Chick-pea and potato ball (Topig)

December 7, 2009  • 

 

I mentioned in a previous post (cinnamon roll with tahini)  that there is a large Armenian community established in Lebanon; the Armenians are fully integrated  into Lebanese society, even participate in government with deputies and ministers and political parties. However, they have remained steadfastly faithful to their culture of origin. Armenia, just like Lebanon,  is a land of ancient history, with a rich heritage. One of my aunts who visited Armenia recently came back with tales of a very beautiful country with pristine lakes, lush valleys, majestic mountains, ancient  monasteries and churches galore  and captivating art and archeological sights;  as well as  fabulous, fresh, foods. My interest in Armenia is reinforced by the fact that, like Lebanon, it is a country that has suffered many tragedies especially in the last hundred years and yet its people have remained stoic and  kept plowing forward. Like Lebanon, it is a country that is placed in a strategic spot and thus has endured many invasions. And like Lebanon, it is a country whose diaspora is greater in number than the Armenians actually living in Armenia.

I wanted to try my hand at this very old Armenian specialty called topig which means stuffed little ball. It is eaten traditionally  as an appetizer during lent, which for the Armenians is a lengthy affair extending several weeks. It has no dairy nor meat and is composed of chick peas, onions, tahini and spices and livened up by some currants and nuts. It is enjoyed at room temperature. Its preparation takes 36 hours, so it requires a bit of planning. Perfect for a party,  it would provide a conversation starter as I am sure it is not a dish that many people have had before.


It is a very subtle contrast of flavors, the lemon against the chick pea paste, the olive oil to spice up  the ensemble;  the stuffing is sweet with the onions and currants. It is truly delicious and well worth the effort.

I consulted Linda Chirinian’s Secrets of Cooking for this recipe. Adapted it somewhat.

INGREDIENTS: This quantity will yield up to 8 servings, or even 12

FOR THE SHELL:

  • 8 ounces dried chick-peas (225 g)
  • 1 potato, cooked and peeled (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric (optional)

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FOR THE FILLING:

  • 2 pounds onions, sliced
  • 3/4 cup tahini (or less)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans (traditionally pine nuts are used instead)
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • Spices: 1 teaspoon each of cumin, cinnamon, allspice
  • pinch of pepper, salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup of  fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • a few thin slices of lemon for garnish
  • olive oil or clarified butter to cook the onions in

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METHOD:

  1. Soak the chick peas in 6 cups of water for one  full day (24 hours)
  2. Drain the water. Add fresh water and boil them for about  30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and place in the sink and add a bowl of ice cubes on top. With your fingertips rub the chick peas and remove their skins and discard; (getting rid of the skins helps make a smooth dough)
  3. Boil the potato and peel.
  4. Place the chick-peas and potato in a food mill (or processor),  add  white pepper and salt,  the tahini, mix till mashed and doughy. Set aside. (I added turmeric as well)

TO MAKE THE FILLING:

  1. Chop the onions.
  2. Cook the onions: two methods can be used. You can either cook them in two tablespoons of water until translucent, or you can fry them  in clarified butter or oil till  golden. At this point, you can either not cook them further, or cook them until they caramelize. I chose to fry them until caramelized.
  3. Add the spices, the currants and the nuts. Add enough tahini to make a nice and moist filling. If you cooked them in butter, reduce the tahini to one or two tablespoon. If you cooked them in water, add more tahini, up to 3/4 cup.

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TO MAKE THE TOPIG:

  1. Weigh the dough and divide into 4 equal balls. Divide the cheesecloth into 4  12-inch squares.
  2. Place the cheesecloth on a work surface. Put the topig in the middle of the cheesecloth. Flatten with your hands to form an even 9  inch circle. (you can use a piece of plastic wrap on top to help roll it out)
  3. Place the filling in the middle of the dough. Lift the corners of  the cheesecloth underneath to help close it up and seal it well, forming a round ball of dough.
  4. Tie the topig with a piece of kitchen string. Repeat with the 3 others.
  5. Boil about 2 quarts of water with a teaspoon of salt. Drop the topigs in the water and let them simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from the water, drain for a few minutes  and let them cool in the fridge for a few hours and up to 24 hours. Remove the cloth.
  6. Serve by covering each topig with olive oil and some lemon slices. Sprinkle cinnamon or paprika lightly over the topig. Cut the topig in half, then in individual slices.
  7. Pass extra lemon juice and olive oil in small decanters or make a quick dressing and pour over the topig. Provide extra lemon quarters or garnish with lemon slices.

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NOTE:

Make sure to provide plenty of fresh lemon quarters and extra-virgin olive oil for your guests. These make the topig come alive.

It is possible to make the topig without cooking in boiling water; skip this step and wrap in plastic instead.

Comments

26 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Aline08 says:

    Very interesting: I have never heard of these before. Except the pecan nuts everything is so easy to find over here in Turkey. Maybe I could replace them with almonds? Another apetizer (after the olive roll) to try for the Christmas season. Thanks 😉

  2. Maninas says:

    This sounds fantastic! And it’s veggie friendly!

