Friday, November 17, 2017

Three Thanksgiving recipes - so very easy!

We’re getting ready for Thanksgiving- just as millions of other Americans are doing this weekend.

Ours will be very intimate this year – just 3 of us; no hoopla, just good company, food, and loving thoughts of those who can’t join us.

Despite the size of our guest list, the menu will not be down-sized too much: roasted turkey, homemade Armenian – style stuffing, my favorite cranberry sauce recipe (see below), 2 colorful vegetable dishes (recipes follow) and a surprise dessert to be brought by our long-time friend, Linda. (I can’t wait to see what she’ll bring!)
Armenian stuffing for turkey or chicken - or - simply a side dish!
One of the veggie dishes I’m making will be Roasted Brussels sprouts with Basturma – if I can find some, otherwise suitable substitutes will be prosciutto or bacon.
UpdateDarn! Just came back from my little go-to Armenian store and they’re fresh out of basturma! Looks like prosciutto will be used instead. The recipe will be delicious, just the same.

The second veggie recipe is a really simple carrot dish I’ve made for years – it’s so simple that even my high school cooking students could whip it up in a flash! This time I’m going to jazz it up with one additional ingredient – pistachios.

 The Armenian Kitchen – and my family – wish you all a truly Happy Thanksgiving!

Orange - Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce
Yields about 3 cups

Ingredients:
1- 12 oz. bag fresh or frozen cranberries
¾ to 1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. zest and juice of 1 orange (any kind of orange will do)
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick (1 tsp., or to taste, ground cinnamon may be substituted)
Dash of ground cloves, optional

Directions:
Rinse and sort cranberries, discarding any bruised or soft ones.
Cranberries cooking with sugar, water, orange  juice, zest, cloves, and cinnamon stick.
In a **non-reactive saucepan, stir together the cranberries, sugar, orange zest and juice, water, cinnamon stick (or ground cinnamon) and cloves, if using. Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally – about 10 to 15 minutes. The sauce should start to thicken and the cranberries should burst.

Place in a serving bowl, let cool, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
This can be made a day or two in advance.
** Examples of a non-reactive saucepan include glass, stainless steel, food-grade plastic, ceramic, porcelain, and hard anodized aluminum. Poor materials include cast-iron, copper, and aluminum.
Brussels sprouts with Prosciutto - I haven't cooked my recipe yet, but it should look like this when done! (Photo from nomadwithcookies.com)
Roasted Brussels sprouts with Basturma
Serves 4

NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled depending on the number of mouths to be fed.

Ingredients:
3 to 4 pieces of thinly sliced basturma, cut into small strips (Note: You may substitute bacon or prosciutto for the basturma.)
2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
1- lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed, ends trimmed, bruised leaves removed, and cut in half lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, minced, optional
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Note: Since basturma, prosciutto and bacon are salty, you shouldn’t need to add additional salt, but the choice is yours.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Add 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil to an oven-proof skillet, cook the basturma until it becomes crispy. Remove from skillet. Place crispy basturma on a plate lined with a piece of paper towel; set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil to the same skillet and sauté the garlic (if using) until slightly golden. Add the Brussels sprouts and stir to combine well with the basturma. Add black pepper. Toss to coat. Roast for 15- 20 minutes.

If skillet is not ovenproof, transfer Brussels sprouts to a roasting pan and follow the same roasting time. Serve immediately.

OK, this isn't exactly my recipe for Carrots with Parsley and Pistachios, but it comes close. This photo is from Publix - Aprons cooking collection.
Carrots with Parsley and Pistachios
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 lb. carrots, peeled and rinsed
2 – 3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley (leaves only), washed, and coarsely chopped
Salt, to taste
Garnish: ¼ cup coarsely chopped unsalted pistachios

Directions:
Cut carrots on the diagonal about ¼” thick.
Place cut carrots in a microwave-safe bowl; add 3 Tbsp. water. Cover bowl and microwave at full power for about 5 or 6 minutes. Carrots should be tender-crisp, and not too soft. Drain excess water.
Stir in butter and parsley. The heat of the carrots will melt the butter. Toss gently.
Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.






