Category Archives: Delicacies

The Best Choreg Recipe Ever!

Well, maybe not. But these days such headlines always grab the attention of new recipe seekers out there—me included.

I’ve been making choreg now for five years, usually at Easter time. Choreg is a symbol of my childhood, and it has a special significance to my culinary identity. It was always around when I was growing up—both my grandmothers made it, using their own recipes. And my mother experimented with it, as well as gata, and various Armenian cookies, including simit, which is a hard, sweet braided cookie covered in sesame seeds.

The choreg recipe that my mom gave me several years ago was one that apparently was given to my grandmother, probably by her fellow churchgoers who were from Aintab (she was born in Kharpert province).  But I always found it strange that my choreg never came out as dense as my grandmother’s. Hers was a harder roll, delicious of course but not flaky inside, more bread-like, something that was toaster friendly (she would split the choreg horizontally, like a hamburger bun. The bottoms were golden brown or dark, but not burned. This has led me to believe that she didn’t actually follow this recipe and had made changes to suit her own palate. Or else she just used a different recipe altogether. For Easter she would make a large braided loaf and wrap the dough around a boiled onion skin-dyed egg—unpeeled.

In any case, several years ago I wrote about my very first experiment with choreg. I was absolutely clueless at the time, at one point adding flour a heaping tablespoon at a time until the dough thickened properly. I made some of my own changes over the years and finally came up with a recipe that makes a lightly sweet choreg. The aroma is intensified by the percentage of nutty mahleb (which is ground cherry pit) to nigella seeds for the proper balance of flavors (too many nigella seeds can overpowering—my grandmother from Urfa used to load her choreg with them and I remember picking out most of them when I was really young). I also use some high-quality honey to bring out the sweetness of the mahleb. Butter quality is also very important—I’ve found that unsalted French President butter is ideal. Since I’m in Yerevan I either use high-quality Russian flour or else my first choice–T45 all-purpose French flour that’s sold in Carrefour supermarkets. It sells out sometimes so I revert back to a particular Russian brand in a white and yellow paper bag (it just creatively says “flour” in Russian), which is the most expensive at around $1.25 per kilogram.

After all these years I finally learned how to properly knead the dough. You have to knead for a good 10-12 minutes (I do it by hand) or until the dough is workable. How do you know when it’s ready? Well, you can perform the “windowpane test” that’s in vogue these days by flattening out the dough and pulling it apart in front of the light using three fingers on each hand to check for proper elasticity. Or you can just break off an egg-sized clump of dough and roll it out thin to see if it’s workable, meaning there’s some elasticity but the dough doesn’t break when you roll it out and attempt to make a knot by bringing both ends together and looping one end through the circle that’s formed. Then I place the dough in a stainless steel bowl, cover it with a plastic bag, and prove it in a cold oven for 8 hours straight. It doubles in size during that time, which creates the layered, brioche-like texture.

Proper caramelization on the bottom

You can use egg-shaped pieces of dough for knots or you can be creative with braiding by using three strands of dough, joining one end of each strand together, and then go about lacing the left and right strands across the middle strand, as if you’re lacing a pair of sneakers and the middle strand is the sneaker (I know I’m going deep here with the imagery). 

The dough will yield about 12 large egg-shaped pieces. If you just want knotted rolls arrange six rolls on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. You want to bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 F/180 C degrees, or until the bottom of the roll is caramelized. If you’re impatient wait about 5-10 minutes before you tear them apart and eat them warm—I like to smear butter over the steamy, flaky dough before cramming it in my mouth.

If you’re super lazy you can just bake the choreg in a bread loaf pan. One time I brushed the bottom of a Bundt pan with egg wash, sprinkled sesame seeds on the egg, then dropped the dough in and baked it for around an hour. The sesame seeds were caramelized by all the butter in the choreg. I devoured it within a few days.

This recipe will give the choreg a brioche-like texture—you should not have a dense, bready roll if properly baked.

Here’s the recipe:

5 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1/4 cup sugar (I use caster sugar)

1 packet (1/4 oz., or 2-1/4 tsp) of active dry yeast  (I had Fleishchmann’s on hand)

1 cup (225 g) high-quality unsalted butter, melted (I used Lurpak; French butter like President is even better)

1 cup milk, full-fat

2 tablespoons high-quality honey (I had Armenian linden blossom honey, and I used an actual stainless steel tablespoon to scoop it out of the jar)

3 eggs at room temperature, plus one for glazing

2 tsp mahleb

1 tsp nigella seeds

2 tsp fine salt (I only use sea salt)

