When given the choice between mushy, cafeteria corn dogs or my mom’s homemade Fassoulia (Armenian green bean stew) I somehow always chose the former. Growing up with an Armenian background (before the Kardashians made thick eyebrows and thick backs popular) amongst a sea of blonde haired, blue eyed Southern California girls, I was always looking for ways to fit in. Despite my love of spending countless hours in the kitchen, hearing the sizzle of meat browning, the aroma of onions sweating, or the fragrance of spices like cumin, coriander, and Hungarian paprika dancing in a pot, I was reluctant to share my food culture with anyone else.
As I grew up, my experiences in the kitchen, the techniques used, the strong intent not to waste, and the pride that went into the food came out in me. Although my love for cooking and my desire to use it as a way to connect with people progressed, I was still shy about cooking the types of food I grew up with: who would want to eat meat filled grape leaves or bulgur wheat pilaf? Despite its delicious and healthful flavor, it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing let alone enticing to try as say a beautiful bowl of pasta, intricate sushi rolls or a glistening brown roast chicken. What’s more, other than my own home, Armenian food was a non-existent cuisine in Orange County.
My sentiments began to change when I moved to New York City. The array of cuisines available far surpassed the choice of fish tacos, In’N’Out Burgers, and “Califoriental,” and it inspired me to go back to my roots. I was avid to learn and write down as many recipes and techniques from my grandmother and mother’s memory as possible.
The first time I attempted my own Fassoulia was for my boyfriend and his friends. Not only was I worried the resulting flavors would be nothing like those I remember tasting years ago, I greatly feared that it would be a disappointment for my guests. As I diligently measured out each individual ingredient, I thought back to when I would watch my Meins Mideg and how effortlessly she made her unmeasured additions look, like she could do it in her sleep. Luckily, the result was a hit, (they even had seconds!) and for the first time in a long time I was proud of the cuisine I grew up eating, and I was ready to share it with anybody who came to eat at my table.