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)
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
- Soak the chick peas in 6 cups of water for one full day (24 hours)
- 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)
- Boil the potato and peel.
- 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:
- Chop the onions.
- 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.
- 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.
TO MAKE THE TOPIG:
- Weigh the dough and divide into 4 equal balls. Divide the cheesecloth into 4 12-inch squares.
- 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)
- 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.
- Tie the topig with a piece of kitchen string. Repeat with the 3 others.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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