2-3 tsp sesame seeds for sprinkling


  1. Cut the butter—cold (not frozen) or at room temperature—into pieces and place in a small saucepan. Melt the butter on the lowest stove setting/flame—do not let it start simmering.
  2. Once the butter is melted add the honey and stir a few times until it’s dissolved. Then add the milk. Stir again a few times, then take the saucepan off the heat and set aside. The liquid should be warm—do not bring it to a boil.
  3. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Then add the sugar, salt, mahleb, and nigella seeds and stir well until combined.
  4. Add the liquid mixture to a separate large bowl. Add the yeast to it and whisk until it’s dissolved. Then add the eggs. Whisk again until fully combined.
  5. Slowly add the dry ingredient mix to the bowl containing the liquid, about a quarter of it at a time, and stir until just combined before adding more (I use a big, old-school wooden spoon). Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and stir in every bit of flour, again until just combined. Do not over mix.
  6. Turn out the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Then roll out a chunk of dough with your fingers into a strand to test for proper elasticity. If the dough bounces back a bit but doesn’t break apart when you make the strand and try to tie it into a knot then you’re done kneading. If it breaks then knead a bit more.
  7. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a plastic bag or film, and put the bowl in a cool oven. The dough should prove for a full 8 hours. It will double at least in size after rising. Then take the bowl out of the oven and set aside.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
  9. Turn out the dough onto a clean surface. You want to divide the dough into 12 pieces to make 12 knotted rolls or else make the pieces bigger or smaller if you want to braid the dough, depending on the size you want the choreg to be. You can make a challah type-braid if you’d like. 
  10. To make knotted rolls, roll out each piece of dough with your fingers until you have a strand that is thin enough to work with, around a 1/2 inch or 1 cm in diameter. Do not make the strands too thin. Bring the two ends of each strand together then loop one end through the circular shape that’s formed to make a simple knot. You shouldn’t have a hole in the center.
    OR If you’re going to braid then the strands should be as think or thick as necessary, depending on the size of the elongated roll or loaf. Use three strands for braiding. There are plenty of videos online to guide you with the braiding process.
  11. Arrange the knots or braids on the baking pans—six knots per pan. Whisk an egg in a small bowl until fully combined. Glaze all the rolls with the egg wash using a brush, enough to cover the top of each roll completely. Then sprinkle enough sesame seeds to cover the top of each roll. Use more or less sesame seeds according to taste, it’s up to you. 
  12. If you’re going to place one tray of knotted rolls in the oven at a time bake for 25-30 minutes or until the tops and sides are golden brown and the bottom of the roll or braid is caramelized when you lift it slightly off the pan using a spatula or your oven mitt. If you’re making a large loaf then the baking time may be longer. If you’re going to place two pans in the oven, one on top of the other on separate racks, remember that the top pan will bake faster than the bottom pan, meaning that the bottom pan may have to bake longer than 25-30 minutes (although this may only be applicable to electric ovens; gas or convention ovens may produce different results).
  13. When you feel that the choreg is properly baked remove from the oven. Let the choreg cool completely, or if you’re impatient and want to eat one or two warm like I do then wait around 5-10 minutes before you tear into them.

To store, arrange them on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. You can also refrigerate or freeze them after placing them into a plastic zipper storage bag. A choreg roll can be cut horizontally and toasted. 

Serve the choreg as is or with generously smeared butter or your favorite cheese–feta, Munster, brie, or mozzarella are great. Kalamata olives and sliced sujukh or another cured, hard sausage also go well with choreg. Serve your favorite coffee or tea. Enjoy!

‘Za’atar Should be Green’

Guest Contributor

Green Za'atar
CC Sjschen (own work)

Armies come and go, rulers and regimes rise and fall, occupations end and others begin, but, like the sun that nourishes it, za’atar is eternal: a piece of bread, olive oil, and a dip.

For those who do not know the delights of za’atar, the world is an impoverished place, bereft of za’atar’s taste, texture, and, most of all, its fragrance that can drive the most sane person delirious, mad with intoxication. Call it an herb, and you don’t do justice to it; call it by its English-language names—hyssop, savory, oregano, thyme—and you turn it into some silly little thing that grows in manicured gardens. For za’atar is all of these things, but more, much more; its beauty is wild, its allure unassuming, its memories vivid.

For the non-za’atarites of the world, let me say with a dull voice that za’atar is the generic name for an herb whose ancestry goes all the way back to Biblical times and includes most of the herbs mentioned above, in different variations according to where it grows and is mixed. It is often mixed with sesame seeds or sumac or both. But, really, the method of preparation is not important because, for all intents and purposes, you cannot make za’atar yourself unless you live in parts of the world where za’atar grows under the generous, searing sun of the Middle East, often in semi-arid conditions. Even then, za’atar is a child of the hills where it grows and the streets and alleys where it is sold. It is the mother of all vernacular foods. Several years ago, on a visit to Palestine, I was in al-Khalil (Hebron), in the old market (the souk). We were walking in the narrow alleyway; the entire place it seemed enveloped in the pungent, distinctive fragrance of the divine herb. Then, my eyes caught a few sacks right there on the cobblestones as we turned a corner. The za’atar had no sumac, very little sesame seeds. It was pure za’atar—verdant, slightly oily, and very pungent. That’s the best za’atar I had ever tasted.

