I'd like to think I had a pretty good run of it with my last couple of countries. Not that this next recipe was particularly bad, but so far several recipes are on mid to high rotation in my kitchen: this dish will not have that honour.
As you can probably gather, I feel I could have done more with Armenia. The country has such a rich history and culture, which I feel should translate to an established (and hopefully delicious) culinary identity. If I was to re-visit Armenia I would find something else to prepare - probably Lahmajoun, although in Australia we call it Pide and usually attribute it to the Turks. This time around though, I tried to find a dish that was typically Armenian, rather than an Armenian version of a Turkish dish.
Anyway, given such an inauspicious introduction, I don't know if too many readers will attempt the recipe, so to prevent this post from being a complete waste of time, I will share some of what I learnt about Armenia.
Armenia was the first country to recognise Christianity as the official religion, which is particularly interesting given they are sandwiched between other predominantly Islamic nations - Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Of course Islam wasn't around in 300 AD so the choice was somewhat limited. Apparently the Armenians are descendants from Noah, who crash landed his boat on Mt Ararat (just over the border into Turkey). I wonder whether Noah, after dis-embarking (pun very much intended), just released the animals into the wild or did he then, after all he had done for biodiversity, have to deliver each pair to his and her preferred eco system before the flood waters subsided completely? From the evidence, I suggest the latter, for as far as I can tell there are no kangaroos, giraffes, or polar bears in the Caucasus.
Throughout history Armenia has been part of the Greek, Roman, Arsacid, Persian, Mongolian, Hittite, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Soviet empires (not in that order, unless I got lucky), so it's no wonder I had trouble pin-pointing the 'Armenian' cuisine from all the external influences. Can you spot the odd one out in the above list of conquering empires? Arsacid, c'mon wikipedia, really? In fairness the Arsacid were described as a Dynsaty rather than an Empire but still, pretty lofty company. Definitely the Ringo Starr of the invading forces.
Geographically, Armenia is situated in the Caucasus which is the gateway between Europe and Asia, hence the history of invasion. This is also where Zeus chained Prometheus to have his liver eaten by a giant eagle for eternity. I did find several dishes that required 'liver of Titan' as an ingredient but Woolies and Coles were all out: either due to their ongoing price war, or the flooding in north Queensland. Instead I opted for the second most popular Armenian ingredient, the apricot, and as we all know Armenia is the home of the apricot.
Lastly I learnt that the apricot is good for the brain, which would explain why Armenians are very good at chess. It doesn't explain why they are good at tennis - for that you will have to read Andre Agassi or David Nalbandian's biographies, as they both have Armenian heritage.
Missov Dziran (Lamb & Apricot Stew)
2 tb Butter
1 Onion, diced
1 Clove garlic, diced
500g lean boneless lamb, cubed
2 cup Water
1 tbsp Lemon juice
1/2 tsp Ground ginger
1 cup Dried apricots
2 tbsp Chopped walnuts
2 tbsp Sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
In a heavy saucepan or casserole, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft but not browned, stirring frequently.
Add the meat and saute until browned on all sides. Add the water, lemon juice, ginger, salt & pepper. Cover and simmer for 1-2 hours (until the meat is tender)
Add the apricots, nuts and sugar (to taste), stirring well to dissolve the latter.
Cover and simmer 15 minutes or until the meat and fruit are tender. Serve with plain rice pilaf (cook basmati rice using chicken stock and a knob of butter. Fluff with fork before serving).
Okay, once again I failed to take a photo of this dish - instead here is a photo of me looking chuffed post cooking.