Friday, September 8, 2017

Chef Serge Madikians' SEREVAN restaurant, Amenia, NY

Before we left Florida for upstate NY in August, Doug did an online search for Armenian restaurants in our travel route. He came across the SEREVAN restaurant in a small town named A-M-E-N-I-A. (I understand the restaurant's name is an adaptation of Lake Sevan located in Armenia.) I thought the town's name might have been a typographical error, but it is in fact, Amenia.
Chef Serge Madikians (center) took time to speak with us before preparing our unforgettable meal.
The chef-owner is Serge Madikians, an Armenian born in Iran and educated in the US. He is a smart, personable, skilled and talented chef, gardener, as well as a pilot. When the server states 'the evening's fresh catch was flown in by the chef himself', he means it - literally! 
Chef Serge greets his guests with a warm smile and open arms. You can tell many of the diners are longstanding regulars who truly enjoy his food, company, and homey atmosphere.

We chose to dine at Serevan to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and Mandy and Ron's 1st anniversary - a wise decision.
Basturma with labne-mint sauce; oysters with pomegranate mignonette.
Shirazi salad studded with Armenian string cheese.
We started our meal with cocktails - local wine, sour cherry cosmo, and arak. Appetizers included basturma with a labne-mint sauce and pita on the side, fresh oysters with a pomegranate mignonette, (I personally don't eat raw shellfish, but those in our family who do, loved it!), Shirazi salad, complimentary rosemary bread and baguettes accompanied with a bowl of assorted olives.
Sweet, perfectly seared, Cape Cod scallops.
Melt-in-your-mouth Hanger steak.
Local, free-range, tender as can be - chicken.

Perfectly prepared Corvina over a mix of colorful tomatoes and corn in a savory broth.
We dined on Cape Cod scallops, a most-tender portion of hanger steak, free-range chicken, and perfectly cooked Corvina - a firm, mild white fish, all served with a chef-inspired side dish.

Believe it or not, we did save room for dessert. (Sorry, no pictures - we ate them before we realized we hadn't taken any photos!) We shared 3 of the dessert options - creme fraiche cheese cake topped with slices of fresh apricot and a scoop of apricot sorbet on the side; traditional paklava with walnut sorbet, and the dessert of the day - apricot and plum crumble with a dollop of whipped cream. We sipped Armenian coffee to off-set the sweetness of the desserts.

This is a dining experience we'll long remember! 

Would we return? 
In a heartbeat - for amazing food in a friendly, relaxing environment, but most of all, for Chef Serge!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lamb Shish Kebab marinated in Ararat Brandy - NOT your average kebab!

Last summer, my husband Doug and I gifted our shish kebab machine to our daughter Mandy and son-in-law Ron on the occasion of their wedding. A year has passed, and we're back in the Catskill Mts. of NY visiting the happy couple in their lovely mountain-top home.

To celebrate their first anniversary, the kebab machine was tuned-up and turned-on in order to dine on lamb shish kebab. The first order of business was to find American lamb for the dinner. Last year we purchased it from Heather Ridge Farm in a nearby burg, but orders must be made well in advance.

Since time was of the essence, we turned our sights to Todaro's Salumeria, a local grocer-butcher shop in downtown Windham, NY, where new owner Robert Lani fulfilled our request in lightning-fast time.
Aram Aslanian standing in front of Todaro's Salumeria holding our prized leg-of-lamb!

Doug trimming the leg of lamb
A day after the order was placed, an 11-lb. leg of lamb arrived - just in time for Doug to masterfully trim, cube, and marinate the lean, tender meat.  
The marinating mixture for the lamb.
Aram Aslanian, our best man, and Mandy's Godfather, drove down from Maine as a surprise bringing with him a bottle of Ararat brandy for a celebratory toast. When Aram wasn't looking, Doug took it upon himself to douse the lamb cubes with a hefty amount of the brandy creating an incredible marinade.