In such places as al-Khalil, za’atar is the native stuff of everyday life, growing on hills, in abundance, requiring only the sun and little water. But Za’atar cuts across national boundaries in the Middle East; class divisions; forms of social conduct.  It is the original and enduring fruit of the good earth—generous, beautiful, tasty, and inexpensive. Everyone—poor and rich, young and old—eats za’atar which is sold in high-end stores catering to the foodies as well as grimy little shops for the rest of the population. For all these qualities, za’atar is one of the most loved of all food staples there. And because it is so simple, it resists any sort of commercial messing around with, as has happened to yogurt, for instance, on its non-native shores. Nowadays, you can turn yogurt into ice cream made from a powder. Not so with za’atar, for za’atar is autonomous, with a distinctly native attitude.

Za'atar Bread
Za’atar bread, also known as manaeesh. © N. Saum,

For those who have grown up in the Middle East region, za’atar is the food of their childhood and adolescence. In fact, one of the most pleasant memories of my years as a young girl has to do with za’atar.  We lived in Amman, the capital of Jordan. I would rush home after school, scamper to the kitchen, and make myself and my brother a za’atar sandwich in flat Arabic bread, with the divine herb and olive oil, topped with ripe tomatoes sliced. We would consume this snack (the word does no justice to the sensory overdose of the thing!) in a state of near-euphoria, with the za’atar-olive oil mixture dripping down our chins, the sandwich malleable in our hungry hands.  Then, at dinner, we would have za’atar again, no problem, this time with labneh (strained yogurt) and vegetables and tea.

Since those days, I have made it my life’s mission to seek the very best za’atar in the world. I have wavered between its various versions—the Syrian, the Lebanese (which the Lebanese think is the best!), the Jordanian, and the Palestinian, and concluded that the Jordanian and Palestinian za’atars are by far the better ones. I cannot choose between these two varieties because like the two countries and their populations, Jordanian and Palestinian za’atar are really part of the same weave.

Green Jordanian za’atar which, according to what the author tells me, is the one to have, hence the title of this piece. It is indeed extraordinary and hard to find outside of Jordan apparently. -GG

In Palestine, I have bought za’atar in al-Nasrah (Nazareth), in al-Khalil and of course in Jerusalem. In their cookbook, Jerusalem, Ottolenghi and Tamimi write: “If there is one smell to match the emblematic image of the Old City of Jerusalem, one odor that encapsulates the soul of this ancient city nestling in the Judean Mountains, it is the smell of za’atar.”

Outside Palestine, one of the best places to buy these superior kinds of za’atar is Azhiman, in the Sweifieh section of Amman. The shop itself is worth a trip to Jordan. For me, a stop at Azhiman is an obligation, a ritual almost. I leave it to the last day of my stay, devote an entire afternoon to the pleasures it offers. Other similar stores have sprung up in Amman, now that the city has become a refuge for all those fleeing the wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Gulf state citizens seeking a stable place for their summer vacations. In fact, in the past ten years, Amman has become a culinary paradise, built out of the violence engulfing the entire region.

What is known as Aleppo blend za’atar, which leans a bit heavy on the sumac if you ask me. -GG

Azhiman is an older store that has moved with the times but kept its old charm and lack of pretentiousness. It caters to all classes of the population not just the foodies and the rich. At this compact, well-organized store, you will find half a dozen variations of za’atar—with and without salt, with and without sumac, with and without sesame seeds, and on and on. (The store has an equally varied, enticing selection of grains, spices, local soaps, chocolates, herb teas, and so on.)

That’s the za’atar that sits on my kitchen counter now, that beckons me in the morning and ends my day in the evening, that transports me to that grimy old kitchen of ours of decades past. My brother, eight years younger than I, would wait patiently for his sandwich. I would work fast, and before I was finished he would snatch his share. We would sit together at the dinner table, begin eating, our mouths circled by a shiny greenish film of oil and za’atar.

Lebanese blend za’atar, which was what I grew up with. One whiff of this stuff transports me to days when my mother would make fresh manaeesh, which made us drool in anticipation as we smelled it baking. -GG

Take a piece of flat Arabic bread, dip it in olive oil, then in the za’atar. That’s all. That’s the za’atar scene. The taste is other worldly—the aftertaste subtle and invigorating.   When the world weighs heavy like this, za’atar is a zap, a reminder that there is nothing more satisfying than the simplest, the most ancient of foods, nothing more wholesome than a piece of bread, olive oil, and this ancient herb. When the world is full of joy and possibility, za’atar’s ancient roots are calming, instructive, a reminder that the world may turn upside down in the blink of an eye but za’atar is eternal.