Friday, November 10, 2017

Layered Middle Eastern Mazza (Salad) by Christine Datian

When it comes to cooking, Christine Datian has a way of creating recipes that pleases one’s senses.

It’s been said that one ‘eats with their eyes’, meaning that if food is appealing to the eye, one is more likely to eat and enjoy it.

One of my oldest friends once told me she loves to eat ‘pretty food’. I knew exactly what she meant!

Christine has visually out-done herself with her Layered Middle Eastern Mazza. The variety of color, textures and flavors will have guests begging for more. 
I think you’ll agree!

Christine's Eye-Appealing Layered Middle Eastern Mazza (Salad)

Layered Middle Eastern Mazza (or Salad)
by Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

In a deep, round, clear bowl, layer the following ingredients according to your taste:
 2 cups tabbouleh (homemade or store bought)
1 1/2 cups hummus (homemade or store bought)
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes, seeded, drained, chopped
1 1/2 cups Romaine lettuce or baby spinach, chopped
1 cup white or green onions, chopped
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled or diced
1 (15-20 oz.) can garbanzo or white beans, washed, drained
1 cup red or green bell pepper, seeded, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup each chopped black or Kalamata olives and thinly sliced red onions

2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional as topping)
Lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, dried or fresh mint, Aleppo pepper, sea salt and black pepper (to taste)

Preparation:
Once assembled, drizzle layered mazza with choice of lemon juice, olive oil, and spices.  Cover, chill and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.
Serve with fresh pita chips, bagel chips or Armenian cracker bread, and assorted cheeses, olives, and pickles, if desired.
                          
 *Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee, Sunset magazine, Cooking Light magazine and at http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/



Friday, November 3, 2017

A Lesson in Mahlab (Mahleb)

Many don’t know what MAHLAB is, so I’ll clue you in.


Jar of Mahlab purchased in a Middle Eastern store.

From Left to Right: Whole mahlab  kernels, finely ground mahlab; less-fine particles of ground mahlab in sifter.

Mahlab is an aromatic spice which comes from the stones or kernels from black cherries. The kernels are cracked open, the seeds removed and dried. These little gems are sold whole (which I prefer), or in powdered form. Mahlab is used mainly as a flavoring in baked goods –such as choreg, cookies, and cakes. It’s sold in Middle Eastern stores, or can be purchased online.

Powdered mahlab will lose its flavorful punch rather quickly, so it’s best to buy it in small quantities, and store it in a cool, dry place. Whole mahlab seeds store well in the freezer for a very long time. Grind it just before using for best results.

Mahlab has a very distinctive flavor. Some say its taste is a cross between a bitter almond, cherry, with a hint of rose. You’ll have to try it and decide for yourself. Once baked in a recipe, the scent is alluring, and the taste is subtle. 

The chorag recipe my family made always included mahlab – along with ground anise, ground fennel, and ground ginger- a unique combination of flavors that work very well together.

The only time I ever use mahlab is in chorag, so I decided to incorporate some into our family’s recipe for Armenian Walnut Cake, tweaking it here and there. 

NOTE: Since I was baking for two, I cut the ingredients of the recipe below in half, and baked the cake in an 8”x 8” pan. This yielded 9 generous square pieces. By the way, the cake tastes remarkably like sweet chorag, but with a more cake-like texture.
Mahlab Cake ready to serve with coffee or tea.
Mahlab Cake

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup warm milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground mahlab
1 tsp. baking powder
Sesame seeds, optional

Directions:
Use a pastry blender (seen here) or two knives or forks to 'cut' the butter into the sugar. 
In a large mixing bowl, cut the butter into the sugar using a pastry blender or two knives or forks. 
Sugar and butter cut together to resemble small peas.
The mixture should resemble small peas. Mix them together until blended. Beat in eggs until just combined. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, mahlab, and baking powder.

The Batter.
Alternately add the flour mixture and warm milk to the butter mixture to create a batter.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour the bottom of a 9”x13” baking pan. (Shake out any excess flour.)
The batter is evenly spread in a lightly buttered and floured pan.
Pour batter into pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle the batter with toasted sesame seeds, if desired.

Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Cut into squares and serve with coffee or tea.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Keebah, a Dikranagerdtsi Delight!

My aunt, Zabelle Dabbakian-Keil
I’ve been having an e-discussion about my paternal grandmother’s keebah dish with my aunt Zabelle (affectionately known as Zippi), the last remaining relative from my father’s immediate family. It’s important for me to tap into her memory bank in order to preserve some mighty-fine Dikranagerdtsi recipes.

My paternal grandmother, Haiganoush Dabbakian
Definitions:
Keebah: stuffed tripe
Tripe: the stomach lining of lamb, beef, or pork.

I have childhood memories of visiting Haiganoush Nanny and having a feast of Armenian dishes my father and aunts grew up on. One of those was Keebah – the real deal, meaning ground lamb, bulgur, fresh mint, and seasonings stuffed in a pouch fashioned out of tripe.
Were the kids told what the outer layer was? Nope, we just ate it and thought it was pretty darn good!

Aunt Zippi relayed the following method of Haiganoush Nanny’s Keebah recipe:

“Nanny used bulgur, meat, fresh mint, seasonings and tripe, just as you remembered. I have no measurements, just use your own judgement. Although as I recall there was more bulgur (which was the medium size) than meat. The mint was very finely chopped so you had the taste of it and not any of the pieces. The seasonings were as desired but she did add just a pinch of cayenne to give it a little "kick". She also used **Nalbandian's cleaned, white tripe "seeghoch" (sausage) and large tripe (cow's intestine) which she stuffed. (See NOTE below for information on tripe.) Then with sterilized needle and thread (!) she would sew up the tripe's opening to secure it so the stuffing wouldn't come out in the cooking. Let me add at this point, when we were kids, we just ate the tripe since it was so delicious never knowing what it was, it just tasted so fine. That was the stuffed keebah. When she made it without the tripe, which was often, she just made the mixture into meatballs and cooked it in chicken broth.  Of course, in the cooking the bulgur expanded and held the meat and seasonings in place.  When serving it, Nanny would always cut up a nice onion, or crisp green scallions placed on the plate to go along with the keebah.”

** Hagop Nalbandian, my husband's great uncle owned a grocery store in Union City, NJ which catered to the needs of the area's Armenian community. 

NOTE: According to information found in ‘The Assyrian Cookbook’, fresh lamb stomach is no longer available in our markets. By ‘fresh’, I refer to stomach that comes directly from the animal. The coating on the outside had to be scraped and cleaned before it could be prepared for stuffing.
Today, tripe is cleaned, processed, frozen, then sawed into small blocks making it hard to find pieces of tripe large enough to make keebah.”

Can’t stomach tripe? (Pun intended! J)

My departed aunt Arpie, also of Dikranagerdtsi descent, gave me her shortcut recipe called ‘Sud Keebah’, which I posted several years ago. The only difference between Aunt Arpie's and my grandmother's Sud Keebah recipe is that Arpie used dried mint; Nanny used fresh.

Here it is again, for your dining pleasure, without the tripe!  


Image result for sud keeba
Aunt Arpie's Sud Keebah
Sud Keebah
A recipe from my aunt, Arpie Vartanesian
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground lamb, beef or turkey (Aunt Arpie always said, "For best results use lamb!")
1/3 c. #2 bulgur
Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
Handful of dried mint, crushed
A little water to moisten

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, add the bulgur and 1 or 2 tablespoons of water, just so bulgur starts to absorb the water.

2. Combine the meat, bulgur, seasonings and mint, mixing well with your hands. Dip your hands in the additional water to shape meat mixture into patties, slightly rounded on the top and flat on the bottom -or - if you prefer, into meatball shapes. This makes about 12 to 14 walnut-sized pieces.

3. In a large pot, bring about 8 cups of water (or broth) to a boil; add 2 tsp. salt.

4. Place meat patties in boiling water; reduce heat to medium and cook for 35 to 45 minutes. Remove patties from water.



5. Serve in a bowl with some of the cooking liquid, and sliced raw onions. A chopped salad and fresh, plain yogurt will round out this dish nicely.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ghapama! Jingyalov Hats! It’s time to make and share these two Armenian specialties!