Once the bones were removed and the meat was cubed, we estimate there was about 8 lbs. of meat. Some pieces were too small for kebab so they were put aside for another recipe. (See below)

Here's how Doug made the marinade: 
Ready to refrigerate
He placed the meat in a large bowl.
Poured about 1 cup of Ararat brandy over the meat and tossed. Added 2 coarsely chopped tomatoes, 1 coarsely chopped onion, 3 cloves chopped garlic, 2 Tbsp. freshly ground coriander seeds, 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Tossed to coat. Covered and refrigerated overnight for flavors to blend.
Skewered lamb, ready to grill
The next day, just before skewering the meat, Doug adjusted the seasonings and added some salt at the last minute. 

NOTE: If salt is added to the original marinade, too much of the meat's natural juice is extracted causing the kebab to become dried out.  

While the coals were heating up, I made a large pot of rice pilaf, grilled sweet onions along with red, yellow and orange bell peppers, and put together a salad. 
Ready to serve!!
It didn't take long for the kebab to cook, and that was a good thing, for the scent of the kebab was absolutely hypnotic! We ate in silence, savoring every morsel of the brandy-infused lamb. It was one of those O-M-G meals and the BEST kebab experience - EVER!!

In case you were wondering, those smaller lamb pieces were used to make fassoulia (green beans) and lamb.
Lamb pieces too small for kebab were cooked, then added to the green bean recipe. 
Fassoulia made with the cooked lamb bits was served over rice.
 I cooked the lamb bones to make broth which was used as the base of the dish. This yielded about 6 cups of broth which was strained and chilled overnight. (Three cups were used in the recipe; the other 3 cups are in the freezer for another time.) The fat, which rose to the surface and solidified, was removed. 

  • To prepare the dish, I sauteed 1 medium onion and 2 small cloves of crushed garlic in a small amount of olive oil. 
  • Next I added the 3 cups of lamb broth,1- 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes with the juice, 2 Tbsp. red pepper paste, salt, pepper, allspice, ground coriander, dried oregano - amounts as desired.
  • A 1-lb. bag of frozen cut green beans and the lamb bits were added last. This cooked, with pot cover tilted, over a medium-low heat for about 1 hour, or until the beans were very soft. (Be sure to stir now and then.)
  • When done, I let it cool a while, then placed the fassoulia in a container, covered it and refrigerated it overnight. 

It tastes better the next day, believe me!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Anahid Krichian's Grill and Bistro - a gem in Paterson, NJ

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories about the delicious food Anahid Krichian catered to Armenian functions in north Jersey. Not only does Anahid cater, she has a very popular restaurant as well.

My sister would tell me how she and her husband Ara would meet our cousin Vivian and her husband John at Anahid’s Grill and Bistro  Paterson, NJ for a relaxing and satisfying Armenian meal - and they’d bring their own bottle of wine – a practice that’s unheard of in our south Florida establishments.

As Doug and I were preparing for our trip to the northeast, Dawn arranged a luncheon date for the four us at Anahid’s along with friends Rose and John Kardashian (no relation to Kim). Upon entering the restaurant, we bumped into a table of long-time friends from St. Leon Armenian Church. It was like old-home week!
Some of the appetizers at Anahid's - manti with yogurt for dipping, and the remaining cheese boreg
The main event was meeting Anahid in the flesh, and dining on her wonderfully comforting food. The six of us shared an assortment of mezzes – babaganoush, Armenian shepherd’s salad with a tangy lemon dressing, cheese boregs, and manti with a yogurt dip. 
The filet mignon kebab platter.

Five of us ordered the filet mignon kebab and ‘wheat-lentil’ side dish – aka mujudara (spelling varies!). Doug had the chicken kebab. Everything was spot-on.

Did we save room for dessert? You bet!
The ice cream dessert Doug and I shared - yum!
One third portion of Anahid's kadaif dessert! 
Most shared the generous kadaif dessert, while Doug and I shared the creamy ice cream topped with ground pistachio nuts and rose jam – delicious! Armenian coffee topped-off the meal.

When we said our good-byes and thanks to Anahid, Dawn, Ara and I continued on to nearby Nouri’s Middle Eastern store to stock-up. Doug went home with the Kardashians because John promised to drive him back to my sister’s house in his CORVETTE. Boys will be boys!

