It was my father-in-law’s 59th birthday last Thursday. What
a better way to celebrate during the weekend than barbecue--the much coveted
We were all off to Dzoraghpyur on Sunday morning, the
designated day for feasting and libations. He had marinated the meat the night
before with his secret spice mix and prepared the onion-parsley-sumac condiment
mixture commonly used for kebabs, which always brings out the sweetness from
the meat that is otherwise indiscernible.
Levon's meat of choice is pork, which is preferred by most
Armenians as I’ve seen in my 9 years of participating in barbecue rituals. He
chose mostly short ribs and some tenderloin. But the trickiest part of a
successful barbecue as any chef knows is not necessarily in the cut of meat but
in the fire. Depending on how you spread the coals and how far the flames are
from the savory meats suspended over it, you will end up with either succulent,
tender flesh falling off the bone or hunks of chewy carbon, insipid and void of
any properties promoting well-being.
people insist on thoroughly cooking the pork to exorcise the meanies, while
others have enough sense to know that medium to medium well works nicely. Even
Gordon Ramsay attests to that.
The skewers of choice are flat and a foot and a half long,
about a quarter of an inch wide, perhaps less. Ours have wooden handles, which
aside from looking sharp allow turning them to be less hazardous, decreasing
the probability of finger burns. Some old-school ones are narrower and
V-shaped, and much shorter. If the handle is not made of wood the end is
usually curled in a loop, which facilitates hanging the skewers vertically from
an iron rod in the tonir, the sacred in-ground clay fireplace in which lavash
is traditionally baked.
And since no
one’s looking, why not sample some of his uncle’s chilled fruit vodka--a secret
blend of mulberry, apricot and grape.
But before any meat goes on the fire the veggies must have
their moment. First ones on the flaming dried grape vines and twigs of oak are
the Italian eggplants, which unlike the bulbous ones found in American
supermarkets are long and thin, not unlike bananas in shape only dark, inky
purple. And they will burn, make no mistake. Usually the skin is so withered
and ashen by the time they come off that they seem ready for the trash bin. But
once the women start peeling away (yes, that's their job) with a bowl of water
on hand to cool the fingers, a squid-like limp mass reminiscent of aubergine is
revealed. Being an eggplant lover I tend to think it’s most always overdone,
but naturally, I keep that to myself so as to not start a tedious debate.
While the meat is on some space off to the side is saved for
the tomatoes and sweet peppers. My father-in-law being a gourmand of sorts
grills hot finger peppers in advance at home, then bottles them in oil to
prevent spoilage. That way, there’s no confusion, mouth clutching and gasping
at the table. The women were told to remove the puckered skins from the
tomatoes while still on the skewer, and they complied dutifully without fail.
And while this was all happening of course the boy decided
to bathe. He has yet to realize the generational, folkloric significance of the
. Perhaps he’ll get the hint by his third year in our illuminated lives.
Labels: Food and Drink, Social and Cultural