Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chorag, Zeytoonian style

I bumped into an old friend, Joe Zeytoonian, teacher and musician, at the Armenian Genocide program last week in Boca Raton.

We began to reminisce about our dear, departed family members. Joe was saying how much he misses his mother - Rose, a gentle woman who was dedicated to her family and church - and her delicious chorag.

Joe said he and his wife tried to make a video of Rose preparing her chorag recipe in her later years, but there was some technical difficulty with the video camera, and it didn’t turn out. They were extremely disappointed.

Excitedly, I told Joe that Rose had given me her chorag recipe about 25 years ago, but that I’ve never made it. So, Joe, here’s your mother’s recipe! Give it a try - for Rose.

Rose Zeytoonian’s Chorag
Ingredients:
3 pkg. dry yeast
7 cups flour
2 sticks butter
¾ cup sugar
1 cup milk
4 eggs

Directions:
1. Dissolve yeast in warm water (about ¼ - ½ cup). Put one tsp. sugar in
the yeast.
2. Melt butter, milk and sugar. Bring to a boil, then cool. The milk mixture should be a little warm.
3. Beat eggs slightly.
4. Mix the flour with the dissolved yeast, milk mixture, and eggs until a dough is formed.
5. Cover, and let rise 3 hours.
6. Shape. Let rise again in tray - 1 hour.
7. Brush tops with egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
8. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven until golden brown.

For a reminder on how to give chorag that special twist, check out our How To Braid Chorag video!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My dinner at Omar Khayyam's



It was the summer of 1967; my 18th birthday was on the horizon.

Every year our family vacationed at the Van Hotel, an Armenian hotel in Asbury Park, at the Jersey shore. This summer would be different; instead, our family would be celebrating my parent’s 25th anniversary by visiting relatives in California.

Not only would we get to see CA for the first
time, but we were about to meet many of my father’s relations who moved out West in the 1930’s and 40's, and meet their children who were native Californians. We traveled from San Francisco to Fresno, to LA. What a time it was!

While visiting Dad’s cousins, Alice and Hrant Atikian, in San Francisco, they arranged for us to meet their dear friend, George Mardikian, who just happened to own the then-famous Omar Khayyam restaurant.

Alice called ahead to make sure they had lamb shanks on the menu that night. It’s a good thing she did; there were only four portions left. She asked that they be reserved for our party of eight. I thought, that was odd - 4 portions for eight people?

Boy, those must be gigantic lamb shanks! It turned out the lamb shanks were for the adults; the kids were “stuck” eating succulent morsels of shish kebab with all of the trimmings! Quite delicious, as I recall.

To highlight the meal, the staff and Mr. Mardikian presented me with a birthday treat - a delectable piece of paklava with a birthday candle - while singing the traditional song. In

addition, I received an autographed copy of Mr. Mardikian’s autobiography, Song of America, while my sister received an autographed copy of his cookbook, Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s.

I mentioned this cookbook to my thoughtful husband in passing. He knows how much I love cookbooks,so he searched on-line, found a hard-covered version from 1944, and surprised me with it recently. The book is tattered, age-stained,and smells musty, but it’s a treasure to me - and yes, it’s autographed, too!

Armenian Chicken Soup

If George Mardikian were alive today, I’m sure he would permit me to share this recipe from his cookbook, Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s. It’s a traditional Armenian chicken soup recipe, Havabour, which he referred to as “Wedding Soup."

Mr. Mardikian mentioned in this cookbook that Wedding Soup was served at ceremonial dinners, such as weddings, and that, as the wedding party arrived, the soup ingredients were mixed together and served at once.

Armenian Chicken Soup
Yield: about 8 cups

Ingredients:
½ gallon (8cups) chicken broth
1 cup fine vermicelli
3 eggs, raw
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Cook vermicelli in broth.
2. Beat eggs thoroughly, adding lemon juice while beating.
3. Gradually add some of the chicken broth to the egg-lemon mixture, pouring slowly so that the egg will not curdle. (This is called “tempering.”)
4. Combine this with the remaining soup.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mujadarah, our favorite adopted lentil dish


In June of 2001, my husband and I went to Paris to visit his cousin Arsene Dirkelessian.

Before we arrived, Arsene warned us that he and his wife Odile were vegetarians, and wanted to be sure we'd be OK with that. We thought this would be a good chance to shed a few pounds while visiting a city so rich in pastries.

We assured Arsene this would not be a problem - and it wasn't. Not only did Arsene and Odile go above and beyond their duty as hosts, Odile turned out to be a phenomenal cook!

She prepared one knock-out recipe after another. The one that stands out is mujadarah, a hearty mix of lentils and rice flavored by caramelized onions.

I was floored, not only by the taste but by the discovery. How is it I'd never heard of this fabulous dish before then?

Mujadarah isn't Armenian, but all of the ingredients certainly are -- and it's popular with Armenians from Syria (like Arsene) and elsewhere in the Middle East.

So, we hereby declare it adopted!

Mujadarah
Serves 4-5

Ingredients:
1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed, small stones or debris removed
4 cups water, or stock (chicken, lamb or beef for non-vegetarians) - divided
salt
5 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 cup rice, uncooked
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Directions for cooking Lentils:
1. In a saucepan, add the lentils, 2 cups of water or stock, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil; cook about 1 minute.
2. Reduce heat, cover the saucepan, and cook about 15 minutes, or until lentils are tender.
3. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.

While lentils cook, begin the rice preparation:
1. In a second saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Add the rice and saute about 2 minutes.
2. Add the remaining water or stock, bringing it to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat, cover the saucepan, and cook about 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
4. Set aside.

While the rice is cooking, begin the onion preparation:
1. In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil using a medium heat setting.
2. Saute the onions for about 8-10 minutes, or until the onions have softened and turned a golden brown.

To Assemble:
1. In a mixing bowl, gently combine the lentils and rice. Arrange on a serving platter.
2. Spread the onions on top, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

OK, I know some of you are saying - TOO MUCH WORK. Well here's a short-cut version.

Short-cut mujadarah
Serves 4-5
1-15 oz can lentils, rinsed & drained
2 cups leftover, plain cooked rice - or instant rice
1 to 2 onions ( depends on how much onion you like), sliced and sauteed in olive oil until golden brown.
Parsley, chopped

1. Combine the lentils and cooked rice,thoroughly heating them. Place on serving platter.
2. Top with sauteed onions.
3. Sprinkle with parsley.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lentils, they're not just for Lent



Lentils are classified as a legume because they come from a plant that has a seed-pod that splits when ripe.

The same goes for peanuts, beans,
peas, and soybeans. Lentils pack a powerful dietary punch because they are a rich source of fiber, protein, and B-vitamins, and are low in fat, help lower cholesterol, and are heart-healthy.

It doesn't get any better than this --
or does it?

Lentils are inexpensive, have a long shelf-life, are easy to cook - and taste good! One of the first cultivated foods, lentil seeds were found at archaeological sites in the Middle East dating back some 8,000 years.

It's no wonder lentils are a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean favorite. They come in a variety of colors, brown, green, black, yellow, and red-orange. When cooked with seasonings and other ingredients, the lentils absorb those flavors which intensify the recipe's overall taste.

