Keghetzi seroun? That was one Armenian food item I had never attempted to make.

Phone calls to Armenian churches and to known women who bake katah, choreg, and lamahjoun for sale as a home-based business came up flat.

I never give up a challenge. With my hand under my chin I began to think hard, “What do I do about finding a suitable substitute for traditional lavash to make aromatic, garlicky Keghetzi seroun for my son?”

I explored the supermarket bread racks searching for a suitable flat, thin bread. Finally I hit pay dirt in Cheboygan, a city about half an hour from the “Big Mack” bridge no less. This is not what you call Middle Eastern inhabited territory. I came upon a rectangular, flat, thin bread made in Lawrence, Mass., four pieces to a package. I selected two and crossed my fingers. All I could do was experiment. My son had a taste for seroun and it was my goal to please his taste buds before he returned home down state.

On Labor Day weekend, my son, the avid fisherman, arrived at his cottage on Mullett Lake in Indian River. He dipped the soup ladle into the tutmaj abour. Mmm. He is the big, strong, silent type but his satisfaction for the soup was apparent by the scant remainder in the bottom of the pan. The soup was a success.

I gathered the utensils and ingredients for the seroun. I buttered the 9×13 glass baking dish and saucepan, another with the warm yogurt slightly thinned with water, added a little salt, and two mashed garlic cloves.

I began layering the bread in the baking dish, generously brushing butter thoroughly on the surface. The next layer was the warm tahn, which is the yogurt sauce mixture, alternating each layer ending with the top tahn layer. It looked great and the aroma was wonderful reminding me of seroun’s from the lovely past. I sliced it into serving pieces, drizzled a little more tahn on top and the remaining butter. I was satisfied with how it looked. I baked it for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. And voila!

The cottage was filled with the delicious fragrance of authentic Keghetzi seroun; it was just like being back in Keghi in Historic Armenia. For me, recreating authentic Armenian recipes connects me to the homeland of my ancestors and my Grandmother Serpouhie’s kitchen. I never had the benefit of knowing her and readers acquainted with the Armenian Genocide know that hideous history when Armenians were slaughtered and exiled from their homeland.

I have seen pictures of Armenian village women sitting on the ground baking dozens of lavash hatz. One woman would be rolling open the circles (koontz) while another would be baking each hatz (bread) on the tonir (fire pit) in front of her. This was part of everyday life in Keghi.

I envy the yergir (Old Country) women for their dedication to tradition and family. We must remember that they passed on the art of cooking to the survivors, who in turn gifted all those fabulous recipes to us. How fortunate we are. I had no such ordeal to go through. It was all just too easy to make the tray of seroun. For my son, it brought back happy memories of Grandma Takouhie’s kitchen and happy family gatherings celebrated around a banquet table abundant with Armenian food. Those are now faded memories.

Our family has unfortunately shrunk and no one takes the initiative to gather the clan together. I’ve always done my share and now I am resting on my laurels, fulfilling special requests only.

These centuries-old Armenian recipes have an important place in our culture and our homes, and though the alarm has been sounded about healthy eating and cholesterol has reared its ugly head, the occasional indulgence in buttery Keghetzi seroun and of course pagharch (about which I have written several times) makes life worthwhile, connecting us to our heritage.

The fisherman cuts into the tray of hot, buttery seroun and for a while standby pizza becomes a passing fancy.

My roots are in Tzerman, Keghi, in Historic Armenia and that is where my spiritual being will travel when the silver cord is cut. Then I will sit on the ground in front of the tonir fire pit and bake lavash happily to my heart’s desire.

Magic moments like Armenian village music and dance, and baking lavash hatz in my native village of Tzerman, may exist only in my mind, but it does exist because my parents, who were exiled from their ancient homeland, instilled many traditions in their children.

I have often wondered what nationality I would choose for myself given the opportunity: French, Irish, Spanish, Jewish? The answer remains the same: Armenian. Armenian American I shall remain.

I made a phone call to Joseph’s bakery in Lawrence, 24 miles north of Watertown, and spoke to Joe Ganem, one of the owners. He told me the history of the bakery, and because of the bakery’s location, I had a feeling an Armenian was involved and I was right. Joe Ganem went to Tufts University and became an attorney. He is of Lebanese and French ancestry. He and Joseph Boghosian, who dropped the “-ian” from his name to become just Boghos, together started the bakery. Joseph Boghos came from Damascus, Syria, in 1950 and together with Joe Ganem started the bakery. Ten years ago, Mr. Boghos drowned and his grandchildren took his place in the bakery. Joe Ganem left his law practice to help run the bakery. The bakery has 250 employees. And the bread, which among other things contains flax, oat bran, and whole-wheat flour, is distributed in many parts of the United States, including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Walmart in Michigan—and perhaps soon to be in Meijers, another major Michigan based supermarket chain.

What an interesting discovery because of my odyssey to find lavash to bake Keghetzi seroun for my son. For me it seems one thing always leads to something Armenian. And that’s a good thing.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”


  1. I loved this article. I can smell the seroun from here. Sure miss the old days with all of the delicious Armenian geragours all made with loving hands. What wonderful memories.

  2. Thank you for your article on Tutmaj & Lavash Hatz! I fondly remember when I was a young girl, all the old Armenian ladies making & serving lavash hatz at their home, with all the trimmings….kalamata olives, feta cheese, brick cheese, garden fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and whatever else they may have put on the table, for you to nosh on! It’s such a wonderful memory of mine that I’ll never forget I myself love tutmaj & have made it myself but, not in a very long time. I now have the urge to make some, soon! I love it…!

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