Confession: I’m a terrible cook.
Actually, that’s an understatement. I’m abysmally awful at cooking. I have seven dinners that I can make with consistent success that don’t involve help from the Hamburger Helper hand.
But that doesn’t stop me from poring over #foodstagram posts or oohing and ahhing over master chef creations. I also love to buy cookbooks. For Christmas, I bought my dad The Armenian Cookbook.
My father’s grandparents fled their small town in Armenia during the genocide. They left much behind when they escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. Friends. Family. Careers.
One thing they brought along: generations-old recipes, shared by oral tradition.
These old favorites brought much comfort as they worked to forge a new beginning in the shadow of loss. My father speaks with such fondness over the dolma, kiufta and lavash that his grandmother prepared. I think his joy in these foods brought my grandmother peace and happiness.
I think a lot about my Armenian ancestors. When I was a kid, my dad would watch the credits at the end of every movie, seeking out Armenian surnames, telling me about a Grigoryan he played pool with in high school or a Terzian who had a crush on his sister. He’d also tell me stories of his grandparents’ last days in Armenia and escape to America. How grandfather was chased through the trees during a round up of Armenians. How his grandparents huddled in fear on the boat to America. How, once in the New World, his grandfather changed his name from Absalom to George in an attempt to get work in an environment not overly friendly to those with “foreign-sounding” names.
PROTOCOL was for Zartar, my father’s kiufta-making grandmother.
39 WINKS was for Levon, my grandfather, who believed not just in the American dream but his own as he pursued college and then a career in medicine.
This book of recipes was for my father, in hopes that the foods he prepared would keep him connected to his childhood, his memories, and the legacy of a people who continue to endure.
Who knows…I may even try to prepare a few dishes. With enough luck, I’ll be on my way to ten recipes made successfully.
Do you have special ancestral food? Dishes that connect you to your family? Main courses and treats that conjure up memories? I’d love to know.
Oh, and here’s something you’ll rarely see me do: share a recipe (simply because I don’t have many worth sharing!) I hope you enjoy.
Cheese Borags (a.k.a. Boerags a.k.a. Beregs)
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (Muenster cheese can also be used)
One 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg, slightly beaten
One 1 lb. pkg. phyllo dough, thawed
Melted butter, about 1/2 stick
1. In a bowl, combine the Monterey Jack, ricotta, and feta cheeses with the beaten egg, blending well.
2. Set aside.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before using.
Once phyllo dough is exposed to air, it dries out very quickly and is impossible to use. Be sure to have plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep the dough pliable.
Folding the borags:
1. Cut the phyllo dough in half, lengthwise. Use one half sheet for each borag. Cover the other sheets first with plastic wrap, then the damp towel, while folding each borag.
2. Fold each half sheet in half lengthwise. Brush surface with melted butter.
3. For each borag, place a spoonful of filling at the end of the folded dough that’s closest to you. Begin folding, as though you were folding a flag: on the diagonal from corner to corner, creating a triangular shape. If there is extra dough at the top, just trim it off or tuck it under.
4. Continue to do this until you run out of filling or dough.
5. Keep the folded borags covered with plastic wrap.
NOTE: At this point, you can prepare the borags for freezing by placing them in a plastic container large enough to hold the amount you are preparing, making sure you use plastic wrap or waxed paper between each stacked layer to prevent the borags from sticking together. Cover tightly with the lid, label, date, & freeze.
1. Melt about ½ stick of butter.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Brush the top of each borag with melted butter.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Return leftover dough to its original wrapper, seal it tightly, and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.