  3. Ivy says:

    Beautiful and very interesting. We have a lot of Armenians in Cyprus and a lot in common since the description you give above could well match for Cyprus as well. I have bookmarked the recipe and will try it one day.

  4. SE says:

    hey this looks a perfect appetizer..gr8

  5. spice says:

    Very interesting……love chickpeas in any form but never heard of this snack before…..like your pics….

  6. Arlette says:

    Marhaba Joumana

    This is a new food for me either… for someone surrounded by Armenians neighbours…
    I have to try it one day. A healthy Vegetarian appetizers…. for my next catering event.

    thanks again for the award I didnt got the chance to post it yet… I will very soon…..
    after I finish my event.(catering for 50)

  7. rebecca says:

    this looks so good cool another chick pea recipe love your blog so happy I found it Rebecca

  8. Rosa says:

    Oh, a lovely appetizer! Very unique and interesting!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  9. Juliana says:

    Wow, these pastries sounds and looks terrific…so different, I’d love to try them…yummie!

  10. elra says:

    Your Topig sound pretty tempting. I never had anything like this before. Ought to try it!

  11. Marie says:

    These look so wonderful and, not only are they vegetarian, but they could also go for vegan snacks if the butter is substituted with something else. And the ingredients (or close substitutes) could probably be found anywhere. I’m fascinated by the steamed buns and dumpling variations that exist in this world. Thank you so much for posting:-)

  12. Alépine says:

    Une belle découverte !

  13. karen says:

    I just made this recipe for New Year’s dinner and YUM it’s delicious. I couldn’t find cheesecloth here in Dubai, so instead I made them into small balls with my hands and stuffed the ingredients as if they were Kebbe meat balls. And being an almost vegan, I boiled the onions in water, so no butter used. Thank you for sharing! and what a lovely website 🙂

  14. Norma says:

    Well – just to be different 🙂 I grew up with topig at New Year and Armenian Christmas (and every table in between!).

    I made it today for the first time on my own. I had Mum’s recipe but came to check whether I should boil it AFTER assembling it… Everywhere I have found on the web says to boil it (when you’ve put it into the cloth and tied it up). I recalled something about Mum doing that early on but not later – she also checked through the recipe file I had typed and didn’t make any changes to her topig recipe – but it is NOT boiled again afterwards (on the basis that everything in it is already cooked). Placing the topigs in muslin and leaving them in the fridge for a day or two dries them out enough and the topig stays very moist.

    A couple of differences between my Mum’s (very well regarded) recipe is that she uses only 1/2 teaspoon of allspice in the filling (based on the quantities above) – no cumin or cinnamon. When you serve it up you drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon. There is no cumin in her recipe at all but I imagine it would taste great too!

    These days my toughest critic is my dad – we’ll see if I passed in a couple of days 🙂

    • Joumana says:

      Norma
      Actually, Mrs Chirinian’s recipe did not boil it; she did however tie it in a cheesecloth! Thanks for your input, it is great to be able to find out more about it. I have asked people and most of them have never heard nor tried the topig! Take care, Joumana

  15. Andrew says:

    Hey Joumana,

    Came across your post and thought it was fitting since I had just come back from an awesome Easter dinner with my Armenian side of the family. Our family hails from Trabzon, and has for the past 50 years been living in the Armenian community in Toronto, Canada. My aunt Nora made topig, as she does every Easter, and only at Easter.

    To be honest, I do not know the details of how my aunt prepares the dish, besides understanding that it is very labour intensive. I am guessing however, that it must be a different process from yours, because in their completed stage they rectangular, somewhat like an envelope that is a couple of inches high. The filling is completely contained within the chickpea/potato just as yours is.

    I have never had lemon or olive oil on topig, although now I am anticipating next Easter so that I can try both; we traditionally sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Also, we always have pine nuts and I don’t think I’ve ever detected cumin. Finally, I assume my aunt must refrain from caramelizing the onions because our filling looks “duller” than yours, almost a shade of grey as opposed to deep brown.

    I think its awesome that you find an interest in Armenian culture; as a “half” Armenian student in his mid-20s, it is something that I try to learn about more and more. I like the similarities you point our between our cultures, and I think learning about food is a great way to relate to learn about others in general. In fact, much of the food I have grown up eating, baba-ganouj, lebne, schwarma, taboule, and kebbe (and many others) are Lebanese in origin.

    Andrew.

    p.s. don’t stop there! try lahmanjoun, dolma, seljuk, bastourma, tarama, boereg, choreg, and more!

  16. Robyn Kalajian says:

    Hi Joumana,
    I found your website a while ago, and really enjoy it. My husband and I have our own site, http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com, and have included your topig recipe and reference to Armenians in one of my items, giving you full credit, of course!
    Keep up the good work!
    Robyn Kalajian

  17. Ani says:

    You description was very accurate and yes I agree with Andrew on the food.

  18. Vegan Version says:

    I am so happy to have found your site. My Father is from Beirut and I grew up eating Armenian, Turkish and Middle Eastern food. These look absolutely fantastic and I cannot wait to try and make them on my own!

  19. milton says:

    had this dish in a turkish restaurant in cape town called Anatolia
    its part of the mezze it blew my mind so tasty going to try this after i perfect the syrian pumpkin kibbeh

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