Citizens, the proud country of Armenia is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia.
Located in Western Asia, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de-facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan to the south.
Armenia is a unitary, multi-party, democratic nation-state with an ancient cultural heritage.
The Kingdom of Van was established in 860 BC and Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. In between the late 3rd century to the early years of the 4th century, the state became the first Christian nation.
Between the 16th century and 19th century, the traditional Armenian homeland composed of Eastern Armenia and Western Armenia came under the rule of the Ottoman and successive Iranian empires, repeatedly ruled by either of the two over the centuries.
By the 19th century, Eastern Armenia had been conquered by the Russian Empire, while most of the western parts of the traditional Armenian homeland remained under Ottoman rule. During World War I, Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated in the Armenian Genocide.
In 1922, Armenia became a founding state of the USSR and gained independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
A fascinating and detailed explanation of Armenian cuisine may be read here for those who wish to learn more of the nation’s culinary heritage. One of the most famous dishes in the Armenian repertoire is Ghapama, an Armenian stuffed pumpkin dish traditionally served between the New Year and Armenian Christmas (which Armenians celebrate on January 6th). In Armenian, the word ‘Ghapama’ literally means “cooked in a covered pot”.
It is prepared by removing the guts of the pumpkin (known as դդում in Armenian, pronounced ddum in Eastern Armenian and ttum in Western Armenian) and stuffing it with boiled rice enriched with dried fruits and nuts such as chopped almonds, apple, apricot, plums, dates, prunes and raisins.
It is also common to pour on honey and mix in ground cinnamon or sugar. The pumpkin is then baked until it becomes soft, then brought to the table where it is cut-up and served.
There is even an Armenian song about this beloved New Year’s meal known as Հէյ Ջան Ղափամա (Hey Jan Ghapama), popularized by the very popular Armenian singer Harout Pamboukjian. The song begins with: “Hey Jan Ghapama, Hamov Hodov Ghapama”, meaning ‘Dear Ghapama, tasty, aromatic ghapama’.
The song is so popular that when Armenian-American Rock supergroup “System of a Down” played in Armenia, they did a hardcore version of it for the crowd! Watch it on YouTube here!
Citizens this is a wonderful and delicious recipe that is best considered after reading a traditional Armenian blessing: “May there be food for he who is going to eat, May there be clothes for he who is going to dress, May, for those who enter and leave the home, The fountain be silver.”
Bon Appetit – Բարի Ախորժակ!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 sugar pumpkin, about 3 lbs. – alternatively, you could use a Japanese Kabocha squash
1 ½ cups rice
3 cups vegetable broth
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
¼ cup each of dried apricots, dried cherries and apples, chopped
¼ cup raisins
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp. honey
¼ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup hot water
1. Wash and dry exterior of pumpkin. Cut off the top in a circle shape as it will be used as a lid.
2. Scrape out the stringy fibers and seeds. Discard fibers, but rinse and save the seeds for roasting later on, if desired. Rinse the inside of the pumpkin; pat dry.
3. In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Add rice, stir, cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Cook rice for about 15 minutes. Rice should not be completely cooked. Drain any excess liquid.
4. In bowl, mix together the partially-cooked rice, chopped, dried fruit, melted butter, salt, cinnamon, honey, and nuts.
5. Loosely stuff filling into pumpkin; pour the ¼ cup hot water over the top of the filling.
6. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet for support. Put the top of the pumpkin back on and bake at 325°F for about 1-½ to 2 hours or until soft. Insert a toothpick into the pumpkin to determine tenderness.
Cut into wedges; serve with extra butter and honey on the side.