Here's another reason to love lentils - they don't have to be soaked
overnight. They're ready to use, anytime! Well, that is after you rinse the dried lentils, spread them out on a platter or work surface of a contrasting color ,and check for any small stones or other debris.

Once
you've checked, you're ready to cook. Lentils are sold dried, and come whole or split in half. They are pre-packaged or sold in bulk-bins. When buying in bulk, be sure to check for signs of insects or moisture. If you see either, don't buy it.

More good news: Lentils come in cans, too. They're cooked & ready to use; just drain and rinse.

The nutritional value of canned lentils is
retained, unlike canned vegetables. Lentils can be stored for up to a year in a tightly covered container, in a cool, dark storage area.

Cooked lentils keep for about 3 days in
the refrigerator. Always, cover, label and date foods in your frig.; it eliminates the mystery of what's in those left-over containers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dolma, the Armenian meal in a vegetable


If there's anything Armenians love to stuff more than their tummies it's vegetables.

Sure, we'll stuff just about any part of a lamb, from stomach to head. We even stuff meat with meat (kuftah!)

But veggies are so easy to make into a colorful and tasty meal. You can even skip the meat if you like and just add a bit of onion and perhaps garlic to spice up the filling.

Just remember that when it comes to stuffability, fatter is better. Walk past those long, skinny cukes that make salads crunchy and lavish your attention on the plump, seedy ones. They're much easier to scoop out, and they hold lots more dolma goodness.


The Vegetables:
Select an assortment of your favorite fresh vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, cabbage leaves - anything that can be stuffed. Wash them, scoop out their centers, and rinse the insides with lightly salted water. Set aside until ready to stuff.

The Filling:

1 1/2 to 2 lbs ground lamb (American lamb, if you can find it, is the best. Ground beef or even ground turkey can be used.)
3/4 cup to 1 cup rice, uncooked
1/2 of a 6-oz can tomato paste, diluted in 1/2 cup water
salt, pepper, paprika to taste
1 Tbps. lemon juice
3/4 cup chopped parsley
Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, mixing with
your hands.

The Sauce:
1/3 cup dried sumac berries
dash of salt and sugar
1/2 of a 6-oz can tomato paste
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 cups water
Directions:

1. Place the sumac berries in a tea strainer - or - wrap in cheesecloth and tie closed with twine.
2. Combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat.
3. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Discard sumac berries.

To Assemble and Cook:
1. Fill the cavity of each prepped vegetable about 1/2-way with the meat-rice stuffing. Don't fill completely; leave room for rice to expand.
2. Place stuffed vegetables side-by-side in a large pot.
3. Pour sauce over the veggies. Place a small dish on top of the vegetables, then put small pot of water on top of the dish to hold the vegetables down during cooking.
4. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for about 45 minutes, until rice and vegetables are tender.
5. Allow Dolma to rest for 1/2 hour before serving.

To serve:
Dolma is best served with thick, cold plain yogurt, and soft Armenian lavash bread or pita bread.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sumac: Poison or Spice?


It depends.

I knew to stay away from poison sumac (poison oak) because I learned that from my parents - especially when we had picnics on Garrett Mountain.

It wasn't until I was learning the fine art of making dolma that I was introduced to the other sumac.

Sumac, the SPICE...
Should not be confused with the poisonous plant even though they are closely related.

Non-poisonous sumac is a berry that grows on a bush that grows wild in Mediterranean regions, and is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine.

You probably won't find sumac in your everyday supermarket, but it's a
regular feature on the shelves of Middle Eastern stores.

Its tart taste lends itself nicely as a substitute for lemon or vinegar.

Sumac is most often used in soups, stews, marinades, rice recipes, dolma (stuffed vegetables), dips, salads, salad dressings, or as a rub for meats.

If you happen to dine in a Persian or Middle Eastern restaurant, you're likely to find a shaker on the table filled with ground sumac, much like the shakers of Parmesan cheese you see in Italian eateries.

Friday, April 24, 2009

In memory



Today we join Armenians around the world in marking the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which claimed the lives of up to 1.5 million people.

We remember not only our own loss, but all the innocent victims of all the genocides that have occurred since.

We pray that the world will have the courage to stand firm and banish forever this most inhuman of all human crimes.
-- Robyn and Doug

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fire up your dishes with red pepper paste


Now that you know how to make red pepper paste, I'll share some ideas on how to use it in everyday fare.

Yeranuhe Nanny (my mom's mom) used red pepper paste in her Armenian specialty recipes of Musa Dagh - kufta (stuffed meatballs), banerov hatz (cheese-onion bread), samsag (a pototo-cheese filled turnover, of sorts).

I'll share those with you another time. For now, here's one of her simpler recipes, and a few other suggestions on how you might use red pepper paste to jazz-up more common recipes.

Nanny's Armenian Potato Salad
Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients:
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
cumin, allspice, salt and pepper, to taste
about 2 Tbsp. olive oil
lemon juice, optional

Directions:
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.

Ways to Use Red Pepper Paste:
1. Stir it into small-curd cottage cheese, add a little dried oregano and olive oil. Blend well. Use as a spread.
2. Add to a basic Hummus recipe.
3. Add to green beans.
4. Put some into a meatloaf mixture, or hamburger patties.
5. Combine with some olive oil, then add to cooked pasta or pasta salad.
6. Add to tomato sauce or tomato soup.
7. Add to vegetable soup or other soups.

Use your imagination! You'll find that making the paste is worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Armenian secret ingredient! Ssshhh...



Red pepper paste is one of those secret ingredients that a cook might neglect to mention when sharing the recipe with someone else.

My maternal grandmother, Yeranuhe Nanny, used red pepper paste in many of her homeland recipes - from Sarma Gurgood(Tabbouleh), to Banerov Hatz (Cheese Bread), to potato salad - or whatever recipe she fancied.

She wasn’t sneaky ; she mentioned the use of red pepper paste whenever someone wanted her recipe. What she didn’t tell them was that you had to MAKE it yourself!

Sure, today you can buy the paste in some Middle Eastern stores, but not many of them carry it, so you might still have to make it if you want to capture the true essence of Nanny’s recipes .

As a child I’d watch Nanny toil over the preparation. She’d go to the farmer’s market and buy several bushels of red peppers at the peak of their season, when prices were low.

She’d cut them, remove the seeds, wash them, then hand-grind the peppers. Then she cooked the ground peppers in a large pot until the liquid was evaporated. The next step was to spread the pepper mash onto baking sheets and sun-dry them for 1 to 3 days depending on the heat and humidity.

Nanny sat outside, guarding her trays against flies and other insects, or change in weather. If there was a threat of rain, she’d quickly snatch the trays and haul them upstairs to her kitchen.

The paste was ready when it turned a brownish-red color, and the consistency was more like tomato paste. Nanny would place the paste in small sterilized jars, put a little olive oil on top, tightly cover the jars, and refrigerate the amount that would be used soon.

The rest went into the freezer for year-round use.

Here’s a modern spin on the original red pepper paste recipe.