On Sunday, October 29th, following Divine Liturgy at St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton, FL, Ghapama (stuffed, baked pumpkin), Jingyalov Hats (lavash bread stuffed with herbs and cooked on a grill or griddle), and more will be served in the Mardigian Fellowship Hall.


GHAPAMA - Photo credit: Pam Aghababianhttp://cavecibum.blogspot.com/


The Armenian Kitchen's Jingalov Hats (Spelling varies!)

Father Paren Galstyan’s wife, Anna-Lusi Simonyan, and her trusted team will prepare and serve these unique recipes to those fortunate enough to be present on that day. 
Anna is a whiz in the kitchen - I know, I’ve sampled her delicious cooking!


The cost is $10; there is no charge for children under 12 years of age. So, bring your family and friends. You won’t want to miss this very special event!

PS: If you haven't already heard, you might be interested to know that chef, author, TV personality, Anthony Bourdain was recently introduced to jingyalov hats in Shushi, Artsakh! Click here to read.



Friday, October 13, 2017

Avocado-Pistachio-Arugula Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

The wrath of Mother Nature has been felt in many parts of the world recently. Sadly, wild fires, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods have ravaged numerous areas and have affected millions of people.
A grove of fallen Florida avocado trees due to Hurricane Irma (Photo source: Terra Fresh Foods) 
Farmland and crops haven't been spared, either. The loss of precious fruits and vegetables is affecting their availability and forcing food prices to sky-rocket.

The Florida avocado is one such crop. It'll be in limited supply for a while, but thankfully, other avocado-producing countries not affected by the weather, will help fill the demand – at a higher price, of course.

Despite it all, I will share an avocado-based recipe that I hope you’ll find worthwhile no matter the price of this Heavenly fruit!
Avocado-Pistachio-Arugula Salad
Avocado – Pistachio - Arugula Salad
Serves about 4

Ingredients:

1 small, ripe avocado, such as Hass
1 bag baby arugula (5–6 oz.), rinsed and spun-dry (Fresh baby spinach may be substituted)
Arugula rinsed and dried
1/3 cup good quality feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
Garnish:  1/4 cup shelled pistachios, roasted and finely chopped

Dressing: ¼ cup homemade Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette (Recipe Below)

Salad Directions:
Cubed avocado and chopped pistachios

Peel avocado; remove seed. Cut avocado into small cubes. 

Place arugula in salad bowl. Top with remaining ingredients – except dressing and pistachios. 

Pour 1/4 cup dressing over salad; toss to coat. 

Garnish with chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.

Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
Yields about ¾ cup

Ingredients:
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel, optional
1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey, optional
NOTE: If you're a fan of fresh cilantro, add 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves to the dressing.

Directions:
Whisk all ingredients in bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. (NOTE: Dressing may be made 1 day in advance. Refrigerate. Bring to room temperature, and whisk just before adding to salad.)





Friday, October 6, 2017

Red Pepper, White Bean, and Feta Soup - an accidental recipe

Sometimes recipes happen by accident. Such is the case of this Red Pepper, White Bean, and Feta Soup.

Doug and I were invited to our friend's home for dinner, so I offered to bring an appetizer dip. I searched my refrigerator and pantry to make use of what I had on hand - plain yogurt and crumbled feta in the refrigerator; a jar of roasted red peppers, a ton of canned white beans (hurricane provisions, you see) in the pantry. I figured if I swirled these together in the food processor with some spices, I’d have a dandy dip.

I got to work immediately because I wanted to make this early enough for the flavors to combine.
Red Pepper, White Bean, and Feta Dip
Here's what I did:
Red Pepper, White Bean, and Feta Dip
Ingredients:
1 - 15-oz can roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed
1 medium clove garlic, mashed
1 - 15-oz can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Directions:
I placed all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and processed until well-combined.

