On the third day of our journey through Tavush, we came to Navur, one of the villages farther away from Armenia's border with Azerbaijan, nestled into the green mountains. There, Narine invited us into her two-story, white wooden house. We sat down around a little table in the living room, facing the windows that overlooked her garden and the mountain beyond. There, Narine and her son Artur, just back from gathering wood, poured us cups of coffee and sat down to talk to us.
Narine told us that she had moved to Navur from Berd five years ago with her children after she and her husband got divorced. She is trained as a computer programmer, but she has been unable to find work in Navur, and supports her family by doing odd jobs and raising beans and potatoes in her garden, along with chickens that the Fund for Armenian Relief gave her.
We asked about her children, and Narine told us proudly that she has always emphasized education for them, and they have very high marks in school. Her two older daughters are hoping to get a scholarship to study English and History at university in Yerevan. Artur, her younger son, is in tenth grade, and gets very high grades as well. He told us that his favorite subject was geography, and brought out his favorite geography book to show us. It was an old book from Soviet times, with no cover, and pages worn from being read over and over again through the years.
As we talked to Narine and Artur, we couldn’t help but notice the overpowering, delicious aroma of fresh, baking bread.
“It smells amazing in here,” Anahit said. “What are you baking?”
“Oh, it’s matnakash,” said Narine with a smile. “It’s just finished. Let me get you some.”
She quickly disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a steaming hot loaf of bread, crisp and brown on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. We savored it, complimenting her on the flavor, and asked for the recipe.
Below, we’ve shared the recipe so that you can take a little piece of Tavush into your kitchen. And when the room fills up with the smell of warm, baking Matnakash, it is easy to imagine yourself in a house in a village in Tavush, looking out the window at the tall, forested mountains.
Narine’s Matnakash Recipe
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
Add ingredients for starter to a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Allow to stand until starter becomes bubbly, 3-4 hours.
3 ½ (490g) cups all-purpose flour + extra for kneading
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ cups warm water
Add ingredients to starter in mixing bowl and mix together with a paddle beater or wooden spoon. The dough will be very sticky. It will seem much too sticky to knead.
Switch to the dough hook or knead by hand, adding just a tiny bit of flour at a time. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic but still sticky. If you’re an experienced bread baker, it will still seem stickier than usual.
Large mixing bowl
Oil the bowl and transfer the dough to it. Oil your hands well and turn the dough to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours depending on whether you have a warm or cool spot to set it in. If you need more time before the second rise, you can let the dough rise in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
Oil your hands, punch dough down, knead a few times and place in oiled bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover again and let rise until doubled in size, 1-2 hours.
Shaping and baking:
Adjust oven racks so that one is in the lower and one in the upper half of the oven. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with oiled parchment or silicone mats. Oil your hands and divide dough in two equal portions. We weigh ours on a kitchen scale.
Keep your hands oiled and knead each half into a smooth oval. Keeping your hands oiled, flatten and shape each portion into an oval about 10-12 inches long and 7-8 inches wide.
Use oiled hands, fingers together and slightly bent as in the photos, to make the characteristic oval border. You will need to press the dough several times to hold the shape.
Once you have the oval border, straighten your fingers and use the side of your hand to make the traditional 3 lines in the center as in the photos.
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water
Whisk together and brush breads. Let the shaped dough rest for 15-20 minutes. Use oiled hands to reshape the markings. Using a clean sprayer or your fingers, mist or sprinkle the dough with water just before baking. Bake bread on lower rack for 7 minutes, then switch to upper rack and bake until golden, about 7-10 minutes. Mist or sprinkle the bread twice while baking. If you can’t fit both pans in your oven at once, set one in a cool place while the other bakes. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing.
Makes 2 loaves