If time and scheduling allows, we’ll most-certainly re-visit Anahid’s before heading back home.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Our Pot-luck Feast!

It’s time for us to leave hot, steamy Florida, for cooler surroundings in the Catskill Mountains.

In order to prepare for our get-away, we started consuming frozen and refrigerated foods, and pantry items weeks ago. Down to our last must-eat morsels, we invited friends to share our pot-luck feast.
Muhammara (left) and easy Midia Dolma (right)

Frozen mussels were transformed into midia dolma, finishing up the rice, pine nuts and currants.
The last ½ cup of commercially prepared red pepper paste turned out a nice bowl of muhammara. (Yes, you can make muhammara with red pepper paste!)

Our pot-luck feast! Clock-wise from top-right: phyllo-cheese spiral, fassoulia with ground meat, bulgur pilaf, and salad.

The frozen lamb broth, green beans, and ground meat, became a tasty fassoulia main dish accompanied with bulgur pilaf.

And because I had one in the freezer, I popped a 5- cheese phyllo spiral from Trader Joe's into the oven to serve along with the main course. A salad, dressed with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lime, rounded out the meal.

Our guests brought champagne to toast our families, and long-time friendship, and homemade lemon bars to top-off a perfectly lovely evening.

Don’t worry; we’ll resume posting when settle into our ‘mountain kitchen’. Until then, stay cool!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Florida Watermelon Slices with Balsamic Syrup, Mint Oil, and Feta Cheese

Confession: I cannot take credit for the following recipe.

As a resident of Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve community, I am often able to purchase locally-grown ingredients directly from the farmers' fields. In addition, a wonderful website, ‘Fresh from Florida’ provides some great recipes in which to utilize their home-grown dandies!

With our incredible summer heat, I’m always looking for something to serve that's tasty, refreshing, and doesn't require much - or any - cooking. 

To me, summer is synonymous with watermelon. Served plain or fancy, it's the way to go! 

Watermelon is a refreshing fruit on any given day, but sometimes it’s nice to jazz it up. So, today, I share with you ‘Fresh from Florida’s’ Watermelon with Mint Oil, Balsamic Syrup and Feta Cheese.

If Florida watermelons aren’t available near you, use whatever watermelon is sold in your neighborhood.

Florida Watermelon with Balsamic Syrup, Mint Oil, and Feta Cheese (Photo from 'Fresh from Florida')

Florida Watermelon Slices with Balsamic Syrup, Mint Oil, and Feta Cheese

6-12 slices of fresh Florida watermelon
4-6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Mint Oil:
1/2 cup olive oil
20-25 fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Sea salt to taste

**Balsamic Vinegar Syrup:
1 ½ cups balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons natural Florida sugar

**Robyn’s Note: Commercially prepared Balsamic Reduction may be substituted for the balsamic vinegar syrup. It contains the same ingredients as the balsamic vinegar syrup recipe, but without the work!

Watermelon Slices:
Arrange slices of watermelon on individual plates or a large platter. Drizzle small amounts of mint oil and balsamic syrup over the watermelon slices. Add the crumbled feta cheese to the top of the sliced melon. Serve cold. 

Mint Oil: Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. 

Balsamic Vinegar Syrup:

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine vinegar and sugar. Bring ingredients to a boil and turn down the heat so the vinegar won't boil over. Continue to cook for about 20 minutes until the syrup coats the back of a spoon. You should end up with about 1/3 of a cup of syrup. Let cool to room temperature. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Grilled Zucchini with Za’atar

Summer means it’s time for bumper crops of seasonal vegetables – zucchini, tomatoes, you name it!

Here’s a quick and tasty recipe to help use an overflow of zucchini. This recipe can be made on an outdoor grill, indoor panini-style grill, a stove top grill pan, or broiled in the oven. The cooking method is entirely up to you.

