Armenia is in the center of the Caucasus mountains of western Asia, and its people have a culture and cuisine closely related to its historic neighbors Turkey, Arabia, and Persia. Importantly, the spread of Islam throughout the region did not take in Armenia like in some other places, and as a result Armenia is one of the few countries in the region that has a place for pork at the national table, like in the famous grilled meat dish khorovadz (recipe follows). Other key products of the Armenian kitchen are pilafs (of either rice or bulgur), flatbreads, fresh or dried fruits, walnuts, and stuffed and rolled vegetable leaves like grape, radish, cabbage, or chard.
Armenia quick facts:
- Capital: Yerevan
- Population: 3,262,200 (2010 estimate)
- Notable Armenians: Gary Kasparov, Armen Tanzarian
If there is one food you can’t avoid in Armenia or in the areas to which Armenians have emigrated it’s khorovadz, skewered, simply seasoned meats grilled over wood coals. The meat is typically cut into about two-inch pieces or left on the bone. Popular with both street vendors and the home cook, if we get just one chance to make Armenian food for the World Cup of Food, we knew we had to make khorovadz.
Not having a proper grill in our apartment, and in the spirit of adventure, most of this dish was prepared over a wood fire at Priest Point Park in Olympia, Washington. Priest Point Park is a wooded park with a beach and ample picnic areas with barbecues. There was even fresh, running water available.
Khorovadz Khozi Miss
(adapted from The Cuisine of Armenia by Sonia Uvezian)
- 3 3/4″ pork loin chops, boned and cut into about 2″ pieces
- salt and pepper
- 4 green onions, cut into 1/2″ pieces
- Spiced apricots (recipe follows)
- Pomegranate syrup (recipe follows)
Before leaving for the park, we got as much ready as we could, not wanting to have to do any cutting or prepping of any kind on site if possible. First, we skewered the pork:
We thought we had a fourth skewer, but we couldn’t find it. In a perfect world, two skewers per pork set would prevent the meat from pivoting on a single skewer when it is turned over on the grill. As it turned out, our flat-profile skewers did not have that problem and the meat held in place just fine.
We then cut the green onions and packed them away, and that was it for prep in our kitchen, aside from the spiced apricots and pomegranate syrup. The meat was packed for travel along with all the supplies we would need at the park.
Once at the park, we foraged for firewood, breaking longer pieces as needed to fit into the park barbecues, and got the fire started:
We built the fire on top of the barbecue grate set at its lowest height. Our thinking was that we would be able to place the skewers diagonally across the two back corners of the barbecue to cook once the fire had burned down to coals. Unfortunately, a lot of the smaller coals fell through the cracks by that time, so the grate was raised, the larger coals placed VERY carefully with tongs below. The fire was very hot and Chris was lucky to escape with all his arm hair intact during that process, but we managed to get all the coals reset below the grate, which was then lowered just above the coals:
Also, the grill grate handles were extremely hot from the fire. Bring kitchen towels if you try this on your own!
Next the chops were seasoned:
…and immediately placed on the grill, trying to place them over what looked like the hottest spot of the coals:
After about five minutes they were ready to flip:
At this point we began basting the meat with the pomegranate syrup, and repeating every time the skewers were flipped thereafter. A brush would have been ideal for this step. We had a fork. We made it work.
The skewers were flipped and rotated a few more times to try to get them to cook as evenly as possible. A wood fire’s coals lose heat very quickly at this stage, so in future attempts we would flip the first time as soon as they were done enough to come cleanly off the grill, maybe three minutes or so, so that the other side could take advantage of as much heat as possible. You live, you learn.
After about fifteen minutes the chops were cooked through and removed from the grill:
They were left to rest for about five minutes while we reheated the accompanying rice pilaf on the remaining coals:
To serve, the pork was topped with what remained of the pomegranate syrup and the green onion, then plated with the rice pilaf and spiced apricots:
It almost seemed too easy, but this Armenian dinner was fantastic. Chris relishes the opportunity to make fire outside, so we’re sure that had something to do with it. There was something to be said for the food itself, though. Grilled, charred pork goes perfectly with tart, fruity pomegranate and apricots, and the green onions offered a crunchy, fresh texture. Especially considering we had no extra pots and pans to wash, this meal was a success.
(adapted from The Cuisine of Armenia)
- 1 cup pomegranate juice (available in the refrigerated juice section at the supermarket)
Put the juice in a saucepan over medium heat:
Simmer until reduced by about two-thirds. Done.
(adapted from Taste of Home)
- 1 can apricot halves in heavy syrup
- 1/4 tsp allspice powder
- 2 cloves
- 2 inches cinnamon stick
We drained the apricots, reserving the syrup. The syrup and spices were put into a saucepan over medium-low heat:
The syrup was brought to a simmer and kept there for fifteen minutes to allow the spices to release their flavors into the liquid. Next the apricots were re-introduced:
The pan was taken off the heat for another fifteen minutes, then packed into a jar.
More from our Armenian meal:
Telahaysov printzi yegzhintz, Armenian rice pilaf with vermicelli