Nakhijevan’s Native Dish: The secret of kyalagosh

Sima Badalyan keeps her spices in a special place at her kitchen: the most valuable among them for her is dried ‘maraloty’ (herb which grows only in Nakhijevan and some parts of Vayots Dzor province).

“If we do not have maraloty, we cannot cook kyalagosh. And there is no one from Nakhijevan, who does not eat kyalagosh,” says Sima who is off Nakhijevan extraction. “Maraloty is a type of greens which grew in our parts; in Turkish it means ‘grass of a deer’. We use it only in a dried form.”

Kyalagosh is an Armenian traditional dish, which is made of strained natural yogurt (matsuni), stewed onions, and maraloty.

This food was prepared in almost all regions of Armenia, in some regions lentil and garlic were added to kyalagosh.

Kyalagosh was called ‘kelegyosh’ in Nagorno-Karabakh. Sima says that, anyway, the most delicious kyalagosh belongs to Nakhijevan, and it is thanks to maraloty.

(Nakhijevan is a historical Armenian land, which is currently in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, most noted these days as the site of destruction of a famous Armenian cemetery in Jugha on which once stood more than 3,000 stone crosses.)

Sima starts working: she puts two cups of strained matsuni, a pack of sour cream into a pan, and she starts beating it with a spoon. Later she adds two eggs, three tablespoons of flour, and continues beating. After beating the mass, she adds a half-liter of water to it, keeps on beating, and finally puts the pan on the gas fire.

“When the pan is on the gas fire, we add two more liters of water, depending on the thickness of the soup. Then we leave it to boil on a low fire, while we prepare the stewed onions,” Sima says.

She peels five onions, cuts them into small pieces, adds 200 grams butter, and puts it on the fire.

As the onions slowly cook, Sima tells about her home village Bist (in Goght’n province of Nakhijevan). She tells that kyalagosh was being prepared only in some villages of her province: Alahin, Nasirvaz, Shorot, Bist, Abragunis, Yernjak.

Sima left Bist in 1966, she and her husband moved to Yerevan, and her parents left Bist in the 1970s. It’s been more than 20 years since she was last there.

“We had a house, orchards, etc. We left everything to Turks (Turk-Azeris) and left the village, because we were captives in our own homeland. Churches, cross-stones, they kept nothing after Armenians left the area, they (Azeris) destroyed everything,” Sima recalls, and tears make her chicks wet.

Sima misses her homeland, the world where she was born and brought up. She says that now, being far from Nakhijevan, she tries to uphold their traditions, and among them foods are in the first place.

People in the villages used to cook kyalagosh of dried strained matsuni. They put matsuni into a cloth sack and put it aside. When the liquid disappeared, they divided the thick mass into small balls and put them under the sun dry. When ready, they gathered the small balls and reserved them. The small balls are called ‘choratan’ (strained matsuni), and they are mainly used in winter.

“We find maraloty from the territory of Vayk (Vayots Dzor province). No matter where people born in Nakhijevan live, they keep in touch with each other and send the greens (maraloty) to each other. I send it to the daughter of my sister-in-law, who lives in Emirates, to my brother, who lives in Los Angeles. No matter where they reside, they should eat our kyalagosh,” Sima says.

Sima interrupts her story to return to the stewed onions. When it becomes almost brown, she adds three tablespoons of maraloty to it. The tasty smell fills the kitchen. Then she adds some ladles of the buttermilk soup to the stewed onions, later adding the whole stewed onions to the boiling mass.

Kyalagosh is eaten the same way as khash (Armenian national dish of boiled tripe and cow hooves), and it is considered to be a ‘heavy’ (hard for digesting) dish. Usually guests are invited to eat this soup in the early morning. Before eating, it is necessary to put small pieces of dried lavash (Armenian traditional bread) into it, and instead of a spoon, it is preferable to eat the dish with the help of soft lavash, by hand. Usually vodka is served with kyalagosh.

The table is laid. Sima fills the bowls with the soup, and at the same time she explains how it is necessary to eat the dish.

“Salt is added by each person. We must chop dried lavash into the bowl beforehand, and only then add kyalagosh into it, mixing all the time. It’s a matter of personal choice whether to eat by hand or by spoon. It is also necessary to put some onions on the table,” Sima explains.

Her grandson – Edward – is moving around her all time and asking, “Isn’t the kyalagosh ready?”

And Sima’s journalist guest is also eager to taste this peculiar dish. I expect to not like it. I am wrong. The special flavor of the maraloty have turned out a unique and tasty product.

“It is impossible to eat kyalagosh at once and understand it (how tasty it is), one should at least be from Nakhijevan,” Sima says.

My roots are from Van and Mush, and only after eating half of the kyalagosh I understand the real meaning of Sima’s words. She gives me some tablespoons of maraloty as a present, so that I may cook it too. We’ll see if Sima is right . . .

The following ingredients are necessary to prepare kyalagosh:
500 grams of strained matsuni
500 grams of sour cream
3 eggs
3 tablespoons of flour
200 grams of butter
5-6 onions
3 tablespoons of maraloty
2.5-3 liters of water

How to prepare kyalagosh:
Put 500 grams of strained matsuni, 500 grams of sour cream, 3 eggs, 3 tablespoons of flour into a pan, and beat the mass carefully. Continuing to stir, add half a liter of boiled water. Then put the pan on a slow fire. When boiling, add 2 more liters of water.
Cut 5 onions into small pieces, and fry them with 200 grams of butter. Mix the stewed onions all the time to cook it properly. When it becomes brownish, add three tablespoons of maraloty and keep mixing. Add the ready stewed onions into the mass made of strained matsuni and sour cream. Let it to boil for a couple of minutes and then serve the soup.
Before eating kyalagosh, add some broken dried lavash into it. Serve fresh onions as a side dish. Enjoy with vodka.