My Citizens! Know deep within your unquestioning soul that the Hetman of Happiness – YOUR TFD! – has a deep and pure love that abides undimmed across time and space for all things bready. Add in some delicious herbs and you suddenly have these delicious flatbreads, enjoyed throughout the Caucasus region and even deeper into the Silk Road countries – this gutap recipe is but one example. Today, I wish to share a recipe with the oddball name of ‘zhingyalov hats’ from the great country of Armenia! On top of it, you are scoring a double today since you will also learn how to make the legendary Armenian lavash bread!
Zhingyalov hats (Armenian: Ժենգյալով հաց, also zhengyalav hatz, zhangyalov hats) is a type of flatbread stuffed with finely diced herbs and green vegetables. It is a traditional dish of Armenians from Artsakh and Syunik – and despite all my best efforts, I have been unable to determine the origin of their unusual name!
To prepare them, unleavened dough is rolled out until it becomes paper-thin, then it is filled with a stuffing that consists of 10 to 20 types of diced and oiled wild and cultivated herbs. One of the most important steps in preparing a good zhingyalov hats is the greens’ composition. Tasteless leaf vegetables and herbs with less pronounced taste make up the base of the stuffing: examples include lettuce, spinach, atriplex, beet greens, chickweed, shepherd’s-purse, viola leaves and suchlike plants.
Herbs with distinctive tastes (chervil, urtica, allium), sour (rumex) or spicy (laserpitium) ones are needed in smaller quantities; bitter-tasting greens as taraxacum should be sparse. After stuffing, zhingyalov hats are fried for around 10 minutes on a special griddle called “saj” or “sajin” (Armenian: սաջին), or in a tandoor for a couple of minutes.
The finished dish is consumed with beer, doogh, or wine. Zhingyalov hats are especially popular during the Armenian Great Lent, due to their vegetarian nature. My recipe/variation is based on a recipe preferred in the Karabakh region in Armenia. It is not another meal or another traditional flatbread recipe with leafy vegetables. Zhingyalov hats are a symbol, the main purpose of its preparation is to unite once again to make a family meal together, to talk about all pressing matters, to exchange news.
As noted in an article in The Smithsonian magazine:
As in many cultures of the Caucasus and Middle East, bread and wheat are important elements of Armenian lifecycle events and festivals. Families offer bread and salt to their houseguests to welcome them. Hosts of births and weddings serve or display wheat kernels and special stews and breads. A new bride has a piece of lavash placed on her shoulders, signifying luck, wealth, and the new life she will bring into the family.
To break bread with someone is to share a common experience, and to experience Armenia you have to witness the baking and enjoy the simple pleasures of lavash. Many Armenian words and expressions derive from the simple, yet significant, act of breaking bread. For instance, the word for a gathering or party, utel-khmel, literally translates to “eat-drink.” The word for friend, enker, means “eating together.” Foods create and mark relationships and identity—wife and husband, family, community, nation.
For the sourdough version of lavash that Rima and her friends prepare back in Rind, each batch is produced from a fermented remnant of the previous batch called ttkhmor. This yeasty starter lends lavash a slightly tart flavor and a charred, bubbly appearance.
The ttkhmor, the fuel used to feed the fire, and the methods of the baker all lend unique flavors to each batch. Each piece represents a present-day connection to the past; without the remnant from the previous baking, today’s lavash would not taste quite the same.
I strongly prefer the type of lavash bread made with a rye sourdough starter, known in Armenian as թթխմոր/ttkhmoras, as it conveys the true essence of the bread. My favorite recipe for rye starter is from the legendary Stanley Ginsberg of The Rye Baker blog – you can find the instructions to make it here. To properly close the Zhingyalov hats, please follow the directions in this video for the right technique.
My version of the classic recipe calls for 17 different ingredients for the stuffing, including sheep’s milk feta (found in some Hat recipes), garlic (not found in any) and pomegranate seeds (found in 1 recipe to help ensure the proper sourness). If you can’t find all my herb recommendations, never fear – just use others as you see fit – there is no canonical recipe for this dish. Just remember to be sparing on the tarragon in particular and strong-tasting greens in general, as they can easily take over the entire dish from a flavor standpoint.
Citizens, this is a magnificent bread indeed, and one that is filled with all things healthful – I hope you see fit to try its unmatched savor at once and with TFD Nation enthusiasm!
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