Lavash Bread: All About Armenian Flatbread
Bread may arguably be the most important part of any Armenian lunch or dinner table. Armenians are simply unable to eat without this critical food. No matter what they choose to have for dinner, the fact remains that Armenians will be eating it with bread. This is particularly true in the case of lavash, which is an Armenian flatbread. While many other countries in proximity to Armenia also have their own variants of lavash, Armenians treat lavash as being almost sacred and it plays an important part in traditional rituals.
What is Lavash?
Lavash is an Armenian flatbread made of flour, salt, and water. It is rather thin and traditionally baked along the walls of a clay oven, referred to in Armenian as a ‘tonir.’ While nowadays, men can prepare the bread in bakeries, the tradition was typically carried out by women. The tradition of baking lavash bread comes from ancient times and was often done before a special event, such as a holiday, wedding, baptism, or even a regular barbecue. Lavash has also been included on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.
As we said before, lavash plays an important role in the Armenian culture and is a part of several Armenian traditions and legends.
The main legend about lavash was surrounding the Armenian king Aram. His Assyrian counterpart threatened to completely deprive the Armenian king of food for 10 days. Then, on the 11th day, the two would participate in an archery competition, and whoever won would be declared the stronger of the two. King Aram knew what he would do. He ordered his servants to pack lavash into his shield. Since lavash is a thin flatbread, it was easy to stuff inside without having the Assyrians know about it. Every day, he would tell the Assyrians who provided his shield that he was not pleased and wanted another one. This would continue every day for the next 10 days. He would eat the lavash inside the shield, which is how he managed to keep up his strength. Then, it was time for the competition between the two kings, which the Assyrian king was sure he’d win. However, it was a surprise when King Aram won thanks to the strength provided to him by the lavash.
The other main tradition in the Armenian culture is one that you will see at almost every wedding you attend. After the church service, the bride and groom return to the groom’s house. Outside, the groom’s mother will place pieces of lavash on the shoulders of the bride and groom. This is meant to be a sign of good luck and prevent evil spirits from harming the newlyweds. The tradition for this actually finds its roots in Armenian mythology.
The god of war Vahagn and the goddess of love Astghik were meant to get married. The king of the gods, Aramazd, placed pieces of lavash on the two gods’ shoulders. However, Astghik, delighted at the thought of her wedding, accidentally dropped her piece. This made Aramazd angry, and he said that she could no longer be a wife and mother because she dropped the piece of lavash. As a result, Astghik and Vahagn could not get married and were forced to stay lovers forever.
How to Bake Armenian Flatbread
Here is a great video produced by Food Insider on how lavash is traditionally baked in Armenia.
Traditional Way of Baking Lavash
As we mentioned, lavash is traditionally made by women and it is baked in tonirs, or clay ovens, that are dug into the ground. If you visit many Armenian villages, you might be able to find homes where people still have traditional ovens. There generally were also small openings in the ground where women would sit for additional comfort.
The key ingredients for making Armenian flatbread are flour, water, and salt. First, it is necessary to combine these ingredients to make a dough, and then separate the dough into little balls. Then, women would take the ball and stretch them out over a cushion, using both their hands and a rolling pin.
Once the dough is ready, the person making it would exert special skill and, essentially, slap the dough against the heated walls of the clay oven. After waiting approximately a minute, the lavash is ready to be removed from the oven and eaten.
Baking Lavash At Home
If you’ve fallen in love with lavash, you don’t necessarily need to have a tonir in your backyard to make it. You will be able to bake lavash using the oven you already have at home.
You will need to take the same key ingredients- water, flour, and salt. Stir them together and beat the dough for about 5 minutes. The consistency should be stretchy and smooth. Oil the bowl you plan to use and place the dough inside, covering it with a cloth and leaving it to rise for approximately an hour and a half.
Then, preheat your oven. It’s recommended that you heat the oven as high as it can go.
While your oven is heating up, pull off a small piece of the dough and place it on a piece of parchment. Make sure that the parchment has been covered with flour. Roll the dough using a rolling pin as flat as you can. Then, put it in the oven on a flat pan and leave the dough to cook for about 90 seconds. Your flatbread is ready! Let it cool and put it in a plastic bag if you plan on making a lot, or you can eat it right away.
In many Armenian homes, people tend to buy or make lavash in bulk. The unused pieces are then dried and sprinkled with water when people want to eat them.
Recipes With Lavash Bread
Luckily, lavash can be used for many different purposes. Here are some of the most popular recipes that Armenians all around the world love and enjoy.
Lavash wrap: One of the staples of the Armenian diet is making lavash wraps. These wraps typically consist of cheese and greens, such as parsley or cilantro. The wraps are as easy to make as you can imagine: simply cut a piece of cheese, take a few pieces of your favorite herbs, and wrap them up in lavash. It makes for a filling and quick snack, especially when you’re in a rush.
Lavash chips: If you have a lot of lavash left over and don’t find yourself eating it too soon, making chips might be a good use for it. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Then, take the lavash and brush olive oil onto it. You can then add any toppings you’d like, such as cheese. Cut the lavash into squares and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Bake them for about 10 minutes until they’re crisp. You can have a lot of fun with this recipe, and you can use different toppings for dipping your chips, such as hummus, salsa, or yogurt.
Lavash pizza: For those who like thin-crust pizza, this is the perfect recipe for you. It’s also a lot easier than trying to make the dough on your own. It will only take a couple of minutes to prepare and is something that everyone in your family will enjoy. Preheat your oven to around 200 degrees Celsius. Place the lightly oiled lavash on a baking sheet and now you have arrived at the fun part- you can add any toppings you like. You can try adding tomato sauce, sausage, cheese, herbs, mushrooms, olives, peppers, and anything else. When the pizza is ready, put it in the oven and bake until crisp, which will usually be around 15 minutes. Let the pizza cool and serve!
Lavash crackers: This is another fun recipe that can be served as an appetizer when you have guests over. Make the lavash as we described above and preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Coat your baking sheets with olive oil or cooking spray. Then, cut and flatten the dough in small pieces and brush a beaten egg over each slice. Sprinkle sesame seeds, salt, and pepper on each slice and press them into the dough. Once the crackers are ready, put them in the oven and allow them to bake until they’re golden, which should be around 15 minutes. You can serve these with a variety of toppings, including yogurt, hummus, and salsa.
Learn more about food in Armenia and the ingredients that make this nation’s cuisine delicious.
Fruit lavash, also referred to as ttu lavash in Armenian, is another favorite. It is fruit leather that people make during the summer when fruits are in season. The most common fruits that ttu lavash is made of include apricots, cherries, prunes, and apples. It can be found in most regions of Armenia, but the most common regions where it is made are Ararat, Kotayk, and Gegharkunik. The sweetness or sourness of the lavash will depend on the fruit that is used to make it, since the recipe does not include sugar. A fruit marmalade is made without the use of sugar or water, and it is cooked until the mixture is creamy. The mixture is then spread out as flat as possible and left to dry for a few days in the sun. Many Armenians enjoy eating ttu lavash as is, whereas others like to roll it up with nuts.