Red Pepper Paste

Ingredients:
6 large red bell peppers
½ tsp. cayenne pepper (add more if you want more heat, but be careful!)
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Wash the peppers, and remove the seeds, and white membrane.
2. Chop into small pieces.
3. Grind in a food processor, using the metal S-blade. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the peppers.
4. Spread the ground peppers in a large skillet, stir in the salt and cayenne pepper, and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer, cook, stirring periodically for about 45 minutes, or until the pepper mixture begins to resemble a thick paste.
6. Spoon the red pepper paste into small, sterilized jars. Pour a little olive oil over the top of the paste. Cover tightly, and refrigerate.

At this point you can freeze the red pepper paste. The trick is to use plastic ice cube trays. Place about a tablespoonful of paste in each ice cube compartment.

Cover with heavy freezer wrap, and place trays in freezer. When ready to use, remove the number of red pepper paste cubes you need and defrost in the refrigerator. Keep the other “cubes” frozen until needed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Borag, bereg, boreg...they all spell delicious!



Nothing Armenian is ever simple.

No matter the dish, the pronunciation as well as the recipe will vary depending on the chef's regional roots. In the case of cheese borags (or boregs, or beregs...), there's also a question of where they belong on the menu.

For most Armenians, cheese borags are a savory appetizer. But for some, they're sprinkled with sugar and served for dessert.

The good news is that this is a delicious dilemma with no wrong choice.

These days, variations in the recipe also hinge on what cheeses are available. We use cheeses that were unheard of in the Old Country for two reasons: 1) We're not usually up at dawn making Armenian cheese, as our grandmothers were. 2) We like them.

Once you learn the technique, you can fold-in almost anything you want. We've included a spinach-and-cheese filling recipe below. Or you can skip the cheese and try meat with onions, another popular choice.

The following recipe was handed down from my brother-in-law’s mother, Nartouhe Hourdajian.

Classic Cheese Borags
Yield: approx. 30 appetizers

Ingredients:
8 - oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (Muenster cheese can also be used)
1 - 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg, slightly beaten

1- 1 lb. pkg. Fillo dough, thawed

Melted butter, about 1/2 stick

Filling Directions:

1. In a bowl, combine the Monterey Jack, ricotta, and feta cheeses with the beaten egg, blending well.
2. Set aside.

Fillo dough Preparation:

Take the dough out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before using.
Once fillo dough is exposed to air, it dries out very quickly, becomes brittle, and is impossible to use. Be sure to have plastic wrap and a damp towel ready to cover the dough to keep it pliable while you fold the borags.

Folding the Borags:

1. Cut the fillo dough in half, lengthwise. Use one half sheet for each borag. Cover the other sheets first with plastic wrap, then the damp towel, while folding each borag.
2. Fold each half sheet in half lengthwise. Brush surface with melted butter.
3. For each borag, place a spoonful of filling at the end of the folded dough that’s closest to you. Begin folding, as though you were folding a flag - on the diagonal from corner to corner, creating a triangular shape. If there is extra dough at the top, just trim it off or tuck it under.
4. Continue to do this until you run out of filling - or dough.
5. Keep the folded borags covered with plastic wrap.

NOTE: At this point, you can prepare the borags for freezing by placing them in a plastic container large enough to hold the amount you are preparing, making sure you use plastic wrap or waxed paper between each stacked layer to prevent the borags from sticking together. Cover
tightly with the lid, label, date, & freeze.



Baking the Borags:

1. Melt about ½ stick of butter.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Brush the top of each borag with melted butter.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

What do you do with leftover fillo dough? Return it to it’s original wrapper, seal it tightly, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Leftover cheese filling can be spread on bread then heated under the broiler. There’s raw egg in the mixture, so cook before eating!



Cheese Borag Bites

1.Use the same cheese filling as above.

NOTE: Instead of using regular fillo dough sheets, use prepared mini-fillo cups (sold in packages of 15). They can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores.

2. Fill each cup almost to the top with the filling. The amount of cheese filling given in this recipe will fill about 3 boxes of the mini-fillo cups - about 45.
3. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 10 - 12 minutes.




Variation: Spinach Borags

Filling:
  • 1- 10 oz. pkgs. Frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ lb. cottage cheese, drained
  • ¼ lb. feta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ cup chopped scallions
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

Combine all of the ingredients thoroughly.
Follow the steps above for filling and baking the borags.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Phyllo or Fillo? Either way, it's jolly good!


It doesn’t matter which way you spell it, but please: Pronounce it "fee-low."


"Phyllo" means leaf in Greek. In culinary terms, fillo is a paper-thin pastry dough that’s used in an array of recipes ranging from appetizers, entrees, and desserts.


The good news is that fillo dough is a healthy substitute for pie crust or puff pastry because it is low in fat, sodium and calories, and has no trans fat or cholesterol.


Working with fillo dough


The manufacturers of commercial fillo dough recommend the following techniques for working with the sheets of dough:

1. Allow the frozen dough to thaw at room temperature in the wrapper for about 2 hours before using.

-OR-

Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and remove it from the refrigerator when you begin to prepare the filling ingredients.

2. Remove the rolled dough carefully from the box; unroll it, and lay it on a clean, flat surface.

3. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, THEN, a damp towel.

(NOTE: If you don’t place the plastic wrap on the dough first, it will become one soggy mess!)

4. Keep dough covered until ready to use, as the sheets will become brittle very quickly, and will be impossible to use.


What can you make with fillo dough?


The Greeks use fillo dough to make baklava, spanakopita (spinach pie), and tiropita (cheese-filled triangles) - those are known as cheese boregs in Armenian circles.


Other classic Armenian recipes which use fillo dough include paklava (somewhat lighter than the Greek recipe) and boorma, same ingredients as paklava, but it’s lighter and has a unique shape.


Don’t limit yourself to the few recipes I just mentioned . Use your imagination! You can make strudels, napoleons, tarts, pot pies, and even pizzas using fillo!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nobody can out-mussel Armenians


Midia Dolma
My first encounter with midia dolma was in autumn 1968 at an upscale Armenian wedding reception on Long Island.

It wasn't a large affair, but it was lavish. The reception was catered by an Armenian restaurant in New York City that had a fabulous reputation; the food was impeccable. 


I had just turned 19. My younger brother, Drew, and I were lingering around the buffet table filled with luscious appetizers, eyeballing a platter of something we'd never seen before - mussel shells stuffed with mussels, rice, something that looked like little raisins, and pine nuts.


It looked intriguing, but we hesitated. One of the older guests assured us it was worth tasting, so we figured "what the heck." One bite was all it took! The flavors were unique, and addictive.


Drew and I couldn't get enough. A platter would arrive; we'd polish it off. This went on for a platter or two more. We finally had our fill, and feeling a little guilty, decided we'd better let others have some, too.


I mentioned to my Aunt Arpie that I'd love to make this recipe, but it looked like so much work. Lucky for me she had a short-cut recipe that she shared.


I've been using it for years. Now I'll share it, too.


Midia Dolma - the easy way!


