Summer is in full swing, but something is missing. Absent for so many Armenian families during this pandemic summer is the traditional Armenian picnic. It is central to Armenian culture, where we gather with family and friends, grilling and breaking bread together, having mezze (appetizers) and kebab alongside our fellow Armenian brothers and sisters. The air is filled with the aroma of fresh kebab cooking on the grill and the sounds of traditional Armenian music from our ancestral villages. Armenians dancing in snake like lines, interlocking their pinky fingers and waving handkerchiefs in the air to an up-tempo beat is what has been missing. We used to congregate either on church grounds, public picnic grounds or maybe even Armenian campgrounds. Armenian picnics are a national Armenian pastime in the summer months. There is no way around it, and it has been sorely missed this year.
Sadly, for many churches and Armenian organizations, it is also a fundraising opportunity (weather permitting). This loss has been great for the diaspora both morally and financially. If you can, maybe think about sending along a little contribution to your churches and Armenian organizations whose picnics you have supported in the past for that kebab or losh you won’t be buying this year to assist in the financial losses they will be facing. If everyone chips in $20 for the meal that was never served, it will assist the hardship many churches and organizations are feeling today. Good news for those in Watertown, MA. St. Stephen’s Armenian Church is hosting a Picnic To-Go. Place your orders by August 10!
This brings me to our Dandeegeen Diaries column topic, kebab. I will be very honest; I rarely make kebab here in Boston as there are ample picnics in the area to fill the void. There are four picnics at Camp Haiastan alone, in Franklin, MA; the AYF, Camp Haiastan, Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church of Providence and the St. Stephen’s Armenian Church of Watertown, MA all host their summer gatherings on 722 Summer Street. There’s also our Café Anoush every Thursday night at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center in Watertown, MA, not to mention numerous other church and Armenian organization picnics just in the Greater Boston area. With all those options, who needs to make kebab? Not me! I benefited from all the “khorovadz” prepared in the area all summer, never having to make it. By September, no one in the house wants kebab anymore until next summer, so I was off the hook. But this year, the jig was up. I had to commit and take the plunge. It was time, and I gladly joined the ranks.
Once again, I reached for my St. Stephen’s Church Cookbook. I figured I could easily replicate the recipe at home as I had spent countless hours marinating and prepping kebab/losh meat for decades in preparation for church picnics and bazaars, plus Camp Haiastan picnics. We did it as a group. Who knew you could have so much fun whipping up dinner for 2,000 people? Making kebab for six is much different. And for the record, there is not one way to make kebab. Follow your family recipes or use the one provided below, but try out several to see what your family likes best.
8-10 pounds of leg of lamb
½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. black pepper
2-3 onions, cut into eighths
2-3 tbsp. rosemary (Left this out)
1 cup red wine (preferably burgundy)
6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
Cut the lamb into one inch cubes and put into a large stainless steel bowl. Work the onions and garlic into the meat by hand and add remaining ingredients. Thoroughly mix the meat and marinade by hand until all the meat is evenly covered with marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Skewer the meat, packing the cubes against each other, but do not pack tightly. If possible add some onion and veggies to the skewered meat. Prepare your barbecue grill and wait for it to get very hot. Grill the meat, turning occasionally, until the meat has a nice golden brown color to it. Be sure to cook the meat on each side. Serve immediately. An eight to ten pound lamb leg should yield about six to seven pounds of usable meat, which is enough for eight people.
I highly recommend purchasing the leg of lamb from a meat market and ask the butcher to debone the leg and cube it for you. Well worth the money. I did, though I am sure Dandeegeens of the old days did it themselves. I will not deceive you; I ordered my lamb from McKinnon’s Butcher Shop in Somerville, MA. They did all the work. I just marinated it.
One trick I learned from my late mother-in-law when removing the kebab from the grill is to be sure to place the juicy cooked kebab on a tray that is lined with Syrian bread on the bottom. It absorbs all those juices and you get a great piece of flavorful bread to eat with your meal. She also took the onions used for the marinade and cooked them in foil to serve with the kebab. Dandeegeens don’t waste a thing when it comes to leftover ingredients. We enjoyed a nice kebab dinner with grilled veggies, bulgur pilaf and salad. It was delicious. I surprised myself. The kebab was made with love; it can’t get much better than that.