This is an excellent accompaniment for grilled meat, poultry or fish. Add a salad and pilaf to round-out the meal!  
Grilled zucchini with za'atar, ready to serve

Grilled Zucchini with Za’atar
Serves 4 


2 to 3 medium-sized zucchini, washed and cut on a diagonal about ½ inch thick

2 to 4 Tbsp. za'atar, or to taste (Note: Za'atar can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores - or homemade)

2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, depending on the amount of zucchini you use

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish options: chopped parsley, crumbled Feta, diced tomatoes

Diagonally cut zucchini
1. Place cut zucchini in a large bowl, coat evenly with olive oil, za’atar, salt and pepper to taste.
Zucchini coated with olive oil, za'atar, salt and pepper
2. Select your method of cooking. Grill/cook/broil for about 6 to 8 minutes in all, turning halfway through, or until zucchini is browned and tender.
Zucchini cooking in a stove-top grill pan
NOTE: If grilling outdoors, cook on medium-low heat. If cooking in a stovetop grill pan, use medium heat. If using a panini-style grill, there’s no need to turn the zucchini, as it cooks the food on both sides at once!

Garnish as desired.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Just in time for summer - Christine Datian’s latest recipe from The Armenian Mirror-Spectator: Garbanzo Bean and Pepper Pies with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce

Christine’s timing is impeccable! Just as I was trying to decide what recipe to post this week, she emailed me her latest recipe submission for The Armenian Mirror-Spectator and asked if I’d be able to post it.

I am always delighted to share Christine's recipes. In fact, I am happy to share favorite Armenian family recipes from any of my readers - hint, hint!

This recipe can be oven-baked or made on a grill. Either way, it's one we hope you'll enjoy! 

Garbanzo Bean and Pepper Pies with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce
By Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 4.

4 pocket-less pitas, any variety
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 small white onion, minced
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 each medium green and red bell pepper, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon each paprika, sea or Kosher salt, and black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Olive oil

Serving Options: Crumbled Feta cheese, sliced red onions, roasted red peppers, lemon wedges

Yogurt Cucumber Sauce Ingredients:
2 cups plain yogurt
3 medium Persian cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
Juice of one large lemon and the zest
Salt, black pepper and dried dill to taste
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Preheat oven to 375°F. (** Too hot to turn on your oven? See grilling instructions below.)

Prepare the sauce: Combine all ingredients for the Yogurt Cucumber Sauce in a medium glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare Garbanzo-Pepper topping: In a food processor or bowl, mash the garbanzo beans until soft; add the onion, tomato, bell pepper, tomato paste, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil, and mix to combine.  Add the parsley, and season to taste.

Place the pitas on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread about 1/4 cup of the bean- pepper mixture to cover each pita; drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Bake pitas for 10-12 minutes or until crisp and golden brown, and remove from oven.

Serve with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce.

To serve: Top pitas with crumbled Feta cheese, sliced red onions, and roasted red peppers, if desired, and fresh lemon wedges on the side.

** Grilling option:
Prepare bean-pepper topping and yogurt sauce ahead of time.
Lightly oil the grill grates. Turn grill on to medium-high. Lightly brush olive oil on each pita; spread garbanzo-pepper topping on each, covering the surface.
Place the pitas on grill grate; close grill cover and grill for about 5 minutes. Check periodically to make sure pita crusts aren’t burning. Serve immediately with yogurt sauce and optional toppings.

*Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee Newspaper, Sunset Magazine, Cooking Light Magazine, and at

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sweet or Savory Cherry Compote

Sweet, dark cherries, and my cherry pitting tool
I bought a cherry pitting tool; don’t ask me why. But since it was sitting in my kitchen drawer and I’d just bought a ton of sweet cherries, I felt compelled to use it.

Without thinking, I began pitting the cherries without wearing food-handling gloves or spreading newspaper on the counter. My fingers, counter, and everything within 2 feet of my work space was spattered with the prettiest cherry juice color.

Once I cleaned up the mess, I decided it was just plain easier to use a good-old paring knife to pit cherries - while wearing gloves, protecting the work space, and wearing an apron. 

My plan for these cherries was to make a compote. (Definition of 'compote' from ‘Food Lover’s Companion’: a chilled dish of fresh or dried fruit that has been slowly cooked in a sugar syrup - which may contain liquor or liqueur, and some spices.) 