Ingredients:


1 large onion, finely chopped

¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup rice
1 cup combined of water & mussel juice
(Note: I use canned mussels for this recipe; it’s so easy! Drain as much liquid from the canned mussels as you can, then add enough water to make 1 cup)
1 large or 2 small cans of mussels in brine, NOT marinated mussels
Salt to taste
Dash ground black pepper
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. cinnamon or to taste (Warning! Too much cinnamon can make the recipe bitter.)
½ cup dried currants or raisins
(Note: If using raisins instead of currants, chop them)
1/2 cup pine nuts
Juice of one lemon

Directions:


1. In a medium saucepan, sauté onion in oil until softened, but not brown.

2. Add rice and water-mussel juice combination to the onion.
3. Add seasonings. Mix. Cover and cook until rice is tender (about 15-20 minutes).
4. While rice is cooking, rinse and de-beard the mussels. Set aside.
5. Add currants and pine nuts to cooked rice. Gently fold in the mussels.
6. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.
7. Add lemon juice to the mixture.
8. Cover and chill until ready to serve. For best flavor, make a day in advance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Currants



Tiny, sweet and chewy. Mmmm...

You’ve probably eaten dried currants and didn’t even realize it. They look like plain-old raisins but are smaller with an intense flavor. In fact, they are a unique kind of raisin -- the dried fruit of the Zante grape originally from Corinth, Greece.

Dried currants are not the same as the fresh currant berry, which is related to the gooseberry. Dried currants are most commonly used as a snack food, in cereal, in stuffing, and in baked goods, such as scones, cookies, muffins, and rolls.

Dried currants are also used are often used in Middle Eastern and some Italian recipes, as well.

Dried currants are bountiful in grocery stores and specialty shops during the Thanksgiving to New Year holiday season. Other times you might find them in Middle Eastern and Italian shops. If all else fails, there’s always the Internet.

Need dried currants in a hurry, but can’t find them? Don’t despair;chopped raisins will do in a pinch.

Once a box of dried currants has been opened, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months, if properly re-sealed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Years ago, the Big Apple tasted Armenian


Armenian food was everyday food when I was growing up, but it could also be something mysterious and special if it involved a trip to a restaurant.

There were no Armenian restaurants in New Jersey, at least that I remember, but there were plenty in the far-off and forbidding land known as New York City.

Technically, Midtown Manhattan was only two or three miles from our front door, but the Hudson River might as well have been the Atlantic Ocean as far as my parents were concerned.

To my mother, who lived and worked in New Jersey all her adult life, New York was a crazy place full of crazy people who were best avoided. To my father, a world traveler who had lived and toiled in far crazier places, New York was simply a pain. The roar and bustle that inspired others to write symphonies just gave him a headache.

I first heard about the Armenian restaurants of New York from Uncle Arpag, my father's best friend and adopted brother. He'd sometimes make the rounds on Saturday night, then recount the evening over coffee at our house on Sunday morning.

It all sounded exotic, especially the talk of nightclubs with bellydancers. (I thought they only existed on the cover of certain record albums that were kept out of reach.)

I knew the food was real because he always brought me some. I was probably 8 or 9 when Uncle Arpag surprised my father with a tinfoil tray of midia dolma, black mussels stuffed with rice and currants. I'd never seen or tasted anything like it.

To everyone's surprise, I fell in love at first bite. From then on, Uncle Arpag made a point of bringing them for me.

My father's aversion to New York travel eased just enough by the time I was in my teens to allow for a rare family trip to a museum or special event. The occasion was always marked by a visit to an Armenian restaurant.

I particularly remember the Dardanelles, a small and very New York down-the-steps place near The Village. The Ararat, somewhat larger and farther uptown. But most especially, I remember The Golden Horn, a lavish and impressive place in Midtown that seemed by far the most upscale of Armenian eateries.

Everything at these restaurants tasted special because it was different from the Armenian food my mother made. The seasonings, the textures, even the names on the menu were all just a little off kilter but not in a bad way. And like midia dolma, some things were not familiar at all.

My favorite discovery was the Golden Horn's ekmek kadayif, a dessert that featured the sweetest honey drizzled over an impossibly rich layer of cream nearly as thick as butter. The technique was said to involve standing on a ladder and dripping cream slowly into a pan.

"My madzoon is just as thick, and I don't have to stand on a ladder," my mother insisted. She was right on both counts, but I could have her home-made yogurt any day. From my first taste, I made sure ekmek kadayif was added to Uncle Arpag's take-out menu.

By the time I met and married Robyn, I was working in Manhattan but the Armenian restaurants were all off my usual path. We drove into The City just once to have dinner at The Dardanelles. (I'd practiced ordering in Armenian but the waiter just looked at me, puzzled. I figured my Armenian was even worse than I imagined until I noticed his name tag read "Julio.")

Soon after that, we moved to Florida. On a trip back North in the mid 1980s, I was determined to take Robyn and our daughter Mandy to some of the restaurants I remembered. But they were all gone, and not much has come to take their place.

It puzzles me. I understand changing demographics and shifting tastes, but how can a city that boasts of being so cosmopolitan be so lacking in Armenian cuisine?

For me, a trip to Manhattan will never be quite as special without dinner at an Armenian restaurant. My wife makes wonderful midia dolma, but she draws the line at standing on a ladder.

So I'll have to go on missing ekmek kadayif, which is a shame for my taste buds but probably a plus for my arteries.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tools of the Trade


Too many kitchens are cluttered with stuff that isn’t needed, or tools & equipment that are either broken or down-right cheaply made.

Be honest, how many of you have a “mystery” drawer that you’re afraid to open?

With so many gizmos & gadgets on today‘s market, setting up the kitchen with necessary tools can be daunting. What exactly does one need to prepare food efficiently?

There are two major factors to consider when setting up your kitchen: quality items and organization.

Buy good quality items the first time around (or, better yet, select them for your bridal registry to receive as gifts!). It’ll be cheaper in the long-run because you won’t end up throwing away inferior tools. Also, know how much space you can spare to store an item before buying. Remember, if you can’t store it, don’t buy it!

If you break the kitchen into sections, organizing is pretty easy no matter what size space you have.

Think of each section as “stations,” and we‘ll determine what you actually need in each:

Preparation station: (2) cutting boards, good-quality knives: paring knife (2-4 in blade), utility knife (5-7 in blade) Chef’s or French knife (8-14 in blade), boning knife (5-7 in blade), slicing knife; a good knife sharpener (electric or non-electric), a food processor &/or blender. (An immersion blender is fun to have, but it isn’t an absolute necessity.)

Baking station: 1 set each, measuring spoons, dry measuring cups, liquid measuring cups, mixing bowls; rolling pin; bench scraper; (at least) 2 baking (cookie) sheets; 2 cooling racks, 2 - 8” cake pans, pie pan, 8”x8” square pan, 9”x13” pan, muffin pan, electric mixer - hand or stand model.

Cooking station : a good quality set of cookware - 7” or 8", 10", 12” skillets- with lids, 1 qt, 2 qt and 3 qt. saucepans, 4 qt, 6 qt, 8 qt pots (with lids), large roasting pan with a rack.

Hand Tools:

Rubber spatulas

Hand can opener

Wire whisk

Spatulas (bent edge and straight edge spatulas in various sizes)

Ladle

Slotted spoon

Tongs

Long handled fork (Chef's fork)

Pastry brush

Wooden spoon set

Box grater

Zester (or microplane)

Colander and/or strainer

Miscellaneous Tools:

Dowel (for making boorma pastries) This can be purchased at a home improvement center.

