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Thursday, April 23, 2015

100 Years On, Remembering the Armenian Genocide With Soujouk

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 11:00 AM

NADIR KEKLIK
  • Nadir Keklik

Every few years, my parents, Paul and Priscilla, host a party of extended family and friends to make a cured Armenian sausage called soujouk. It’s pungent, spicy, hard, tough, chewy, delicious, often nearly black, and takes over a month to make. As with  many Armenian foods, soujouk is not widely available outside of specialty markets, and if you want to replicate Grandma Nouritza’s, you’re better off making it at home.

Since it's only worth making in huge quantities, before throwing a party my folks will ask their guests how many pounds of meat they would like and multiply accordingly. Alongside bird-watching and Ms. Pac-Man, cuts of meat are one of my father’s specialties. His father was a butcher who owned Monument Market in Everett, Massachusetts, and as Dad grew up, he learned the trade. These days, he gets his meat from his butcher cousin, Nish, or from guys who Grandpa taught to cut, grinding it himself in the basement. Raw and cured recipes necessitate higher-quality meat than what’s found at a supermarket, usually requiring a visit to your local butcher. Luckily for San Francisco, artisanal meats are all the mustachioed rage, so it should be easy to ride to one by penny-farthing.

This recipe came to my folks via my paternal grandparents, and for an Armenian of my generation, at least a couple of our grandparents were survivors of genocide. My mother’s father, Bedros “Peter” Aharon Goolkasian (1910-2004), and my father’s father, Ardashes Der Ananian (1904-1985), were driven from the village of Husenig in July of 1915. As boys of 5 and 11, both of my grandfathers endured unimaginable horrors to escape the Ottoman Empire.

April 24 is the day chosen to honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were systematically massacred in their homeland, and bear witness to the darkest moments of our history. Mourning such a massive cultural wound has obviously been an occasion for deep sadness. However, it is also a moment of proud defiance of a people who, despite Turkey’s denialist propaganda machine, continue to flourish worldwide, and this Friday marks its centennial.

While not an everyday topic of casual conversation, the genocide informs nearly every aspect of Armenian cultural life, including the concepts of gratitude, the balance between a strong ethnic identity and assimilation into American culture, and the most tangible gift of food. Food memories are a huge part of family gatherings in the diaspora because expressing love through food remembers family members who starved to death on forced marches into the Syrian Desert. We cannot reminisce about family recipes without also reminiscing about my grandparents’ generation, and discussions about my grandparents can’t be separated from a conversation about the genocide, despite their determination to never let it define them. In this way the Der Ananian soujouk party remembers not through lamentation, but through celebration.

“This is a long, involved recipe,” my mother said. “If you have a food dehydrator, you can make small batches with the spices pared down according to the amount of meat, making small meatloaves to place in the dehydrator.”

“My father and cousin Ara did this successfully,” she added, noting that Ara would love to hear from me, and probably had sound soujouk advice.

Grandma Nouritza’s Soujouk (Courtesy of Priscilla Der Ananian)

• 15 lbs. ground chuck, or undercut (no neck). Your butcher can grind this for you if you can’t at home. Place on a large table covered in plastic, and sprinkle the following over it:
• 2 tablespoons curry powder (karri)
• ½ cup salt, mild (agh)
• 3 ounces coriander (kinj)
• 3 ounces cumin (kimon)
• 1 to 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper (kayneyan bibar) to taste
• 2 tablespoons paprika (anoush pghpegh)
• 3 ounces allspice (darapghpegh)
• 2 tablespoons black pepper (pghpegh)
• 2 ounces garlic powder (skhdor)
• 1 ½ tablespoons fenugreek (chaiman)
• 5 dowels that are 12” long with a ½ to ¾ inch diameter. I recommend having an extra on hand.
• 5 cotton muslin bags, each to hold about 3 lbs. of meat. You’ll need to sew these. Each bag is a folded 29 x 9 inch rectangle folded in half and sewn up the sides to make a 14 ½ x 9 inch bag. I recommend sewing one more than you think you’ll need.

Knead very well and let stand about 30 minutes.

Wet the bags with cold water and squeeze. Place 2 ½ to 3 lbs. of the kneaded meat mixture in each and beat and roll with rolling pin. Leave about 3" empty bags at top.

Hand-sew a seam tight against the meat, then sew a second seam at the cut edge to create a sleeve for the dowel. Slide a dowel through the sleeve.

Tie each end of one string around the ends of the dowel for hanging (similar to a picture frame). You can hang the bags around a closet rod or via regular hangers.

Stack the filled bags on a flat surface and wrap a towel around each bag, and place heavy weights atop the stack. Keep changing towels every so often until no blood shows on them.

Leave in a cool place for one day, and bring outside on above freezing days. Each night roll each bag with a rolling pin to even off meat (so the bottoms of the bags don't get thicker than tops). On freezing days, hang inside in a cool place. The refrigerator is good for drying, if you have enough space.

Dry about 1 month and take bags off. Cut into smaller blocks and freeze.

Slice thinly to serve. It goes wonderfully with Armenian string cheese (which looks kind of like a white, knotted rope sometimes dotted with peppercorns), which is available in many regular supermarkets.

You can also use leg of lamb and top round (beef), ground twice. An alternate method for hanging is to lay two planks parallel across sawhorses (or two pieces of furniture, etc) 11 inches apart, hanging the bags between the planks (2 x 4s, etc.) by resting each dowel end on a plank. Soujouk will keep refrigerated for six months to a year, and frozen more longer (up to two or three years, if securely wrapped).

Party tip: Make meatballs or losh kebab patties from the meat mixture and fry them up for taste-testing. They’re delicious!


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Greg Der Ananian

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