For her birthday, my friend Audrey wanted one thing: a lentil soup from Yerevan Market and Cafe, an Armenian spot in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Ethereal yet somehow earthy, it was unlike any lentil soup we’d ever had — orange and slightly tangy. We were left curious about its flavor.
It turned out the secret ingredient was apricots, the national fruit of Armenia.
Though apricots originated in China, their tie to Armenia is strong. They’re botanically known as Prunus armeniaca (or “Armenian plum”). The wood of the tree is used to make the duduk, an ancient Armenian wind instrument still played today. When Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, its new flag was striped in red, blue and an orange hue that recalls what else but the apricot.
“Armenians are very much in love with apricots,” said Marina Sarukhanyan, the owner of Silk Apron Catering in Gaithersburg, Md., which counts Yerevan among its customers.
According to Armenian folklore, apricots were among the fruit that Noah brought on the ark to cultivate after the floodwaters receded. These most coveted trees are in the Ararat Valley, beneath Mount Ararat — the mountaintop on which the ark supposedly landed.
Armenians collect apricots quickly during their short season, to be put to use in pies, breads and punch. Often, the fruit is cut and dried in the sun for fruit leathers, frequently called fruit lavashes, one of the oldest-known snacks. Mostly they’re eaten fresh.
But possibly the most exquisite, yet simple Armenian dish in which apricots feature is simmered and savory. It was that very soup we tasted: tsirani vosp apur, which is among the modern Armenian dishes Ms. Sarukhanyan prepares for her clients, alongside lahmajoun and jingalov hats with 14 different herbs and greens.
Traditionally eaten in and around Yerevan, the Armenian capital where Ms. Sarukhanyan was born, the soup is prepared with fresh apricots in the summer and dried apricots throughout the year and can be eaten hot or cold.
“This contemporary soup is as common today as vegetable soup in other countries,” said Ms. Sarukhanyan, who came to the United States in 2006. “But Armenians from outside Armenia may not even know this dish.”
Lentils (red, orange or yellow), tomatoes and sometimes carrots are simmered in vegetable broth, though you could also use chicken broth. Lemon juice lends a punch of acidity. Then, it’s drizzled with pomegranate syrup and finished with a few bright red pomegranate seeds, if you have them. But the defining feature of this distinctive soup is, of course, the apricots.
“We have the best in the world,” Ms. Sarukhanyan said.