Vegetable scoop/corer (for making dolma) Note: This tool is about 10 inches long, a 4 inch wooden handle with a 6 inch, thin, curved, serrated cutting edge attached to it. It’s used to scoop out long, thin vegetables, such as zucchini, and can be purchased in well-stocked Middle Eastern stores.

Click on Armenian Kitchen Essentials for a breakdown of tools and their uses.

Click on Tools for the Armenian Kitchen to see and learn more about what every good cook needs!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dill: The subtle Armenian seasoning


Dill, an annual herb that grows to about three feet, is one of the quiet seasonings of Armenian cuisine.
It's a subtle yet distinct background flavor. Dill is the perfect companion for rice, whether fluffed into pilaf or rolled into grape leaves. It lends tang to soups (especially with yogurt) and to pickled vegetables.
Picked straight from the garden, it makes the freshest salad taste even fresher.
My favorite memory of dill is in the Armenian cheese my mother used to knead from curd she'd bring home from the Middle Eastern store in Paterson, N.J. It was Mom's rich, salty cheese that taught me a lasting lesson about dill: The crucial difference between the feathery leaves, which are the herb, and the "seed," which is a spice.
Dill weed works well in salads, vegetables, sauces, and meat and fish recipes. It's sold fresh, dried, whole or chopped. Because heat diminishes the flavor of dill weed, it should be added toward the end of the cooking process.
Dill “seed” is actually the dried fruit of the dill plant. It's small, flat, and dark. It has a stronger flavor than the weed, and is commonly used in pickle brine (as in dill pickles), cabbage recipes, stews, and sauces.
It is good to know the difference before you bring your dill home, especially if you're bringing it home to my mother.
It was autumn, and I guess I was in junior high school at the time. My mother was in the kitchen making her delicious cheese. It was almost time to add the dried dill to the curd when she realized there wasn’t enough to complete the recipe. She called to my father, and asked him to hurry to the nearest grocery store to buy more.
Dad took me with him. We got to the store, rushed inside to the herb-spice aisle, then stopped and stared. There were two different bottles marked “dill”- dill weed and dill seed. I asked my dad which one mom wanted. (This was long before cell phones!) He said, “Just pick one; she needs it now!” I grabbed a bottle, we paid, and rushed home.
Unfortunately, I chose dill SEED instead of dill WEED. How was I supposed to know which one mom wanted? Mom had to make do with the tiny bit of dill weed she had.
Dad and I returned the dill seed to the store after learning a valuable lesson that day. I have to admit, even though the cheese was great, it was missing that extra-dilly taste. Armenian Cheese with Dill Ingredients:
1 lb. cheese curd*
Salt
Dill weed Directions:
1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat about a quart of water to a gentle boil.
2.Cut curd into ¼ inch slices. Place slices, a few at a time, into the hot water until the slices become pliable.
3. Remove slices immediately to a plate. Lightly sprinkle each slice with salt and a little dill weed. Gently knead or fold each slice to combine the seasonings.
4. Continue the process with each slice of cheese.
5. Serve immediately with chorag, or your favorite bread.

* Raw curd can be purchased at a specialty cheese shop, an Italian market, or Middle Eastern store. But call ahead; it may have to be ordered.

If you can’t find raw curd, use fresh, unsalted mozzarella. Cut into slices and place them on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave for about 30 seconds on 50% power . Don’t over-do it, or the cheese will become tough. When the cheese has softened, sprinkle with a little salt and dill weed. Gently knead or fold as mentioned above.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bulgur: The Armenian Almost-Instant Meal



Bulgur might have been the original ready-made meal in a box, if boxes were as old as bulgur.

Instead, it was the original ready-made meal wrapped in a kerchief or packed into a saddle pouch, the most reliable way to fill the belly along the loneliest stretches of the Silk Road.

Bulgur (or bulghur) is made from wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed. It needs nothing but water to transform itself from something that looks like coarse sand into a chewy yet tender cereal.

It's remarkably filling, and loaded with all the good stuff you expect from whole grain. Best of all, you can keep on loading. Add noodles for a rice-less pilaf, add meat for a truly hearty meal. Or steam in your favorite veggies.

Bulgur absorbs flavors brilliantly, whether you stir in tomatoes, onions, or butter -- or substitute your favorite stock for water.

Bulgur generally comes in three sizes, fine (#1) for kufta (Armenian stuffed meatballs) and in soup; medium (#2) for tabbouleh and pilaf; and coarse (#3) for pilaf and in stuffing. A fourth size is sometimes available, and it is larger still.

All the Armenian cooks I know have their own bulgur size preference, as I have mine. I mostly use #1 and #2. No one has complained yet.

Experiment with the various bulgur sizes to see which works best in your preparations.

Buying Bulgur:

The most obvious place to buy bulgur is in a Middle Eastern grocery store. There you’ll find a plentiful supply of all the sizes with the lowest prices. If you don’t live near one, look in a health food store. They usually have pre-packed bulgur in a few sizes, at a higher price.

Chain grocery stores don’t generally stock plain bulgur. However, I have seen pre-packaged mixes for tabbouleh with the bulgur grain included with a seasoning mix. (Try to avoid those, unless you are truly desperate!) Whole Foods Markets carry bulgur, but be prepared to pay the price.

The Internet is another way to track down bulgur. Some Middle Eastern stores have websites where you can order on-line and have it delivered to your door.



Tabbouleh (Sarma Gurgood)
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups( #2) Bulgur
Hot water (see directions for amount)
Cumin, to taste
Paprika, to taste
Allspice, to taste
¼ tsp cayenne pepper, optional
Dash salt
3 scallions, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed & roughly chopped
4 oz tomato paste, diluted in a 2 to 3 tablespoons of water
Juice of one lemon
Approx. ½ cup olive oil

Directions:

1. Place bulgur in a large mixing bowl.
2. Bring 2 cups of water to a gentle boil and pour enough of the water to just cover the bulgur. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the bulgur to soak up the water, about 15 to 20 minutes, until it is soft but not mushy. Strain any excess water.
3. Stir in all of the spices, onions, scallions, mint, parsley, diluted tomato paste, lemon juice to the bulgur. Add the oil a little at a time.
4. Sample the tabbouleh, and adjust the seasonings according to your taste.
5. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

(Note: This recipe is best when made ahead of time so the flavors can blend.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Armenian leftovers: Eggs, lamb

Almost everyone has a few uncracked Easter eggs in the fridge, along with a nice portion of cold roast lamb. If you're like us, neither will go to waste just as they are.

But if you want to dress them up the Armenian way, here are two ideas.

Armenian Potato-Egg Salad
Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

1 lb. boiled potatoes, peeled, cooled and sliced
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
Dash allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil, to taste

Directions:

1. Place sliced potatoes and chopped eggs in a large mixing bowl.
2. Gently toss in the parsley, onion and seasonings.
3. Lightly dress with a little olive oil.
(Note: If you’d like, you can add a little white vinegar or fresh lemon juice with the olive oil.)
4. Serve immediately.

