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Celebrating a heritage of Armenian recipes


Friday, February 24, 2017

White Bean, Spinach and Garlic Soup from Christine Datian

I don’t know how cold it gets where you live during the winter, but it never gets very cold in south Florida. That’s a fact, not a complaint!

Regardless of the outside temperature, soup is a regular part of our menu.

Christine Datian’s recipe for 'White Bean, Spinach, and Garlic Soup' recently appeared on page 15 in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, and she’s asked me to share it with you. Before posting it, I made the soup, tweaking it according to the ingredients I had on hand. (See below)

I’m sure you’ll appreciate the comforting effects of her stick-to-your-ribs, heartwarming soup as much as we did!
My version of Christine Datian's White Bean, Spinach and Garlic Soup

White Bean, Spinach and Garlic Soup – Christine Datian

Ingredients:
4 slices low-sodium, thick-style bacon, cut into small pieces
2 to 3 (15 oz.) cans white beans and their liquid (Great Northern or Cannellini beans)
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 celery ribs, including tops, chopped
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
9 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth (water may be used)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. dry white wine
Kosher or sea salt, chopped fresh rosemary, tarragon, thyme, to taste (dried herbs may be used instead)
½ tsp. each of black or white pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne or paprika
2 thick slices of day-old Italian or French bread, diced
Minced parsley
Grilled Italian or French or Ciabatta bread

Directions:

Cook bacon until browned; drain, crumble; set aside.

In a large pot add 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil. Sauté onions, celery, carrots and garlic until vegetables are golden. Add half of the crumbled bacon.

Add beans and their liquid, bay leaf, broth, tomato paste, wine herbs and spices. Bring to a full boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook 45- 60 minutes or until all vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add more broth or water, if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

If you wish, blend soup with an immersion blender or hand mixer for 1 minute until desired smoothness is achieved. (Robyn’s note: Remove the bay leaf before using the immersion blender.)

Add chopped spinach and diced bread to soup; cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with remaining crumbled bacon and minced parsley.

Serve with grilled bread.

In my version, I followed Christine’s directions but used the following ingredients:

2 slices cooked turkey bacon - crumbled; 1- 15 oz. can of Navy beans with their liquid; ½ bag of frozen, chopped spinach; ½  onion-diced, 1 diced carrot, 2 small cloves garlic; 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 1 heaping Tbsp. red pepper paste, a splash of vermouth, dried oregano and basil, salt, pepper, and dash of cayenne. The celery and bread were omitted since I didn’t have those on hand.

I microwaved the onion, carrot and garlic in some chicken broth to help reduce the total cooking time to about 30 minutes. The soup was garnished with some of the crumbled bacon.

Doug and I enjoyed the soup very much.

We had the rest of the soup for lunch the next day but added some leftover, cooked elbow macaroni creating Pasta Faggioli – with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, of course!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Muhammara made with red pepper paste – a really easy version!

I’m always amazed when I get an Armenian Kitchen email from someone I knew from my childhood. One such email reached me recently from John, an old family-friend. I really knew his two older sisters better, as they were closer to my age.

John asked me for some advice on making muhammara using commercially prepared red pepper paste which is sold in most Middle Eastern stores.
The Armenian Kitchen's Muhammara  
John’s request:
“I'm currently attempting to make Muhammara from jarred pepper paste.  I definitely want to use your recipe, and was wondering how to equate the 2 eight ounce jars of roasted red peppers in your recipe to prepared pepper paste.  I was going to make an educated guess, but then thought it would be better to check with you.”

My Response:
“I see no reason why you couldn't make it using red pepper paste. I would suggest experimenting a bit.
The paste would have to be thinned-out with some water to a spreadable, rather than a pourable consistency. Since the paste is generally made with only red peppers and salt (unless it's the hot version), combine the thinned paste with the rest of the ingredients that are listed in the recipe. It's best made in advance so the flavors can blend.”

After making the modified-version muhammara, John wrote:
“Made the muhammara today for a party tomorrow.  Used toasted pine nuts as well as a handful of walnuts, panko, thick cherry balsamic (substitute for pomegranate), lemon juice, olive oil, water, and a jar of spicy pepper paste (700g or 1lb 8.6 oz.).  The muhammara tastes good, and seems to improve by the hour.  Will send you a photo (in serving dish) tomorrow.”

After the party, John sent me the photo of the finished product (see below), and guest evaluation.
John's Muhammara made with jarred red pepper paste

Here’s what he said:
“The muhammara was much redder in person (than in the photo). The guests did like it, despite vying for attention with two types of homemade hummus as well as string cheese. 

I don't think I put enough water in the muhammara - it became a little too thick over night, probably because of the panko.  Lesson learned.  But, the taste was great.  Thanks for the coaching!”

Friday, February 10, 2017

Spiced Red Lentil Dip-or-Spread

Doug and I were invited to a 'Super Bowl' dinner last Sunday, even though we never actually planned to watch or discuss the game. It was just an excuse to get together.

I offered to bring any appetizer our hostess wished. She left the choice up to me, stating that I should bring whatever I’d be cooking for The Armenian Kitchen.

I’d thought about making hummus, but I'd made it numerous times, and decided it’s become too ‘ordinary’, despite its variations. 

Instead, I opted to make 'Spiced Red Lentil Dip - or Spread'. When one thinks of red lentils, they usually associate it with soup or, if you’re Armenian, vospov kufteh.

Red lentils are perfect for this dish because they cook very quickly, are nutritious, and make a surprisingly delicious substitute for hummus!
Spicy Red Lentil Dip
Spicd Red Lentil Dip - or- Spread
Yields about 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup red lentils, rinsed, drained and sorted through
1 bay leaf, optional
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. MILD** red pepper paste (available in Middle Eastern stores) NOTE: tomato paste may be substituted.
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (Use more or less, according to your taste.)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro or parsley leaves
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Garnishes: Olive oil, cilantro or parsley leaves

Directions:

Rinse the lentils with cold water and drain. Sort through lentils, removing any foreign particles.

Place the lentils, bay leaf (if using), and 1 tsp. salt in a medium saucepan. Add about 4 cups of water to cover the lentils. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring now and then. As a foamy residue rises to the top, remove and discard it using a slotted spoon.

Cooked, drained red lentils
Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the lentils are very soft and tender, about 10 minutes. 

Before draining the lentils, save some of the cooking liquid. You might need it later to thin-out the dip.

Drain the lentils in a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the bay leaf (if used); allow the lentils cool for about 10 minutes in the strainer.
Seasonings mixed and ready to use
In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, red pepper (or tomato) paste, cayenne pepper, garlic, cilantro (or parsley), cumin, and olive oil. Set aside.

**NOTE: If using HOT red pepper paste, omit the cayenne pepper.

Place the lentils in a food processor. Add the blended seasonings. Process until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Adjust seasonings, if necessary, adding salt if needed. Transfer dip to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours before serving allowing the flavors to develop.

Bring to room temperature. Before serving, drizzle the top with a little olive oil, and garnish with cilantro or parsley leaves.

NOTE: If you make this a day in advance, the red lentils will firm-up. You could leave it this way and use it as a spread, or thin it out with some of the reserved cooking liquid and another drizzle of olive oil, and use as a dip.

Serve with your favorite crackers, pita chips, or vegetables.