This is not a dish I grew up eating; I only actually came across it about two years ago. I have had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try it but hadn't gotten around to it yet. After seeing sooooo many different posts and conversations about it over the past few months, I decided it was time to finally give it a try, but all of a sudden, I couldn't for the life of me find a pumpkin bigger than a grapefruit!
My intention was to make it and post about it before Thanksgiving for anyone who wanted to include it as part of their holiday, but I didn't find the pumpkin until Tuesday, so even if I had made it that day and posted about it, that would probably have been to late for anyone to switch their plans.
From what I understand, this is a traditional holiday or celebratory dish originally baked in a tonir, a kind of open-pit oven. You may have seen them on television where you see Armenian women slapping sheets of dough for lavash (unleavened flat bread) against the side to bake. This particular dish is apparently so popular that it has its own song - Hey Jan Ghapama.
Although I understand that there are also versions that include meat, all of the recipes that I looked at were basically the same - a pumpkin stuffed with rice, nuts, and dried fruit, with honey, cinnamon, and butter. Almost all of them used almonds and walnuts, but I decided to go with pecans, pistachios, and almonds. It wasn't until I sliced it open that I realized I had actually somehow forgotten to include the pecans. Oops! Some included an apple with the dried fruit - since apple pairs so nicely with cinnamon, that sounded like a good idea to me, so I included one as well.
If you look up the recipe, you will see that many people bake the pumpkin until it is almost blackened on the outside. I know myself well enough to know that had I done that, there is noooooooo way the pumpkin would have made it from the oven to the table in one piece! I baked mine until it was fully cooked and tender enough that I could push a toothpick all the way through it with no resistance.
It really does make a lovely presentation. And what better to serve an Armenian dish like this on than a Tavloo (Backgammon) board platter - thanks sis! :)
1 pumpkin (about 3 lbs)
1/4 c honey (see notes)
2 t cinnamon (see notes)
4 T butter
1 1/2 c rice
1/2 t salt
1/4 c each diced dried fruit (I used apricot, raisins, and prunes/plums)
1 small apple, diced (I left the skin on)
1/4 c each diced nuts (I used almonds, pistachios, and pecans)
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Carefully cut the top off the pumpkin, remove all of the seeds and strands from the inside (reserve the seeds to toasting), and dry the inside with a clean dish towel or paper towels.
- Stir together the honey and cinnamon, then heat in the microwave for a few seconds to thin it out and make it easier to spread - spread half the mixture inside the pumpkin. Drying the inside of the pumpkin helps the mixture adhere rather than just sliding off.
- Bring 2c water up to a boil, reduce the heat and add the salt and rice, cooking (covered) until most of the water has been absorbed and the rice is not yet fully cooked.
- Stir the butter into the rice to melt, then stir in the remaining cinnamon/honey mixture.
- Add the rice mixture to the fruit and nuts (or vice versa if your pot is big enough to accommodate everything), tossing to combine, then spoon the mixture inside the pumpkin.
- Pour about 1/4 c water over the top to help the rice finish cooking, put the top back on the pumpkin, and bake at 350 for about an hour - until a toothpick can be pushed all the way through with no resistance.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove the top and slice into wedges, using the ridges on the pumpkin as a guide. Use the knife to help move the rice into place on each wedge as you slice.
NOTES: Most people melted the butter and poured it over the rice - I didn't see the point and just stirred it in until it melted - up to you. They also didn't combine the honey and cinnamon, just brushed some of the honey on the inside of the pumpkin and tossed the cinnamon with the rice, etc. To me, because the cinnamon goes so nicely with the pumpkin, I wanted some of that flavor right up against the flesh of the pumpkin - again, up to you. Two things I will definitely do differently next time are to increase the honey and the cinnamon. I sort of split the difference between the amounts I found referenced in other recipes, but to me, they are barely discernible and definitely need to be increased. Something else I was thinking about was sprinkling pomegranate arils over the top once sliced open. Not only would that add another color, burst of flavor, and a different texture to the dish, but the pomegranate is a very prominent symbol to Armenia.