Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking

Now that winter is setting in, it’s time to talk about one of my favorite Armenian dishes: tuttoo. The word tuttoo means “sour.” It is also used in Armenia for “pickle.” Now, in my experience, even most Armenians have never heard of tuttoo as I am about to describe it. Tuttoo — in this case pickled cabbage soup — is a dish that originated in the town of Bitlis, which is where my father’s mother’s people were from. Why the dish never really took hold in other parts of Armenia is anyone’s guess. It certainly wasn’t due to a shortage of cabbage.

Making tuttoo is simple, but it takes about a week and a half. First, you need a crock. We use the two-gallon size, which, when filled, will yield two large pans of soup. You will also need about a head and a half or two heads of dense green cabbage, pearled barley, salt, a couple of slices of bread (wheat or sourdough), and a jalapeño pepper.

First, cover the bottom of the crock with a healthy layer of dry pearled barley. Then, after washing the cabbage and removing the outer leaf (or leaves, depending on their condition), cut the cabbage in half, then in half again, and then cut out the hard part. Next, prepare the jalapeño by cutting off the stem along with a little of the stem end, and slicing the pepper in quarters the long way, and then cutting the resulting pieces in half crosswise. Depending on your tolerance for hot food, save all, part, or none of the seeds.

Now cut one of the sections of cabbage into the crock, in fair-sized pieces that won’t be too huge after they’re cooked (hard to eat), or too small (you don’t want a shredded, coleslaw-like appearance). Then throw in two or three pieces of jalapeño and some of the seeds. Sprinkle with a fairly generous layer of salt. Then repeat this process — cabbage, jalapeño, salt — until the crock is about three-quarters full, or just a little more. After you’ve added your last layer of salt, lay the slices of bread on top, then place an inverted soup dish over everything to hold it in place, then fill the crock with cold water until the stuff is all covered. If your crock has its own lid, first put something heavy on top of the soup dish to make sure it doesn’t float, then put on the lid. If it doesn’t have a lid, a nine-inch glass pie plate works nicely, but it works better if the weight is on top of the pie plate rather than on top of the soup dish. The bottom of the pie plate and the bottom of the inverted soup dish should just touch, then the weight holds them in place. For weight, we use a round rock about the size of an eggplant.

Next, find a fairly warm place to put the crock. A cold place will work, but the cabbage will take longer to pickle. Then wrap the crock in an old coat. (I use the diseased-looking brown corduroy coat I used to wear in junior high school.) One word of caution: in about five days or so, you might notice a peculiar smell in the room, so choose your location wisely. Unfortunately, the only place we have in our house that works is in the kitchen, right behind the table. But it makes for a few days of interesting conversation.

In about seven to ten days, the tuttoo is ready to cook. Take the crock to the sink, remove the lid, and — wow! — throw away the soggy bread. If there is a collection of questionable-looking “material” on top of the water, don’t worry, this is normal. Just skim it off and throw it away.

Now comes phase two: cooking. But before you do, it should be noted that tuttoo is also good raw — at least that’s what my grandmother’s brothers used to say when they drank the stuff and their faces briefly turned green. Anyway, don’t be afraid to give it a taste. You might discover your own personal fountain of youth. So. Put a little lamb stew meat (with bone, a little fat is okay) in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle on some salt. Then pour in a layer of dry pearled barley. (A lot of the original pearled barley will still be at the bottom of the crock. Don’t try to fish it out.) Using a ladle, scoop tuttoo out of the crock, making sure there is plenty of the solid stuff as well as the liquid, until you have a full pan of soup. Slice in a yellow onion, then add some tomato sauce for color. Once the soup is cooking, it will take a good two hours to be done. By then, no insects will be alive in the house, and those pesky neighbors of yours will be a thing of the past. The soup will be thicker, the cabbage will have softened, and the barley will be puffed up.

After your tuttoo is safely simmering on the stove, put the lid back on the crock and return the crock to its pickling location, wrap it up again, and let it sit for two or three or four more days, then make your second cooking, which will be a little more sour. (Again, don’t bother to salvage the barley on the bottom.) Personally, I like the second cooking better, although the first cooking is so good it almost drives me out of my mind — in my case a short trip, but what a way to go.

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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