Lamb and Pilaf

Yield: 4-6

Ingredients:

1 recipe for Pilaf (see Armenian Recipe link)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 to 1 ½ cups cooked lamb, cut into chunks
½ tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Prepare Pilaf recipe as directed, except substitute the rice with bulgur (#2 works well). If you don’t have bulgur, use the rice. That will work just fine, too.
2. Sauté the onion in olive oil until slightly golden, about 5 min. Add the lamb chunks and seasonings and cook two more minutes.
3. Stir the onion-lamb mixture into the cooked Pilaf. Heat thoroughly.
4. Serve with a crisp, tossed salad for a fabulous meal!

(Note: If you start out with leftover Pilaf and lamb, this recipe is a snap!)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!



We'll be back in The Kitchen tomorrow. -- Robyn and Doug

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keep Armenian food as safe as any other


Time and temperature are two extremely important points to remember when keeping foods safe from micro-organisms.

Does the temperature range of 41° F to 135° F mean anything to you? Probably not - unless you work in the culinary field.

41° F to 135° F is the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) meaning that micro-organisms grow rapidly on foods when left out in this temperature range for more than two hours. Room temperature falls smack-dab in the middle of the TDZ! If it’s a hot, sunny day, food will spoil even faster.

Be honest, how many of you leave perishable foods at room temperature for hours and hours - especially when you are entertaining? Cheeses start to “sweat”, meat becomes dried out, salads wilt, pies get soggy. Doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it?

Hot foods must be served at a temperature ABOVE 135° F. If that means using a chafing dish with Sterno or a hot plate, so be it.

Cold foods must be kept BELOW 41° F. Place cold food platters on beds of ice.

Remember this saying and all will be safe…

Keep hot foods hot and cold food cold.

For more information on temperature and other food safety tips from the USDA, click here

Happy Eating!

Friday, April 10, 2009

We're all connected to Musa Dagh


This past Christmas, my mother gave a me a cookbook. Not just any cookbook.

This one, Secrets from an Armenian Kitchen, was written by Jack Hachigian, a dear family friend for as long as I can remember.

His parents, Moses and Elizabeth, and my maternal grandparents, Yeranuhe and Oskan Vartanesian, came from the mountainous region of Syria (now Turkey) called Musa Dagh, Moses’ Mountain.

Musa Dagh (Musa Ler in Armenian) became known to the world as the result of a 1934 novel, The 40 Days of Musa Dagh, which was based on the villagers' heroic defense during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and their eventual rescue by the French navy.

Just as I’m attempting to preserve the food and culture of my grandparents, Jack is doing the same with his cookbook. Way to go, Jack! (And, oh, yes, thanks again, Mom for the cookbook!)

Now I've discovered that Jack isn't the only one on this ever-shrinking planet preserving this tradition.

As I was searching The Web the other day, I typed in “Armenian” and “recipes” and came across a cookbook called, The Recipes of Musa Dagh - an Armenian Cookbook in a Dialect of it’s Own, which can be ordered through Amazon.com.

There was something very familiar about the authors’ names, Alberta, Anna, and Louisa Magzanian, so I instantly consulted my mother to check their identity.

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned my maternal grandparents and the grape arbor in their back yard in New Jersey. My mother confirmed that the man who planted the grape arbor was the uncle of the three sisters who wrote the cookbook!

Another shrinking-planet connection: My grandparents, Jack Hachigian’s parents, and the Magzanians all came from Musa Dagh- and ended up in New Jersey.

The Armenian dialect spoken in the villages of Musa Dagh was so unique that it was like its own secret language. Their cooking is not quite so different but includes many distinctive touches.

The following recipe comes from Jack Hachigian’s cookbook, Secret’s from an Armenian Kitchen, and is printed with the author's permission.

Update: Since this story posted, Jack has passed away. I am not certain if his cookbook is still available. If I find that it is, I will post how to order it. 

And check out http://www.mousaler.com/ for more about the Armenians of Moses' Mountain.

AJIK

Omelet Dessert

Serves 1

Children love this dish because they can make it as sweet as they wish by adding more sugar.

Ingredients:

2 large eggs

1 oz. water

¼ tsp. baking powder

Powdered sugar

1 Tbsp. butter (or olive oil)

Preparation:

Crack eggs into a bowl and add the water and baking powder. With a whisk, vigorously whip the eggs until frothy.

To Cook:

Use a Teflon coated omelet pan. Heat pan with 1 Tbsp. butter (or olive oil) until it is very hot, but not smoking. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Spread the mixture around quickly and then lift off the heat to avoid burning. The omelet should bubble up, then thicken slightly and brown on the bottom. Flip the omelet (trying to keep it in one piece) and lightly brown the other side. Remove to a serving dish while folding into quarters. Sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar (to taste). You may also fill the omelet with fresh fruit including strawberries, a jam or marmalade.

To Serve:

Serve while warm as a dessert after a meal, or serve in the afternoon as a snack.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Armenian Easter Menu

Stumped for a holiday menu?

Take a glance through our recipe links to the right. You'll find everything for festive day, Armenian style.

May we suggest...


Easter Breakfast:

Chorag

Armenian string cheese

Easter eggs - Armenian Style

Orange juice

Strong coffee



Easter Dinner:

Appetizer: Hummus

Main Course:

Roast Lamb

Rice Pilaf

Eggplant-Zucchini Bake

Tossed Salad


Dessert: Mini Paklava
Apricot pie




Paree Akhorjag! (Bon apetit!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Armenian Easter treats



Most people think of chocolate bunnies or marshmallow “peeps” when it comes to Easter treats. Armenians think of Easter eggs and chorag. (OK, so we might think about sweet things, too!)

Easter breakfast just wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t serve hard-cooked eggs colored from the dye of onion skins -not the dyes you get from the Paas box at the grocery store - and a basket of warm chorag.

Start saving the skins of onions ahead of time so you have plenty to use - the darker the onion skins, the more color the egg shell will absorb.

Dying Easter eggs - Armenian-style

It’s very easy:

Hard cook eggs as you normally do, but add the onion skins to the water before you start the cooking process.

You’ve never hard-cooked eggs before? Here’s what you do:

1. Gently place eggs in a deep pot.

2. Add enough water to come one inch above the eggs. (Add onion skins now if you’re coloring eggs for Easter.)

3. Cook over high heat until water comes to a boil.

4. Immediately cover the pot and remove it from the heat.

5. Let the eggs stand in the hot water for 15 minutes.

6. Discard the onion skins, if used.

7. Remove the eggs from the hot water and cool them immediately in a bowl of cold water. (This stops any further cooking, makes eggs easier to peel, and helps prevent a greenish ring from forming around the yolk.)

8. Pat the eggs dry, and refrigerate them until serving time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lamb for Easter? It just seems right.



Everyone is Armenian on Easter.

At least, that's how it seemed when I was growing up.

We Armenians eat lamb all year long in every way you can imagine, plus a few more. Skewered, stewed, broiled, braised. Cured and dried into sausages. Boiled and preserved in its own fat.

To me, it's all great. I never understood why my American friends turned up their noses at the very mention of lamb. They never understood either once they'd eaten at our house, where nobody ever turned down seconds.

Lamb was a mystery to them because it was absent from most American tables most of the year, until just about now. That's when the young lambs were slaughtered and signs suddenly sprang up in supermarket windows: Spring Lamb Is Here! Even at steak houses, leg of lamb emerged from the thumb-stained bottom of the menu to become the centerpiece of the Easter feast.

