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Eat this! Rojik, something sweet from Armenia

Rojik

 
Rojik, a traditional Armenian sweetmeat, dries outdoors. Naha Chef Carrie Nahabedian took this shot, she says, during a trip to Armenia about five years ago. “We visited a home and saw the homemade rojig drying in the backyard. We bought some and it was absolutely delicious.”

What it is: Rojik is a traditional Armenian candy made from walnuts strung on long strings and thickly coated in fruit syrup.

Where it comes from: The word rojik comes from the Assyrian roziqa, “daily,” and one story goes that the long-keeping sweet was carried by travelers as their daily food supply. Similar candy is traditional in the Republic of Georgia (where it’s called churchkhela); Greece (soutzoukos); and Turkey (pestil cevizli sucuk).

Carrie Nahabedian

Carrie Nahabedian

What to do with it: Rojik is typically eaten as a snack.

At Naha in River North, Chef Carrie Nahabedian serves rojik made in the authentic method by Armenian women in Fresno, Calif. She buys it through her Northwest Side church, St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Orthodox Church in Mont Clare.

“We use it on our cheese course,” she says, “along with the Harvest Song preserves, which are made entirely in Armenia in the Ararat Valley.

“I would love to be able to make it, but this is generally made outdoors,” Nahabedian says.
Rojik
Armenian nut candy
Traditional recipe*

3 pounds whole walnuts (or 6 cups shelled walnut halves)
Cotton crochet thread
4 quarts white grape or other fruit juice
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cornstarch
3 cups all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar

Working with 1 pound at a time, soak the walnuts in water for 30 minutes, and shell by breaking open with a hammer to try to remove the nutmeats in complete halves. (If you buy shelled walnut halves, you will still need to soak them so they can be easily pierced with a needle without breaking.)

Cut 72-inch strands of thread and thread on a heavy needle. Double the thread and knot the ends. Pierce the walnuts in the center and thread 12 inches of them, flat side up, on the string. Leave a gap of about three inches and then thread another 12 inches of nuts facing in the opposite direction, and knot the end.

Continue threading until you’ve used up the nuts. Tie the strings of nuts onto sticks at the center gap, so the flat sides are facing upward. This helps the syrup cling to the nuts.

In a large stockpot, combine the half the juice and half the granulated sugar and simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. In an electric mixer, blend half the cornstarch and half the flour together, then add 1 cup of the juice mixture and beat until smooth. Slowly pour back into the stockpot, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmering and cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick. Keep warm.

Dip the strings of nuts into the mixture several times, at intervals, until well coated. Allow to the strings to dry to the touch between dips. Then hang to dry overnight.

The next day, make another batch of the syrup and dip the nuts again. The finished rojik should be 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Hang until thoroughly dried, several days. When dry, cut into manageable lengths and roll in powdered sugar.

Store airtight. Slice with a sharp knife into 1/4-inch rounds for serving. Makes about 3 pounds.
* Note: I compiled this recipe for classic rojik from several Armenian sources. For a less traditional, somewhat less time-consuming version, you can pour half the fruit syrup into a dish, add the nuts, and cover with more syrup as in this recipe. —LAZ
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