After I did this, I tasted it, placed the mixture a serving bowl, covered it, and set it in the frig for a few hours. I checked the flavors again and decided it was okay, but not good enough to share with our friends. 

Not one to discard perfectly good food, I decided to turn the dip into a soup. 
Red Pepper, White Bean, and Feta Soup
To do this, I added 3 cups of chicken broth (Note: Use more broth if you prefer a thinner soup, and vegetable broth may be substituted), 1 tsp. lower-sodium Better Than Bouillon (chicken based), and a dash of Aleppo pepper. I used an immersion blender to combine the ingredients, then gently heated it through. 
I sprinkled some crushed pita chips to garnish.

I'm happy to say, this dip recipe was much better as soup! Next time I'll omit the Feta as part of the soup base, but would use it as garnish.

What appetizer did I end up making?

Well, I actually made 2 - and - our hosts were pleased with both!
 Mexican-Inspired Cheese Dip with Tortilla chips (L);  Artichoke-Olive Tapenade with Pita chips (R)
#1. Mexican-Inspired Cheese Dip

4 oz. shredded Monterey Jack/Colby cheese combo.
4 oz. cream cheese
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
¼ cup finely chopped onion
Olive oil
½ tsp. Kosher salt
3 Tbsp. water mixed with 1/2 tsp. chicken ‘Better Than Broth’
a few splashes of Cholula (chipotle) Hot Sauce, optional

Directions:
Sauté tomato, jalapeño, and onion in olive oil until onion and pepper are soft. Add water mixture; bring to boil.
Reduce heat; add cheeses, stirring constantly until melted. Stir in chipotle hot sauce, if using, just before serving.
Place in a serving bowl and serve immediately with tortilla chips.

NOTE: I had to refrigerate the cheese dip in a microwave-safe bowl until it was time to leave. Once we got to our friend’s house, I microwaved the cheese dip for 1 ½ minutes at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds. It worked out great!

#2. Artichoke and Olive Tapenade
More pantry items were found for this. 
1 can black pitted olives (drained), 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts (drained), a few pitted Kalamata olives (for good measure), a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

I whirled it in the food processor and placed it in a serving bowl. Served this with pita chips.



Friday, September 29, 2017

Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup by Christine Datian

It’s officially autumn, at least according to the calendar. Eventually the temperature will drop into a more comfortable zone. When it does, you’ll want to ward-off the chill with a nice, hot bowl of Christine Datian’s Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup, which was recently featured in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator ( with a few minor changes).
So, gather your ingredients, and head for the kitchen.

Christine Datian's Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup


Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup by Christine Datian
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 large white onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded, finely chopped
8-9 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1/2 cup fine grain bulgur
1/2 cup low-sodium tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice of one large lemon (more to taste)
Olive oil
Garnish with choice of yogurt, paprika, Aleppo pepper, fresh chopped tomatoes, parsley and mint, and a drizzle of olive oil- or - maybe a dollop of plain yogurt!

Preparation:
1. In a small pan, sauté the onions, garlic, and bell pepper in olive oil for 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.  Set aside.
2. In a large pot, bring the broth to a full boil over moderate heat.
3. Add the tomato paste to the boiling broth. Stir until paste is distributed evenly before adding the bulgur, tomato sauce, spices and lemon juice.  Stir, then add the cooked onions, garlic and bell pepper, and bring to a boil again.
4. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, stirring soup a few times before serving.  Garnish as desired.

Note: To make this a hearty main dish, add small lamb or beef meatballs to this soup when cooking.

See recipe below from The Armenian Kitchen for Lamb Meatballs.

Lamb Meatballs

Ingredients:
    ¾ lb. ground lamb (ground beef or ground turkey may be substituted)
    3 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/4 tsp. Aleppo red pepper, or paprika
    Kosher salt and pepper to taste
   
Directions:
1. In a mixing bowl, add the ground lamb, chopped parsley, lemon juice and seasonings. Mix gently using your hands until well-combined.
2. Shape into small (1/2" to 3/4”) balls until all of the mixture has been used.
3. Drop the meatballs into the soup as it cooks in step # 4. Stir occasionally. Serve as directed above.