Spring lamb is an ancient rite that cuts across cultural and religious lines. To the Jews at Passover, the Paschal lamb is a sacrifice to God. To Christians, lamb at the Easter table symbolizes The Lamb of God and His sacrifice for mankind.

As a kid, I didn't get it. To me, eating lamb was no sacrifice. It was just...dinner.

But oh, what a dinner! Done well, a leg of lamb is so delicious, so succulent that almost any side dish pales.

And to Armenians, lamb done well means lamb well done.

You are horrified? Turn off the Food Network for a few minutes, take a deep breath and consider this: Rare lamb is rarely served in the oldest food cultures of the Near and Middle East. Greeks, Assyrians, Arabs and the rest all cook their lamb thoroughly. You have to figure they know something after a few thousand years of practice.

What they know is that the key to a tender and juicy roast lamb is fat. Not inside, but outside. Ask the butcher for a roast with a thick layer of fat on one side and cook it fat-side up. The fat will seal and baste the meat. It will also add flavor.

In fact, you don't need to do much more. One of the American myths about lamb is that it has a strong taste that has to be covered up. If your lamb tastes that way, it's just bad lamb. Fresh, young lamb is almost sweet and easily takes on the flavor of subtle seasonings.

This recipe is a typical Armenian preparation. Serve it with pilaf, salad and fresh bread and you'll have a grand holiday dinner.

Just skip the mint jelly. You won't need it. If you want mint flavor, add some fresh mint leaves to your salad.

That's very Armenian.


Roast Leg of Lamb

Yield: approximately 6 servings
Ingredients:
1 leg of lamb, bone-in, 6 to 7 lbs., untrimmed
2 Tbsp. Coriander seed, freshly ground
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
2 medium onions, roughly cut, skin on
4 cloves garlic, whole, skin on
½ cup water
Directions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the ground coriander, salt, and pepper. Blend well and set aside.
2. Place the oven rack as close to the center as possible, then preheat to 350° F.
3. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with heavy-duty foil.
4. Spread the cut onions, garlic, and ½ cup of water on top of the foil. This will impart a lively flavor, and fragrance to the recipe during roasting.
5. Place a roasting rack over the onion mixture.
6. Place the lamb on the rack, fat-side up. Leaving the fat on will flavor and moisten the meat.
7. Sprinkle the coriander, salt and pepper on the surface of the lamb, gently rubbing them in.
8. Roast the lamb for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, basting periodically with the juices from the bottom of the pan. (There is no need to turn the meat during roasting.)
9. Remove the roast to a carving board, allowing the meat to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing.
10. Serve with pan juices that have been skimmed of fat.

Special Note: Do Not discard the juices at the bottom of the pan! When cooled, strain the juices into a food storage container, discard the onion & garlic.

Refrigerate overnight. Remove the layer of fat which hardens on the top. What’s left is a flavorful broth to use as a base for soup or sauces.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Parsley, onion and eggs

The combination of parsley and onions is familiar to most of us as the perfect complement to a multitude of dishes, but the practice of mixing them with eggs is especially popular among Armenians from Dikranagerd. My mother-in-law, who spoke and cooked in the distinctive Dikranagertsi style, called this sokhov boghdonosov dabag.


This might be my favorite breakfast of all time -- except, it's not necessarily breakfast.
In America, we associate eggs with morning but this recipe makes a very satisfying meal any time of day. It can even be eaten cold, or at room temperature.
And it's perfect for wrapping in fresh, soft lavash.
 
Ingredients:
4 to 6 eggs
1 diced medium yellow onion (or 1 cup chopped green onion)
1 bunch parsley, chopped
olive oil
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Beat the eggs until smooth.
2. Slowly heat a 10-inch skillet with just enough olive oil to sauté the onion until slightly soft.
3. Add the sautéed onion and the parsley to the egg and beat again until blended.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Reheat the skillet with about 1/8 inch of oil, being careful not to let the oil smoke.
6. Test by adding a few drops of egg mixture to see if the oil is ready.
7. Slowly pour in enough egg mixture to make a thin sheet slightly thicker than a crepe and about six inches across.
8. Turn once, cooking until slightly brown on each side.
9. Remove and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Savory or sweet, it's still chorag!




Chorag is a traditional Armenian braided yeast roll. Some like sweet chorag; others a bit savory, so the recipe varies from household to household.

But whatever your preference, chorag is always served with cheese and strong coffee.

Some cooks might be a bit intimidated by the intricate shape, but don't be fooled. It's a snap. Check out the video by clicking Read more! for the recipe.






A dear family friend, Anne Marootian, is one of the best Armenian cooks I know. I don’t know how much cooking she still does now that she's in her 90's, but to me she’s still the “Queen of Chorag.”

Here's a slightly modified version of her recipe for crisp, flaky chorag that tastes rich but feels light.

Anne Marootian’s Chorag

Yield: Approximately 2 ½ to 3 dozen


Ingredients:

½ lb. unsalted butter

1 cup milk

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

1 egg

1 Tbsp. each of GROUND mahlab**, fennel seed, anise seed

(** Mahlab is the dried “heart” of the cherry pit. It can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores. If you can’t find it, you can omit it; the taste will be slightly different, but still delicious.)

½ tsp ground ginger

1 pkg. dry yeast

2 Tbsp. baking powder

5 to 5 1/2 cups flour

************************************

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. of water (for egg wash)

Directions:

1. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add milk and heat gently. Cool.

2. Beat egg and add to cooled milk.

3. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water (about 105-110° F). You can check the temperature with a food thermometer, or by putting a drop on your wrist. If it feels comfortable to your wrist, the temp. is good to go. Set aside.

4. Mix sugar, salt, spices, and baking powder together. Set aside.

5. Place 5 cups of the flour into a large mixing bowl. Combine the blended spice mixture into the flour.

6. Add the milk-egg mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir in the dissolved yeast, and mix well.

7. Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough seems a bit sticky, add some of the extra ½ cup flour that wasn’t used earlier.

8. Place dough in a large, clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then cover that with a towel. Allow to rise for 2 hours.

9. Break off about a golf ball-size piece of dough. Roll it into a long, thin rope, about 16 inches in length. Break off about one-third of the dough. Shape the longer piece of dough into a horseshoe (U) shape. Place the shorter piece of dough in the center of the “U”, and begin braiding the 3 strips of dough.

10. Place the braided dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Continue to shape dough until tray is full. (Don’t place chorags too close to each other. Give them room to expand while they bake.)

11. Let shaped dough rise on the tray for one more hour before baking.

12. Brush tops with beaten egg. (This is the egg wash.)

13. Bake at 375° F. on the bottom oven rack until the bottom of the chorag is golden (about 15 minutes). Then transfer the tray to the top rack until the top of the chorag is golden (about another 5 minutes). Cool chorag on cooling racks.

14. Continue this procedure until all dough is shaped and baked.

15. Store completely cooled chorag in a container with a tight-fitting lid, or place in freezer bags, and freeze until ready to serve. They can be thawed in the microwave - simply wrap each chorag in a paper towel, and microwave for about 30 seconds on low to medium power, or until defrosted.

SPECIAL NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Basil


Basil, a member of the mint family, was known as the “king of herbs” by ancient
Greeks.

