Let’s discover lavash together, a delicious unleavened flatbread traditionally baked in a tandoor, common to many countries and regions such as Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and the whole Middle East, one of the most widespread in the whole Transcaucasus, West Asia and the countries surrounding the Caspian Sea.
In Arabic and Persian, lavash is called لواش (lawash), in Georgian: ლავაში, in Kurdish: nanê los (meaning “loaf of bread”), in Armenian: լավաշ, in Azeri: laves, loach or lavaş, in Turkish: laves or lavaş, also called yufka, and in Iraq: khubz rqāq.
What is the origin of lavash?
Some specialists claim that the origin of lavash is in Armenia, while others claim that it probably originated in Iran, or even more vaguely, in the Middle East.
Among them, two American specialists:
Peter Reinhart is a very famous American baker, professor and chef at Johnson & Wales University (Rhode Island) and author of many books such as Bread Revolution or American Pie. He is considered one of the most respected baking and pastry making teachers in America.
According to Peter Reinhart, after much research, lavash, although generally called “Armenian flat bread”, also has Iranian roots and is now consumed throughout the Middle East and the world.
Gilbert Stanley Marks, known as Gil Marks, rabbi, professor, historian, lecturer, founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine, author of many cookbooks including the famous Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and nicknamed “the walking encyclopedia of Jewish cuisine” says that lavash was born precisely in Iran and not in Armenia.
And yet, lavash is an integral part of Armenian cuisine. It is said that this bread tells the story of a people, a country that has kept its traditions intact, defending its history.
Lavash was recognized in November 2014 as a UNESCO cultural heritage. The dish was registered on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage as an “expression of Armenian culture”.
Demonstrations took place in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, all claiming that lavash was a regional bread and not an Armenian bread.
In 2014, Farhad Nazari, Minister of Culture in Iran, declared, following these events, that “the fact that Armenia wants to include the lavash on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage does not mean that Iran cannot also do so”.
The manufacturing and sharing of lavash in communities in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey have also been included in the list.
Lavash seen by the Armenians
Bread is a divine and sacred gift for Armenians. One of the oldest types of Armenian bread is lavash, it is unique and essential to their daily lives, it tells the story of an entire nation that considers it as one of its treasures.
Lavash was, it seems, already baked in the Armenian highlands 3 millennia before the birth of Christ. This has been demonstrated by the tartar and tonir (furnace) found in a number of ancient sites and especially during the excavations of the city of Artashat, where a basement full of treasures from this period was discovered. That basement has been identified as the first tool in Armenian cuisine.
The cooking of lavash and especially in Artashat is one of the most fascinating and complex ceremonies of Armenian cuisine.
In Armenia, lavash is a women’s story: According to ancient Armenian tradition, the eldest woman kneads the dough, assisted by the eldest daughter and daughter-in-law and the neighboring wives.
During the complicated process of making lavash, the girls of the house also help. The goal is to pass on the culture and secrets of lavash to the younger generation. The ceremony begins very early in the morning, at sunrise.
After rolling balls of dough, the dough is very finely spread with both hands. Once rolled out, the dough is placed on a soft pillow called rafata or badad and struck – or should I say “slapped” – on the piping hot wall of a tonir.
Indeed, it is, according to an ancient Armenian tradition, baked in an underground clay oven called a tonir. This underground clay furnace, as an oven and as a heat tool, is one of the first cooking utensils in Armenian cuisine.
Lavash is the longest shelf life bread in the world, it can keep up to one year.
Breads are usually baked in large quantities, then dried on a wire to be preserved for a very long time, then rehydrated once soaked in water.
Traditionally, lavash, especially in Armenia, measures between 25 and 35 inches long, 12 to 15 inches wide and 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick depending on taste.
Here is the most famous Armenian origin of lavash:
One day, between 605 and 562 BC, during a battle, the King of Armenia Aram was taken prisoner by the Assyrian ruler, King of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar.
However, Nebuchadnezzar did not consider this to be a victory over the Armenian king, so he told him: “I will deprive you of food for 10 days. On the 11th day we will have an archery duel. If you win it, if you are stronger than me, I will free you.”