Here are two cherry compote variations – one is sweet to serve as part of a dessert, the other savory, to serve as a meat or poultry accompaniment.
Sweet Cherry Compote over Greek-style plain yogurt

Sweet Cherry Compote
4 cups of pitted, halved cherries
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
3 to 4 Tbsp. white sugar, depending on sweetness of cherries
2 teaspoons water
a pinch salt

Note: A sprinkle of cinnamon, cardamom, or a few drops of liqueur will add a nice touch to this!  

Step #1
1. Heat the cherries, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until cherries are tender and sauce is thickened. (The sauce should coat the spoon.)

2. Stir in salt, and if using spices and/or liqueur, add it here. Heat gently for 2 to 3 minutes more to incorporate the additional flavorings. 
Ready-to-serve compote

Serve warm or cold over plain cake, vanilla ice cream, or plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt.

Savory Cherry Compote:

For a savory cherry compote to serve with roasted or grilled meat or poultry, follow the above recipe with these changes:

Use less sugar, or omit it completely, add 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary to the cherries as they cook, and finally, add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (optional) and black pepper after compote is removed from the heat.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

An Armenian-inspired menu for a very American Fourth of July celebration!

Clean your grills; it's time to prepare for the Fourth of July!

Instead of serving the usual hamburgers and potato salad, why not celebrate America’s independence with their Armenian-inspired counterparts instead? Your family and guests will thank you for it!

Entrée: Lule Kebab (seasoned ground lamb shaped like a sausage) with Yogurt-Garlic Sauce
Side Dish: Nanny’s Armenian Potato Salad (no mayonnaise needed!)
Dessert: Watermelon with Armenian string cheese and fresh mint

Grilled lule kebab and vegetables.

Yields 5 or 6 kebabs - enough for 2 to 3 people (NOTE: You can double the ingredient amounts for a larger crowd.)

1 and 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 Tablespoon tomato paste - or - red pepper paste (available in Middle Eastern stores - or- tomato paste mixed with a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika may be substituted for the red pepper paste.)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste


**Gently mix all of the ingredients with salt and pepper (see note below) and shape the kebabs like sausages -- you don't have to get fancy or worry about making them perfect, but try to keep the thickness about the same so they cook evenly. 
(If you’d rather keep these hamburger-shaped, by all means, do so.)

Cook on the grill until done - which, to us, means well done, or about 15 minutes in all. Since these aren’t flat burgers, turn them periodically so they’ll cook through.

**NOTE: To check the seasonings, make a mini-kebab and cook it in a frying pan.

Tip: Toss some tomatoes, peppers and onions in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Grill them along with the kebabs. Serve with a salad and the pilaf of your choice.
Serve with lavash or pita bread, onions and parsley, and yogurt-garlic sauce on the side, if you like.


16 oz. plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt to taste

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well.
2. Chill until ready to serve, allowing flavors to blend. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

NOTE: If you want a thicker sauce, use Greek yogurt or labne - or - line a strainer with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Place the strainer over a bowl. Pour the yogurt into the lined strainer and place all in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Discard the excess liquid that collected in the bowl, and place the thickened yogurt in a separate storage container. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Armenian Potato Salad (Photo courtesy of Sonia Tashjian)

Yield: Serves 4
This recipe can easily be doubled.

1 to 1 1/2 lbs. potatoes, boiled, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp. red pepper paste, diluted with a little water (Note: Tomato paste mixed with a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika may be substituted for the red pepper paste.)
cumin, allspice, salt and pepper, to taste
about 2 Tbsp. olive oil
lemon juice, optional

1. In a small bowl, mix the red pepper paste with a little water to thin it out. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, parsley, diluted red pepper paste, and seasonings. Add olive oil; gently toss. Adjust seasonings, if needed. Add a little lemon juice, if desired.
3. Serve at room temperature, or chilled.

Watermelon with Armenian string cheese

For an effortless dessert, serve seedless watermelon – sliced or cubed. Served with Armenian string cheese or Feta cheese, garnished with chopped fresh mint, if you like. 
NOTE: Armenian string cheese is sold in Middle Eastern stores and in some Whole Foods stores.