Last week I was washing and prepping some radishes that I had bought at the Farmaki’s farmers’ market when I stopped to ask, “What am I supposed to do with all these radish tops?”
Throwing the luscious greens out just seemed like such a waste.
A quick text to the family group chat and I was informed that radish tops, as well as other greens we often toss in the U.S., are used to make the stuffing for the famous Armenian bread Jingalov (jenga-love) hats.
“What are jingalov hats? and why are they relevant?” you ask.
Well, let me tell you about them, show you how I made them and also how I photographed the process!
Jingalov hats are a type of Armenian bread made year-round, but more commonly made during spring and summer when greens and herbs are growing bountifully in Armenia. They are shaped like overstuffed footballs, bursting at the seams with those delicious greens. “Some bakers claim they use more than twenty types of greens to achieve optimal flavor.”
After reading a few recipes online, all varying in specific types of greens, I felt as though I had to try to make them! I thought it would be a good way to pay tribute to my uncle Paul, who was a proud Armenian. He was a humorous cameraman and a lover of gardening, so what better way to honor him than to highlight fresh greens and photography in one blog?
Before starting this project, I did some research online and found this article to be the most useful to me, How to Photograph Food Like a Pro.
These are the photography tips I gleaned from most while making my hats.
Lighting, lighting and more lighting
When photographing food, natural light on an overcast day is the most ideal setting. Reflectors can be used when you need to redirect your light.
Don’t have studio reflectors? You can even use tin foil (yes, I tried).
When the weather does not work in your favor, strobe lighting can be used, though you are likely going to want to use softboxes in addition to reflectors to tone down the harshness of artificial light.
In order to highlight the right areas of your ingredients and finished products, you can use a diffusor (check out this DIY diffuser) to improve direct sunlight.
Photograph your food while it is F-R-E-S-H
Cooked food loses body as it sits, so it is important to get your shots when your food is fresh out of the oven or pan. The article I linked even recommends undercooking food (when photographing for strictly promotional reasons) to maintain brighter colors.
Before photographing them, I went as far as to soak my greens in ice water to keep them crisp and to bring out their beautiful colors.
This brings me to my next point…
Making your food pop with bright and complementary colors will elevate the composition of your photos. Using a contrasting background tone, with cool colors, can make warm-toned focal points jump off the page.
Don’t be afraid to feature multiple colors to encourage playful movement in your photo.
One way to make your dish pop is to zhuzh up your background.
This is where you get to be a bit more creative by adding ingredients, sauces, utensils, flatware, you name it!
For a more refined look, you can use empty space as your background, though you will want to make sure the focal point, your dish, is polished to the nines.
This was my favorite element to play with while photographing the jingalov-hat-making process.
Food photography can have many moving parts, so it is beneficial to align those different parts into shapes and lines that are pleasing to the eye. Utensils, glassware, flatware, and linens can all be manipulated to guide your audiences’ eyes to the pièce de résistance, your dish.
When you are photographing food there are two different angles that are commonly used: You can take your photo from in front of your dish to capture texture and body or you might take your photo from above, (bird’s-eye) using its surroundings to deliver a complete story.
A more abstract shot might be to use a macro lens and get close-ups of your food, this would better show off the texture and quality of your dish.
And now… the fun part!
I used this recipe for my jingalov hats, though the beauty of this Armenian specialty is that you can fill them with all the greens your heart desires.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to stuff your jingalovs!
Here are my results!
These were the first photos I took, I think it was the optimal time as far as lighting goes. The natural light bounces off the crisp scallions in all the right places. The second photo shows off line beautifully. The gradient of green in the scallions is also pleasing to my eye! As an onion lover, it makes me a little hungry for veggies and sour cream dip (one of Paul’s favorites).
This photo was taken just after I soaked the greens in ice water to freshen them up.
What do you think? Did it work?
I enjoy the lines in this picture as well. The curve in the cilantro stems creates a sense of movement within the photo.
I know that Paul would have loved to hear that I used greens from the local farmers’ market. One of the many “hats” he wore in his time was selling fruits and vegetables at open-air markets in France.
He used to love to tell us all about how he would haggle with the townspeople over his beautiful produce.
Of all the photos I took, this one does the best job of using color to show off the ingredients. I used the bird’s-eye angle for this, and most of my other photos, because it allowed me to use the dark granite counter as a complementary background to my warm ingredients.
I should mention, I subbed smoked paprika for sweet paprika (I do not condone) simply because I couldn’t bear another trip to the store. It gave a more earthy taste to the already herbal-tasting hats.
Next time I think I’ll stick to the recipe, as far as the paprika goes!
For this photo, I added scallions and chopped dried cranberries as a garnish to make the colors really stand out. I used a dishtowel as the background to make the chartreuse green a bit more appealing. Though I probably should have opted for a cleaner, less wrinkly towel!
I split my filling in two and DIY-ed one half. In my experimental filling, I subbed the pomegranate seeds for dried cranberries and added some ricotta cheese to the chopped greens.
I actually preferred my filling over the original recipe!
Paul was a master of DIY-ing. He once fixed the battery of his outdated mobile phone with loose wires and electrical tape. It looked like something straight out of a Bond movie. Safe to say, the “device” would not have made it through airport security. Though something tells me he would have been able to talk his way past even the grumpiest TSA agent. His warm smile and charming accent made his stubbornness all the more tolerable.
The hat dough was quick and easy to make. The hardest part was cleaning up my “lightly” floured counter, as I got a little carried away.
You might notice the tattoo on my right wrist. It actually reads Էմիլի (Emily or Emili in Armenian). For 15 years I held onto a small piece of paper that had my name, in Armenian, written on it. It was given to me by my uncle’s brother, Xavier. A couple of years ago, I decided to wear it permanently as a reminder of my uncle.
Showing Paul my tattoo is one of my most treasured memories with him.
Here you can see the progression of my hat folding skills, from worst to best. I love the subtle shadows seen in the folds of the hats.
Watch this expert make her hats to see what they’re actually supposed to look like.
For this shot, I put all my tips and tricks together with a dash of improvisation. I had lost my natural light in the kitchen, so I actually put a dish towel down on the cement in our backyard, bussed the cutting board outside, and took the photo!
I added the paprika and ricotta cheese for better color and added the scallions, kale, and cilantro on the sides to give more character to the photo.
After spending near 4 hours in the kitchen, this was my best effort at switching up the angle. At that point, my hunger outweighed my creative flair. Famished would have been an understatement. I now wish I would have taken more time to better focus my camera on the front of the dish.
After Cleaning Up
I wish I could tell you that they were the best jingalov hats ever made, but somewhere between unboxing my brand new food processor and not-so-lightly flouring my kitchen counter, I goofed up on the balance of bitter, to neutral, to herbal greens.
Turns out, having the correct ratios is key to making a perfect jingalov hat.
I have some improvements to make on my jingalov hats, but I am very excited to practice them again and again. After all, I need to put that food processor to good use, as it was a spendy purchase for little ‘ole me. I can hear the ever frugal Paul now, shocked at the price of something so unnecessary. I like to think I would have won him over by telling him I bought it from Costco though (with a lifetime warranty, of course).
This project was enjoyable from beginning to end and it was therapeutic to learn something new while remembering someone so special to me. I hope you enjoyed following along with my cooking-photography adventure.
Let me know if you think I have a future as a food blogger or if I should stick with my day job!
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