Armenian Recipe: Ghapama (Stuffed Pumpkin)
What do heavy metal band System of a Down and pumpkin spice have in common?
“Hey jan ghapama, hamov hodov ghapama...”
(“Hey dear ghapama, tasty, fragrant ghapama...”)
While the Armenian American band’s mosh-pit version may not be in the original cadence of the song, hand clapping and general excitment always accompany ghapama, an Armenian stuffed pumpkin dish often prepared at Christmas. Butter- and honey-coated rice and dried fruit and nuts are seasoned with cinnamon before filling the inside of a pumpkin and getting slow baked in an oven. To serve, the pumpkin is sliced along its natural indentations, falling open like petals of a flower to reveal its colorful center. Tasty and fragrant, indeed.
In the Folklife Festival’s Hatsatoun demonstration kitchen, weavers Ruzanna Torozyan and Armine Amaryan were delighted to present their regional variation of the dish from Goris in southeastern Armenia. Other regions add additional pumpkin to the filling, or even stuff it with meat, but this Goris version highlights the sweetness of their famed dried Armenian apricots and foraged cornelian cherries, the fruit from flowering dogwood.
The nuts and dried fruits traditionally made this dish cost prohibitive, so families reserved it for feasts and festivals. It is served near the end of the meal, as it falls under the sweet spectrum of dishes.
Cooking notes: We used acorn squash in place of pumpkins at the Festival, but larger baking pumpkins are aplenty in the fall. Cornelian cherries can be found online or at Chinese or Korean groceries, but regular dried cherries can also be used. Ghee is prefered, but regular butter also works well.
Makes 1 pumpkin
Serves 4 people
1 pumpkin, 2-3 kg, round and yellow
250 grams long grain white rice
250 grams white raisins
250 grams dried apricots
250 grams walnuts
200 grams pumpkin seeds
100 grams dried cornelian cherries
200 grams ghee
200 grams honey
2.3 grams (1 teaspoon) ground cinnamon
Salt, as needed
Additional ghee, as needed
Honey, as needed
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Wash the pumpkin. Cut the top off and scoop out the insides. Reserve the pumpkin top for baking and serving.
Partially cook the rice in boiling water for 15 minutes, then drain. The rice will finish cooking in the oven.
Prepare the stuffing by mixing together rice, raisins, apricots, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, ghee, honey, and cinnamon. Season to taste with salt.
Brush the inside of the pumpkin with the additional ghee, followed by honey.
Stuff the pumpkin with the mixture and replace the lid.
Place the pumpkin on an oven-safe dish and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. The time will vary depending on the thickness of pumpkin. The pumpkin is done when a knife inserted into the flesh of the pumpkin goes through without reistance.
Allow to cool before serving. Cut in slices alone the vertical lines of the pumpkin.
Kathy Phung is a foodways coordinator for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, who also manages the demonstration kitchen at the National Museum of American History. Armed with a degree in anthropology and baking and pastry arts, she has worked in various food enterprises in the D.C. area as an oompa loompa, pastry cook, and butcher.