Kathleen Valenti / Post

Food for the Soul

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 this little guy:

hh guy

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 this beauty for my dad.

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.

levon

My father’s father, Levon Melkonian

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.

xoxo

Cheese Borags (a.k.a. Boerags a.k.a. Beregs)

Ingredients:
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

Filling:

1. In a bowl, combine the Monterey Jack, ricotta, and feta cheeses with the beaten egg, blending well.
2. Set aside.

Phyllo dough:

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.

Baking:

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.

41 thoughts on “Food for the Soul

  1. It’s hard for me to imagine what your family must have been through, having to give up everything in order to survive. I love that they passed on their food traditions and stories with you though. Now if only you had inherited the family’s cooking gene!

    Liked by 6 people

  2. What a wonderful story!
    But hey, if cooking isn’t your forte, it’s not!
    Me, I love to cook. Any style of cuisine. Although I have determined I do not like Ethiopian or Indian. Just not in my tastebuds.
    My heritage of cooking? German food, specifically PA Dutch. So really boring stuff.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Kathleen, such an amazing story, my grandparents on both sides immigrated from The Netherlands several years after WWII and shared stories of their fight for survival, eating tulip bulbs and sugar beets to survive. I think we tend to forget those rough foodless days with the amount of waste that happens nowadays.
    Like your family, our family also had family favourites that they loved and enjoyed in better times before the war era. Boerenkool is Kale and mashed potatoes served with smoked sausages or large meatballs and nice thick gravy. It was inexpensive to make since you grew your own kale and potatoes and the meat was a treat you may enjoy if this was served on a Sunday. This was a heavy meal (stick to your ribs meal) that would help you make it through the long cold winter nights. I still grow my own kale and freeze it and serve it a lot during the winter months.

    I will have to get that recipe you posted and try it out, how can you go wrong when cooking with cheese, FILO on the other hand is something that I don’t use often. If you can make it, I’m sure I can as well. 💜💜💜💜

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Pillow pockets of cheese?? I’m IN!

    I love this story, especially thinking about your dad scanning credits for Armenian names. It’s one of those “telling details” we hear so much about to flesh out and deepen our writing. Such a lovely example of him connecting to his past, teaching you about it, keeping it alive … attempting to overcome the attempted genocide of his people. Lovely and heart-breaking.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. What a sad–and amazing–story, Kathy. My father had a good friend, Jack Kevorkian (no, not that one)–who spent his life making sure people didn’t forget about the Armenian genocide. And food and cooking are such wonderful ways to preserve and remember our culture. Yay for the Armenian cookbook! (And I can’t get over how much your dad’s dad looks like William Powell.)

    Liked by 4 people

  6. What amazing courage and strength your grandparents had. Thanks for sharing.

    Like you, I’m not much of a cook. Then again, I might get better if I put some effort into it. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I love seeing how different cultures have a lot of the same types of food. I grew up in the Midwest, so I learned an awful lot about casseroles (hot dishes, In Minnesota!) until I was able to break away by watching A LOT of cooking shows. Jacques Pepin and Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) on PBS in the 80’s and pretty much everything that’s ever been on Food Network. (except the baking, I do not bake!) And now I’m a fairly respectable cook!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Kathy, this is wonderful!! I’m so touched by your family history. Eliza’s high school had a huge Armenian population. That’s how we became familiar with the genocide issue. BTW, on Armenian Genocide Day, the school would empty out. Everyone went to marches!

    Liked by 4 people

    • That is so great, Ellen! There’s definitely a great deal of passion to not only remember the events of 1915, but to have the genocide officially recognized by the U.S., as most of the world has. (The United States has been reluctant to do so for political reasons.)

      Not very many Armenians in Oregon, BUT I did run into another Melkonian here in Bend, which was wild!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Vickie! Levon lives on in 39 WINKS and AS DIRECTED as pharmacist Levon (Lev) Petrosian. My dad has gotten a huge kick out of that! (He also loved seeing Zartar in PROTOCOL. Evidently, I was THIS close to being named Zartar!! He instead named me after an Irish chanteuse who was the object of his unrequited love. Ooooooof, my poor mom!)

      Yes to puffy cheese things at the next Chicks gathering!!

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Touching story, Kathleen. I was very close to my grandfather, who came from Italy when he was young. He taught me how to cook lots of simple Italian dishes, which I still make.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you so much, Grace! I very much enjoyed reading about your Italian roots the other day. And I loooooooooooove Italian food!

      My husband is starting to take an interest in his Italian heritage, which has been fun to see. I believe his great-grandparents came from Naples.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow, this is so moving! Just…wrenching and heart-squeezing.

    (And that recipe sounds divine. Cheese heaven, to be precise.)

    We have a cookbook from one side of the family that has been passed down–everything was typed up by hand and mimeographed, I think! It’s amazing. I also have recipe cards with my mom’s and both of my grandmothers’ handwriting on them. Every time I see them, I smile.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Kathy, I loved hearing about your family and the terrible struggles so many Armenians faced, especially during the Genocide. I had an Armenian landlord when I lived in Brooklyn. The family practically adopted me, for which I was very grateful. The grandmother grew grapes around and over the patio and brought me special treats she had baked. So kind.

    Liked by 1 person

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