After some thought, Adam had the idea of asking the Armenian army troops to bring him the most beautiful shield for this duel.
Nebuchadnezzar, not being against it, sent his messengers to the border to convey Aram’s wish to the Armenian soldiers. At first, Aram’s servants were intrigued by their king’s request because he did not need a shield. Then they guessed the meaning of their sovereign’s request and began to roll thin pieces of lavash inside the shield.
The Assyrians were obviously unaware of the secretly hidden lavash inside. When Aram received the first shield, he said, “It’s not good enough. May I have another one?”
He operated in this way every day until the day of the duel, receiving a piece of lavash every day so as not to lose his strength.
On the 11th day, Aram and Nebuchadnezzar headed for the archery range.
Nebuchadnezzar was very confident, convinced that Aram, left without food for 10 days, would be very weakened. Aram won the competition and returned to his country with all the honors.
Lavash having saved him, King Aram, upon his return, ordered that in Armenia only lavash should be baked and not another type of bread.
Many songs, poems and traditions have been dedicated to lavash. Armenians therefore proudly claim that it is one of Armenia’s most important icons, symbolizing the life and wisdom of the Armenian people. In ancient times, lavash was used during wars.
Here is what you will see framed and hung on all the walls of Armenian kitchens:
Our bread, lavash, is our simplicity.
We open it up to everyone.
Our bread, lavash, is our history,
baked and grilled in a flame of fire.
Our bread, lavash, is our sorrow,
Our patience is our hail.
Our bread, lavash, is our essence,
Our faith in this bread is prayer and refuge.
Our bread, lavash, is our sanctuary
We take an oath and always swear by this bread
How to make lavash without tonir
Lavash can be square, rectangular, round, or oval and must traditionally be lowered very thin, as thin as 1/16 of an inch.
The dream of any passionate baker would be to possess a tonir. But if you don’t own one, it is still possible to bake lavash in different ways.
In a pan, in the oven, on a griddle, on an electric pan, everything is possible! And, if you own a pizza stone, it’s time to take it out and place it at the bottom of your hot oven 1 hour before lavash is baked.
I personally baked it in the oven, on a griddle and in a pan, the result was very good. I still preferred the end result on a 60 x 30 inches rectangular granite griddle.
Following the example of Ethiopian and Eritrean injera, Indian naan, Mexican tortilla or Middle Eastern pita, you will not be disappointed by this delicious lavash that will accompany all your dishes, from falafel to shawarma, shish kebab, labneh and even sabich. And even with a Provençal daube stew, we all loved it!
- 3 cups flour sifted
- ¾ cup warm water at 95 F / 36 C
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 water spray bottle with lukewarm water
- Stand mixer
- Add the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer and make a well in its center.
- Add the oil and salt into the center of the well and start kneading at medium speed, gradually incorporating the water.
- Kneading must be very fast and the dough must be soft and homogeneous.
- The dough must come off the edges of the bowl.
- Leave the dough in the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.
- Let it rest in a warm place away from drafts for 30 minutes.
- Finely spread the dough on a lightly floured work surface and fold it in 4, by folding the sides inwards. Let it rest again for 30 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
- Repeat this process 4 times in total with 4 rest periods in order to make the dough very elastic.
Preheat the oven to 430 F (220 C) for 30 minutes (if oven baking is chosen)
- Divide the dough into 3 or 4 dough pieces and roll them up.
Roll out the dough very thinly, to about 1/16 inch (1,5 mm) thick. Give it a square, rectangular, round, or oval shape of your choice.
- Place each bread one at a time on the hot oven baking sheet and bake for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Place each bread one at a time on the very hot griddle and bake each bread for about 2 minutes on each side
- Place each bread one at a time on the very hot pan and bake for about 2 minutes on each side.
Heat the pizza stone for one hour in an oven at 430 F (220 C).
Bake each lavash on the stone in an oven at 375 F (190 C) for 4 to 5 minutes.
- After baking, lightly spray each lavash with warm water.