Writing this blog has turned me into one of those people who talks about food all the time. And I never even meant for it to be a food blog! But that’s ok–nothing brings family together like food, traditional meals, and the stories behind them. In fact, when Joe and I get together with my brother Joey and sister-in-law Katherine, it’s all we do. We’d been planning a trip to visit them in Rhode Island after Christmas all month. When others asked what we planned to do during our trip, we’d say, without hesitating, “Cook and eat.” And that’s exactly what we did. We walked away about five pounds heavier, and much happier for it. Stay tuned for a few more recipes from that weekend. Until then, Katherine has a classic Armenian dish for us.
Katherine is a master Armenian cook armed with both her grandmothers’ old recipes. She already graced us with her family’s Armenian yogurt recipe last year. Now, just in time for Armenian Christmas (tomorrow!), I’m delighted to step aside so she can share another classic. Joe and I got to taste this during our visit last week. It was amazing!
In my Armenian-American family, we have two Christmases. The gift-exchanging, Christmas-card-writing, and extended family gathering is the eve of December 24th. Our second Christmas falls on January 6th and it’s the one we refer to as Armenian Christmas (known as “Old Christmas,” or “Little Christmas” in other parts of the world). Our Armenian Christmas celebration varies from year to year, depending on what day of the week it falls on, but there is always one thing in common: plenty of anoush abour. Anoush abour literally translates to “sweet porridge.” It’s traditionally served on New Year’s Eve and the following week leading up to January 6th, and we just can’t help eating it for breakfast, too.
The dish is probably even older than Christmas. Made simply of wheat berries (the unprocessed wheat kernel), sugar, dried fruit and nuts, it’s not hard to imagine that it is a part of the world’s most ancient fare. The secret ingredient? Rose water. It ties all the flavors together and transforms the recipe from sweetened porridge into a unique, standalone dish. Below is my grandmother’s recipe, which has been prepared the first week of each year for countless centuries.
Anoush Abour (Armenian Christmas Porridge)
1 cup skinless soft white wheat berries
8 cups water
2 cups dried fruit (white raisins, chopped dried apricots, and/or chopped dried peaches)
3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon rose water*
Place wheat berries in 8 cups of cold water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for one hour and set aside for five to six hours (or overnight).On low heat, add one cup of water, dried fruit, and sugar and stir well until nearly all the water is absorbed and the mixture has the consistency of porridge. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the rosewater and pour into a serving dish. Sprinkle with ground walnuts and top with cinnamon. Serve at room temperature or store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
*You can buy rose water from any Middle Eastern or Indian food store.