If you’ve ever been to an Armenian home for dinner, then you know we love to cook with fire. For Armenian immigrants in the diaspora, “khorovats”—or traditional Armenian barbecues—have played an incredibly important role in our stories. Not only are the feasts seen as a way to preserve and pass down old traditions, but they’re also joyful and celebratory occasions to introduce others to our culture.
My dad’s “mangal,” or open-fire grill, has been a staple of my upbringing, and the food my parents prepare over the open flame in our backyard is the first meal I look forward to whenever I visit home. And—ask anyone who has stepped foot in my house for dinner—my father is the authority when it comes to these cookouts. He can always be found behind a wall of smoke, spearing various cuts on his sharp “shampoors” and grilling them to perfection.
The accompanying grilled vegetables, however, are my mother’s jurisdiction. Anything seasonal makes its way to the flame, with eggplant and bell peppers being most traditional. These vegetables produce a dizzying array of side dishes, but my favorite is the whole-roasted eggplant—blistered over the flame until it collapses into itself like a delicious, dying star, then prepared and served tableside for everyone to fight over.
Using lavash, a flatbread popular in South Caucasus, Western Asia and the areas surrounding the Caspian Sea, my dad slides the eggplant off the spear and onto a platter, turning it over to my mom for the next step in the assembly line. She immediately takes a knife to the vegetable, opening it up right down the middle. In goes an array of spices and herbs, a drizzle of olive oil or a dollop of mayo, and some garlic. She whisks the ingredients into the flesh of the eggplant directly in its own skin, blending the ingredients with the flesh. The just-made dip is then passed around the table, and scooped and scraped communally. The process from fire to preparation to plate takes mere minutes.
When homesickness creeps in and I crave the food from my parents’ table, the whole-roasted eggplant is one of the dishes that immediately comes to mind. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly convenient (or legal) to own a traditional Armenian fire spit in my small city apartment.
So, to re-create this dish given my lack of outdoor space, I’ve developed a recipe to incorporate the familiar, smoky and comforting flavors into a shareable, snackable dip. If made ahead and refrigerated overnight, the flavors develop and ingredients meld, which results in a thicker and more traditional dip texture. If made on the spot, the dip is juicy and slightly warm, evoking the same spontaneous presentation I’ve savored off the fire countless times. It’s my go-to recipe when I want to share a taste of my culture with friends at a dinner party or potluck, just like my parents do—no open fire or sharp spears required.