Edible Tastings: SEVAN BAKERY'S MEZZE
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA
Your first visit to Sevan Bakery in Watertown can be a bit overwhelming. Owned and operated by the Chavushian family, Armenian by way of Turkey, Sevan opened in 1985 and has been going strong ever since. Tucked on a corner of Mt. Auburn Street, this little shop is filled to the rafters with Middle Eastern specialties, both imported and homemade. There are over 30 kinds of olives; seven types of fresh feta cheese; a dizzying array of roasted nuts, dried fruit and Turkish nougat-style candies; yogurts, cheeses, tubs of lebne; vibrant packaged spices, jarred pepper pastes, dried beans, tinned anchovies; olive oils, vinegars, pickles and even a small wine section. There’s a freezer case filled with heat-and-serve hors d’oeuvres, including lahmejune, and koufta, Armenian lasagna-style meat pies. There are packages of pita breads in every shape and size, and a bakery case of sweet and savory house-made pastries. The atmosphere is lively, the patrons all seem to know one another and the staff is kind and helpful to a novice lost in translation.
But the main reason to choose Sevan is their exceptional selection of house-made mezze—small dishes like dips, spreads and salads meant to go with flatbreads at the start of a meal. Kapriel Chavushian and his sons Nuran and Murat make everything themselves from traditional recipes of the Armenian diaspora, with influences from Turkey, Greece, and other parts of the Middle East. There are, of course, the usual hummus and baba ganoush. But some dishes, like the so-called “Nutty Cheese Spread,” were invented entirely by père Chavushian; even his sons can’t find evidence of its existence back in their homeland, and that’s what makes this shop so special: creative takes on traditional dishes and perfect renditions of the classics.
This kind of food just breeds conviviality, and it’s made for sharing. At this busy time of year, when guests drop by on short notice and you always need food for a crowd, stop into Sevan and fill your basket with dips and salads, frozen spinach triangles ready to pop in the oven, a pile of meat-stuffed dolma (grape leaves), fried kibbeh (meat-and-bulgur croquettes), pitas, some nutty halva and flaky baklava. Don’t miss the bagged zahatar bread or the stacks of freshly-made simit behind the register: These ring-shaped, sesame-crusted breads are crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, perfect for tearing into chunks to scoop up your mezze. Arrange them on the dining table with a rainbow of olives, some sharp sheep’s milk cheeses, a few bottles of wine and treat your friends and family to a mezze party, where the entire meal is made of small bites, shared bread, and good company.
Unlike most muhummara, the Sevan version isn’t pureed; chopped walnuts are stirred into a spicy blend of Turkish red pepper paste, garlic, cumin, Aleppo pepper, breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. The result is smoky and piquant, equally delicious on chunks of toasted bread or kebabs of grilled lamb or chicken.
This salad of bulgur and parsley is a staple on most mezze plates, but what makes Sevan’s version different is its exceptionally vibrant green color: It’s made almost entirely of parsley, with a small handful of cracked wheat added for good measure. Just the right amount of tart lemon, some onion, tomato, and olive oil make this tabbouleh a bright and acidic addition to the plate. Roll some inside a lettuce leaf and top with a dollop of tahini sauce, then wrap in a torn pita for the perfect bite.
Another bulgur-based salad, but this one uses much more cracked wheat to create an almost creamy texture. This traditional Armenian mezze gets its crimson hue from tomatoes, red pepper paste, onions, spices and olive oil. Equally good warm or at room temperature, you can serve it as a side dish or on torn bread.
Jajek is the Armenian and Turkish word for tzaziki, so you’ll recognize it as the cucumber-yogurt spread found often in Greek cuisine. But Sevan’s is made with thick labne yogurt-cheese, redolent of garlic, scallions, dill and mint, using chopped cucumber rather than shredded. Delicious as a salad on its own or spooned over hot lahmejune, the flat, spicy, meat-topped Armenian “pizzas” from the freezer case.
Whipped Spiced Feta
A salty, spicy blend of feta, Turkish hot pepper flakes, and red pepper paste, this bright orange cheese spread goes with practically anything, and is especially nice on warmed simit bread. For a totally cross-cultural experience, spread some whipped spiced feta on a toasted sesame bagel: Your usual cream cheese schmear will pale in comparison.
Nutty Cheese Spread
A non-traditional mezze created in Sevan's kitchen, this blend of chopped walnuts, pistachios, crumbled feta, olive oil, garlic and dried cranberries is a revelation. Dribble some over warmed bread, or onto hot grilled lamb, roasted peppers, or asparagus. Olive green studded with ruby red fruit, the color scheme alone makes it a perfect addition to your holiday appetizer table.
Sevan Bakery 599 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown 617.924.3243 sevanboston.com
This story appeared in the Winter 2015 issue.