Dandeegeen Diaries—Chapter 7: Village Favorites

Our cooking family is growing, and I am thrilled to be sharing these cooking adventures of budding Dandeegeens in this column to offer an opportunity to document their journey. This week, I have the pleasure of sharing the cooking talents of Lusine Hagopian Baghsarian. I had the good fortune of meeting Lusine at Camp Haiastan; my daughter Nairi was her daughter Vana’s Armenian School teacher. We forged a wonderful friendship over the years as our daughters’ bond grew at Camp. I have been enjoying her cooking talents on Facebook. Her training wheels were off a while ago. She is a pro. She has made homemade lavash, sweet soujoukh/rojik, organic yogurt, ajarakan khachapuri, creme brulee, chicken salsa verde and other delectable dishes. She is an official Dandeegeen! No question.

Many of us are fortunate to be able to share stories of growing up with our mother’s traditional Armenian cooking, or maybe for some, our grandmother’s. I was blessed to have both in my life.  

My grandmother Mariam was influenced by traditional dishes from her village in Kharpert (Ottoman Empire) and Aleppo, Syria where she lived after escaping during the Armenian Genocide. My mother’s cooking was influenced by her mother’s village of Kessab (a mostly Armenian-populated town in northwestern Syria) and their Soviet Armenian kitchen. Needless to say, my taste buds were exposed to a range of traditional flavors. 

As a child living in Yerevan during the 70s, I remember my grandmother would always be hustling during the summer and fall months preparing a host of foods to stockpile for the coming winter months. These included jarred tomato/pepper sauce, toorshi (pickled vegetables), spiced roasted red peppers, dried fruits, compotes, soujoukh and basturma. My grandmother was a master in the kitchen, skillfully preparing all kinds of dishes including her infamous pakhlava with her handmade paper-thin filo dough! 

My mom, on the other hand, enjoyed bringing her fresh ideas and creativity into the kitchen. She loved trying new recipes and adding her favorite flavors to dishes. She is considered the master baker in the family. To this day, she makes homemade birthday cakes and decorates them for me and my sister.

Now I am a mom of three teenagers who are always busy at school and involved in many extracurricular activities. On top of that, I have a full-time job and many other commitments. I am sure many of you can relate. Life is a rat race, juggling time, responsibilities and commitments not leaving much time to do anything else. In mid-March, that rat race came to a complete halt for many around the world and left us in shock of what to do. 

Most of us are attempting to figure out the new norm: concerned for the safety of loved ones, perhaps juggling remote work, worrying about economic instability or struggling with home-schooling, all while trying to maintain some sort of daily routine to create a protective, positive environment for our families. As if by instinct, I mentally returned to my roots and my happy place of being in the kitchen. Being there takes me back to warm childhood memories with my grandmother and mom, cooking, baking, talking and singing while skillfully preparing all sorts of tasty meals and treats. I wanted to create that positive energy and cozy memory for my kids to carry them through this crisis and teach them how to take on challenges with the right mindset.

Since this crisis began, I have immersed myself in the kitchen while pulling the kids into my mental happy place. Now that we are home with so much time on our hands, why not focus on making all those time-consuming ethnic dishes or expand our kitchen skills to try new recipes that we never had the time for before?

I compiled a family menu based on everyone’s feedback of what their favorites are, while adding my personal favorites to the list of course. To make this experience lively, I had a variety of playlists queued up. In my opinion, listening to music while working in the kitchen is a necessity. It creates a joyful atmosphere and makes the food taste even better. I think this has been subconsciously embedded in my mind because I would watch my grandmother and mom sing while cooking and baking.  

Most importantly, I have been gratified to have my kids in the kitchen with me as they learn valuable skills and develop sibling teamwork that they will hopefully always use. We talk, have fun and connect while passing on traditions (perhaps having an accident or two). I have also taken this time to share stories from my childhood and tell them stories about their family roots. These priceless moments are what I savor the most while creating a positive mindset and a life lesson on how to manage challenging times.