Cultivated for over 5,000 years, basil (rahan) has a long tradition in Armenian cooking and in the Armenian Church.


St. Helena (Soorp Heghine to Armenians) is believed to have discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem under a pile of debris covered with a flourishing crop of basil. During the Exaltation of the Holy Cross each September, the processional cross is adorned with blessed basil leaves. This is one of the five major feasts of the Church, and the most important of the four feasts of the Holy Cross.

My mother recalls that, in her youth, anyone who had a basil plant growing in their summer garden would pick a bunch for each guest who visited, and throughout the evening they would sniff the basil’s sweet aroma.

Not only do I love the taste of basil, I love the scent even more. I often said, if they made basil perfume, I’d wear it. My husband took this to heart and bought me the closest thing he could find -- basil-scented hand soap and lotion at Williams-Sonoma -- and presented it to me for Christmas!

Here’s a vegetable recipe with a lot of wonderful flavors.

Eggplant-Zucchini Bake

Ingredients:

2 medium-sized eggplants, diced
2 medium-sized zucchini, diced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup flat Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup basil, chopped (divided)
¼ cup olive oil
1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
1 small can stewed tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Pour and spread 4 oz. of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 13”x9” baking pan.
3. To the pan add the eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, garlic, parsley, and HALF of the basil. Season with a little salt and pepper. Toss together.
4. Add the oil , stewed tomatoes, and the rest of the tomato sauce to the vegetables. Toss again, coating all of the vegetables.
5. Cover the pan with foil, and bake in the preheated oven for one hour.
6. Uncover, and bake 30 minutes more.
7. This can be served hot or at room temperature.
8. Before serving, add the remaining chopped fresh basil.

Note: This recipe can be made up to 2 days in advance. Do not add the final ½ cup of fresh basil until you are ready to serve.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Herbs, spices...What’s the difference?


Recipes would be pretty bland without the addition of herbs and spices.

Here’s how can you tell one from the other:

Herbs are the flowers, leaves or stems of aromatic plants. They can be purchased fresh or dried. Dried herbs are stronger than the fresh variety because their flavorful oils become more concentrated. To get the most out of dried herbs, lightly crush or grind them before adding them to the recipe.

Spices are the bark, berries, buds, roots or seeds of plants. They are generally used dried, and can be purchased either whole or ground. Whole spices can be added early in the recipe preparation, allowing their flavors to permeate the food. Ground spices should be added later during cooking.

Armenian cuisine uses some common herbs and spices, but can also pack a punch with some unique ones as well. From time to time, we’ll highlight a specific herb or spice, with its background information, plus a recipe or two for you to try.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Grandpa's apricot pie



Harry Bichakjian learned to cook somewhere between the historic Armenian city of Kharpert and Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Like so much about my maternal grandfather's life, exactly where and how that happened is a mystery.


I know that he came to the United States in 1887 at age 17, making him something of an Armenian-American pioneer. Chelsea, just across the Mystic River from Boston, became a magnet for other Armenian immigrants who found work in the nearby factories and mills. Grandpa eventually opened a boarding house and a lunch room.

Many of these Armenians found themselves migrating again when the factories moved South in the 1920s, and Grandpa went along. So did my other grandfather, Harry Kalajian.

The two Haroutyuns opened a restaurant together in Union City, New Jersey, with Bichakjian Grandpa running the kitchen. I know two things about the restaurant from first-hand testimony.

My father, who ate his first meal in America there in 1928, recalled that there was no menu. Everyone ate whatever Grandpa spooned into their bowls, usually starting with bulgur pilaf. Alice Bakalian, my mother's cousin, remembers Grandpa's pies -- apple and apricot -- freshly baked and cooling on top of the ice box. He always gave her one to take home.

I never met my grandfather the cook, but I remember his pies because my mother baked them. Grandpa's apricot pie, perfectly tart and sweet at the same time, was her knockout dessert specialty.

Now, it's Robyn's. She bakes an apricot pie every holiday in honor of my mother.

You don't have to wait for a holiday. This pie itself is reason to celebrate.

And what could be more Armenian than a pie filled with prunus Armenicus?


Apricot pie

Filling ingredients
2 (11-ounce) pkgs. dry apricots
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
water, enough to almost cover the apricots
cinnamon, a dash
note: the filling can be made ahead of time

Crust: Use your favorite recipe for a two-crust pie, or get ready-made.

Cook apricots in 3-quart pot filled with water to about 1 1/2 inches from the top for 15-20 minutes. Add the butter. Stir with an immersion blender, or just use a potato masher.
Combine cornstarch and water, then add to apricot mixture and heat until thickened.
Add cinnamon.
Butter pan before putting in dough.
Separate 1 egg. Brush dough with egg white before adding apricot.
Add 1 Tsp. water to egg yolk, beat and brush top of crust.
Bake at 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rice Pilaf in a box?


Whoever heard of such a thing? That’s what Rice-a-Roni is -sort of.

When I was a kid, my American friends ate Rice-a-Roni because it was convenient- and American. It had to be; the jingle said it was the San Francisco treat. Their parents worked, so any food that was quick to fix was the way to go. My parents worked, too, but they didn’t buy the stuff; we ate the real thing.

It’s funny, the first time I ever ate Rice-a-Roni was this past summer in San Francisco, at the home of one of our Armenian friends.

“Birth of Rice-A-Roni: The Armenian-Italian Treat,” is the title of a story that ran on NPR (National Public Radio), a while back. I read about this last summer when our friend, Bonnie in Fort Lauderdale, sent us the link to the story. Then, right after my recipe for Rice Pilaf was posted the other day, Doug’s cousin, Margaret in Arizona, sent me the link to the same story. Now, I’ll pass this along to you.

Click here to find out how Rice-a-Roni came to be.

One Plant - Two Incredible Flavors!

What do coriander and cilantro have in common? They come from the same plant.

What’s different about coriander and cilantro? Their flavors. They are very different, and definitely not interchangeable.

Coriander and cilantro are used in numerous cuisines: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, S. and SE Asian, Chinese, African, Latin American, and Mexican.

Coriander, a spice:
Coriander is the dried seed of the plant. It is sold as whole dried seeds or ground. To draw out the nutty flavor of the seeds, heat them in a dry skillet before grinding. Seeds should be stored in a tightly covered container away from heat and sunlight.

Ground coriander tends to lose its flavor quickly, so grinding just before using is preferred. Coriander is used to season meats (as in marinades or rubs), stews, sausages, pickling, and even in brewing certain types of beer.

Cilantro, an herb:
Sometimes called Chinese parsley, cilantro is used in salsa, salads, soups, dips, spreads, stews. .

To many, the leaf is an acquired taste. It has a citrus-sage-like quality, and the leaves are a bit waxy. I am, however, addicted to it! When I was younger, I never thought about why I liked tomato salsa so much. It wasn’t until I examined the ingredients that I realized it was
the cilantro that attracted me.

Cilantro is sold fresh, in bunches, often with the roots still attached. It should be stored in the refrigerator, in a glass of water, with a plastic covering over the glass. Change the water every two days.

Snip the leaves, as needed, then re-cover the glass with plastic. When left wet for too long, the leaves will get slimy. Cilantro will keep for up to five days.