Bitlis Tutoo (Sour Cabbage Stew) from ‘Breaking Bread with William Saroyan’

William Saroyan

The following recipe for Bitlis Tutoo (Sour Cabbage Stew) from ‘Breaking Bread with William Saroyan’ was posted in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator by Christine Vartanian Datian.

A bit of background information:
Tutoo is an old recipe from the Bitlis and Mush (Mus) regions in Turkey. It is thought by historians to have been brought by the French Crusaders, who later married Armenian women and stayed in the Bitlis region. Tutoo means sour in Armenian, and the stew can live up to its name. It includes both fermented cabbage and the brine used to pickle the cabbage. Most Armenian cookbooks and on-line recipes call for at least a 10-day fermentation period.

The updated recipe below is courtesy of Queenie Dardarian, ‘A Hundred Years and Still Cooking’, the First Armenian Presbyterian Church of Fresno (FAPC) Fidelis Women’s Society Centennial recipe collection.

Bitlis Tutoo (Sour Cabbage Stew) from ‘Breaking Bread with William Saroyan’

Tutoo means 'sour' in Armenian and the stew lives up to its name. This is an old recipe which includes both fermented cabbage and the brine used to pickle the cabbage.
Prep Time 10 days 30 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 10 days 4 hours 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Servings 6


  • 1 lb. lamb necks or stew meat (a little more meat never hurts!)
  • 1-2 large onions (halved and sliced)
  • 8 cups fermented cabbage (with its own juice (See below for instructions))
  • ¾ cup dzedzads (shelled whole grain wheat – or gorghod) (sold in Middle Eastern stores)
  • 1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1-2 large lemons (juiced (or more for more tartness))
  • Crushed dried basil and paprika or cayenne pepper, measured to taste (optional)

Preparation to ferment cabbage

  • 3 large cabbage heads (chopped in 1-inch squares)
  • Pickling salt (not iodized)
  • ¼ cup dzedzads (shelled whole grain wheat – or gorghod)
  • 4 quarts water


For the fermenting

  • Have ready a large crock or 1-gallon glass jar for fermenting cabbage. 
  • Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, adding salt to taste. Let it cool to tepid temperature.
  • Rinse and add 1/4 cup dzedzads to the bottom of the crock or glass jar.  Add cut cabbage to the container, and cover with water to cover top. Stir and cover container partially, leaving an opening for stirring. Loosely cap the jar. Retain 1 cup of brine to add to the jar during fermentation to keep the cabbage covered with liquid.
  • Place jar on a plate (in case your fermentation bubbles over) and store out of direct sunlight in your kitchen.
  • Stir thoroughly to help release gases caused by fermentation for once or twice a day for 10 to 21 days (or longer). 
  • After cabbage has fermented, refrigerate tutoo by transferring it to large glass jars or other covered containers.

Preparation for the stew

  • In a large kettle or a heavy enameled 7-quart pot, cover lamb meat with some cabbage water and cook for one hour. Skim off any impurities. After one hour, remove the bones.
  • Rinse and add the 3/4 cup dzedzads to the pot. Add onions, cabbage, tomato sauce, water, lemon juice, basil, paprika or cayenne pepper (if using), and bring back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about two hours or until lamb is very tender.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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  1. Robert Melikian March 1, 2022 at 1:45 pm

    Actually this sound wonderful. I had this as a child growing up made by my Armenian father some 60 years ago, his father was from Bitlis. This is how I learned what the word tutu was… very tart! Did not think this recipe, or one even close existed. Thank you for posting, I can not wait to try it out. Will post how it turned out… Stay tuned. March 2022

    1. Robyn Kalajian March 3, 2022 at 3:22 pm

      Robert, thanks for sharing your memory! I’m so happy you’re planning to try the recipe and look forward to the result your experiment.


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