The top dish that I’m personally proud of making together is the well-known pakhlava. We are continuing to perfect this dessert as a tribute to my grandmother Mariam. It will never compare to her masterpiece of course, but she is always in my heart and thoughts while we make it.  

We also learned how to make lavash and rojik. I have to confess that they are both surprisingly easy to make. Lavash has a few simple ingredients—yeast, salt, flour and water. Let it rise twice, thinly roll it out, and throw it on a griddle. That’s it! The kids loved it!

Rojik, while simple to make, is a bit more time consuming since the walnuts have to be strung on thread. Once the walnuts are strung, make the dipping sauce. The sauce consists of grape juice (or your favorite fruit juice), grape molasses, a few spices, flour and cornstarch. Let the juice boil until thickened. Allow it to cool, and then start dipping the walnut strings. My daughter had a lot of fun dipping! Let them hang on a stick for a few days and voila! Fresh, tasty rojik (or as it’s also known…sweet soujoukh)! 

Lastly, there’s my favorite childhood dessert that my mom and aunt used to make in Armenia—Trchooni Gaht known as ptichye moloko in Russian, or Bird’s Milk cake. Those who have tasted this know how delicious it is. In my opinion, this dish requires some time to prepare, depending on your baking skills. Many steps are involved in making the dough, cream filling and chocolate glaze. If your desire is there, then you’re unstoppable.

I hope that my personal story inspires you to step outside your comfort zone to try a new recipe or revive old ones in these challenging times. Take this time of lockdown as an opportunity to value what is given to us and create little moments in life that fulfill your soul, instill life lessons and memories for your family, all while contributing to the greater good and safety of society.  

Lusine Baghsarian

Lusine Baghsarian

Born in Yerevan, Armenia, Lusine immigrated to the US in the early 80s with her family. She graduated from Assumption College with a Bachelor's degree in Marketing. She held positions in the marketing field after graduating college and participated in the Sayat Nova Dance Company for six years. As a full-time mom, she volunteered at her children's elementary school and supported various Armenian organizations. She was also a children's Armenian dance instructor for St. James Armenian School of Watertown and Soorp Asdvadzadzin Church of Whitinsville. She is currently the executive assistant for the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Lusine lives in Ashland, MA with her husband Armen and her children Jivan, Aram and Vana.
Lusine Baghsarian

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Heather Krafian

Heather Krafian

Heather Apigian Krafian was born in Detroit, Michigan and was one of the founding students of A.G.B.U. Alex Manoogian School in 1969. She graduated Michigan State University in 1988 with a bachelor’s in International Relations and cognate studies in German and Russian. She holds a master’s in Early Childhood Education from Lesley University. As an ANCA intern, Heather worked for the Minority Rights Group in London under Ben Whittaker. She’s also worked at Zoryan Institute as its Armenian Studies Coordinator. She began her career in education in 1990 after which she became the assistant principal of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School from 2006 to 2008; she currently serves on its Education Committee. She has also served on the Board of Trustees at St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church. Heather is a member of the ARS Cambridge “Shushi” Chapter and a member of the ARS Eastern Region Board of Directors. Heather was the 2010 recipient of the Knights of Vartan “Community Leader” Award and the 2015 recipient of the Eastern Prelacy’s Certificate of Merit. She is married to Ara Krafian; they live in Belmont, MA with their four daughters Araxi, Nairi, Anoush and Knar.

1 Comment

  1. Lusine, you have convinced me of how much fun it is to step outside our comfort zone–even when we’ve had that comfort zone for many, many, many years! Our mothers’ Armenian recipes will always be with us, but it’s still a fun challenge to try to prepare something we’ve perhaps never tried before! l love trying new recipes or inventing another way to add to an old recipe! Many years ago, I made lavash, but life became so busy that I never prepared it again…but now I have put it on my “to do again ” list! I have NEVER made Rojik, but I have been swayed by your description and photos, and I have decided to try it for the first time in my older age! Thanks!

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