Alright y’all, we are back for yet another #GentGoesGlobal post! Last time we went to Nigeria, and we’re moving northeast now to visit the Caucasus Mountains and Armenia. Get your winter squash out and prepare the dried fruits – we’re making ghapama!
I chose this dish because it’s a celebratory centerpiece, meant to grace the table at holidays and events. It was perfect for New Year’s, but I made it way back when as the vegetarian centerpiece to our American Thanksgiving. As a vegetarian, I’m used to just eating sides on Thanksgiving and accepting that there is no fabulous centerpiece for me. And no, tofurky doesn’t count, have you seen that thing?? It looks ill! So being able to have this was a cause for celebration in and of itself!
Ghapama is stuffed pumpkin, but you can make it with other winter squash (as I did with acorn squash, when I found that the store was completely out of pumpkins). I initially thought it was going to be much too sweet for my palate, with the dried fruit, cinnamon, and honey. However, instead of amplifying and overpowering the natural sweetness of the squash, it complimented it. The filling was heavily flavored, and the plain squash helped dial it back a bit. Overall, it exceeded my expectations!
One of the things you need to keep in mind is that parboiling the rice is a necessary step to make sure you have a delicious end product. Don’t think you can skip it and chuck it all in and have it come out fine. Putting raw rice in will result in a crunchy texture that isn’t pleasant to eat, because there’s no way it can cook with the little moisture released from the squash. On top of parboiling, you’re going to add a bit of water to the filling before you close up the squash to MAKE SURE there’s no chance of it drying out. That’s really the main concern with this recipe, because everything else is so delightfully simple.
The history of ghapama in Armenia is a fairly recent one, compared to how old the region is. Pumpkins didn’t enter Armenia until the 19th century, according to Irinia Petrosian’s book Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction, and Folklore. Such vegetables got incorporated into traditional foods, and by process of assimilation, became normalized in Armenian cuisine over time. In fact, there is a folk song about ghapama, telling the story of a village that showed up to taste the “dear, tasty and fragrant ghapama” that a family had cooked until there was none left. Petrosian writes that pumpkin is not a common food in Armenian cuisine, which just goes to show that ghapama enjoys a special status in the gastronomic canon of the people.
So that, my friends, is how you make a centerpiece worth any celebration table. I hope you enjoyed this journey to the Caucasus, and now Armenia joins Georgia and Russia as completed countries in my #GentGoesGlobal series! Do you have any suggestions of where we should go next? I’ve got some more countries lined up, and some non-global recipes as well, that I can’t wait to share with you. Until then, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
- 1 pumpkin (or 2 acorn or other winter squash – about 4lbs or 2kg)
- 1 1/2 cup rice
- 4 Tbsp butter (melted)
- 3/4 cup mixed dried fruit (I used apricots, dates, and cherries)
- 1/4 cup craisins (can use raisins as well)
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/2 cup your favorite chopped nuts (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Wash and prepare the pumpkin or squash by cutting the top off (it will be a lid for baking, so hold onto it!) and scooping out the insides. Save the seeds for roasting as a snack!
- Add a 2:1 ratio of water to rice to a covered saucepan (so 3 cups of water for 1 1/2 cups of rice) and bring to a boil; cook for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, add the rice, butter, dried fruit, cinnamon, salt, honey, and nuts (if using). Stir together until well combined. Fill the pumpkin or squash with the mixture, then add the 1/4 cup of hot water before putting the top that you cut out back on. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the outside of the pumpkin is fork tender. Cut a wedge out to allow the filling to peek through, and serve as a celebratory centerpiece. Enjoy!