Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hye Tea -- with a dainty portion of eggs and sausage!

No, I didn’t misspell it; I actually mean “HYE” tea.

For those who don’t know, “Hye” is the Armenian word for “Armenian.”

The British aren’t the only ones who enjoy their tea. “Chai," or “tay” as some Armenians say, is a popular beverage among Armenians.

For the past several years Armenian church Women’s Guilds have been hosting Hye Teas as a social event. For instance, St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ, has held several successful Hye Teas. I recently purchased their Hye Tea Social booklet which contains the
recipes they serve their guests, background information on High Teas, instructions on brewing tea, and even a “Tea Quiz."

If you’ve never been to Tea Social, you’re missing something special.

The refreshments are always attractive, tasty, and dainty. (If you have a hearty appetite, you might want to have a snack before you get there!) A selection of flavored teas is offered, and served in delicate porcelain tea cups.

English Tea menus depend on the type of tea service it is: Afternoon, Cream, or High Tea. Afternoon Tea offers tea sandwiches, scones, and cakes, while Cream Tea adds clotted or Devonshire cream to the menu.

High Tea includes meat, cheese, and egg items to the mix. How does Hye Tea differ? The addition of Armenian recipes, of course!

The Ladies at St. Leon serve traditional High Tea fare but add the Armenian touch with recipes such as, Zhazhig (cheese spread) and crackers, Lebneh and pita wedges, Eech on Romaine, Basturma and Egg salad, Soojoog and Scrambled Eggs, Mini Borags, Bird’s Nests, and Kourabia.

Now, THAT’S what I’m talking about!

Here’s the St. Leon recipe for Soojoog and Scrambled Eggs:

Peel the casing off of one soojoog (variously spelled soujouk, shujuk...) sausage. Cut it in pieces and put in a food processor. Process until crumbly.

Beat 6 eggs in a bowl. Mix in the soojoog.

Heat frying pan and melt ½ Tbsp. of butter in it. Pour in the egg and soojoog mixture and cook until eggs are set.

Serve in half a pita.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Armenia's future is growing greener

We recently read a fascinating story about organic farming in Armenia on the excellent independent-journalism Web site ArmeniaNow.com.

A non-governmental organization called Green Lane has been establishing farmer field schools throughout the country for several years to teach techniques that not only protect the environment but that can help make small-scale farming both sustainable and profitable in Armenia's mountainous terrain.

The folks in the picture are part of a consumer cooperative formed in 2002 to grow vegetables in the Masis region, province of Ararat. Other local efforts target a variety of crops as well as modern livestock practices.

There are also dedicated women's farmer field schools such as one in Gargar village that's conducting studies in growing and marketing medicinal herbs and other crops.

The all-organic effort ties in closely with similar programs in neighboring Georgia and aims to bring Armenia more closely in line with current European and world farming trends.

You can find out much more at Greenlane.am.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Armenian menu, frozen in time

One of our main motives in creating this site was to help preserve the recipes and cooking traditions that Armenians brought to America in the last century.

Wouldn't you know the federal government beat us to it by more than 70 years?

The Federal Writers Project captured many vivid snapshots of American life in the 1930s while keeping otherwise unemployed writers afloat during hard times.

Much of that work has been rarely read, tucked away in dusty library basements, but now much of it is emerging in digital form on the Internet -- including a book called, The Armenians in Massachusetts.

The title caught my eye because both sides of my family settled in Massachusetts before moving on to New Jersey when factory jobs became scarce in the 1920s.

There's plenty of interesting material in the book about how Armenians lived, worked and made their mark from the early days of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our favorite chapter is called "Food."

Some of the observations are amusing from this distance. Among them: Armenians in America often ate like Americans!

"The typical American breakfast has been almost universally adopted, and chops and steaks, sausages and tinned foods, unknown to Armenians in their native habitat, find their way to tables." (I love that part about "their native habitat." It's so...National Geographic!)

On the other hand, "To the American observer it seems that the Armenian cook wields the spice-jar with too lavish a hand, and the use of oils and fats also seems rather excessive."

But once such silly stuff is dispensed, there's a good deal of accurate and valuable information that captured the essence of the Armenian table: the ubiquitous appearance of parsley and onions, the essential role of bulgur and the ingenious use of every part of the slaughtered lamb, literally from head to feet.

The chapter also explores the many variations of keufteh (meat kneaded with bulgur) -- plain, stuffed, fried, boiled and raw.

The chapter concludes with several recipes lent to the authors by "Coco," described as a "famous Armenian restaurateur of Boston."

You can download a copy of the book, as we did, at www.archive.org. While you're there, it's worth browsing for other Armenian titles, including the fascinating 1919 book The Armenians in America by M. Vartan Malcom.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Brain Food: How to eat like a champ

Armenian chess champions are nothing new. Former world champions Tigran Petrosian and Garry Kasparov (Kasparyan) are prime examples.

Now another Armenian Grand Master is creating an international senstation: Levon Aronian has been crowned world's "rapid chess" champ at a tournament in Mainz, Germany.

We're not quite chess experts here at TheArmenianKitchen.com -- OK, the truth is we can barely follow the game -- but Aronian's victory sure sounds impressive as he emerged from the top-level competition undefeated.

So what does this have to do with food?

In reporting on the tournament, the Web site ChessBase.com also noted the menu at dinner on the first day of the three-day competition: sliced balik salmon with caviar, followed by lamb with lavender jus and cabbage quiche. Dessert was strawberry salsa with white chocolate mousse.

No rice pilaf?

It would have been a nice touch, but Aronian's opponents were clearly doomed by the main course. Feeding an Armenian lamb in the middle of a battle of the brains is almost an unfair advantage. (Although, we could pass up the "lavender jus.")

Congratulations, Levon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why bash anyone else's food? Let's just eat!

Our fassoulia video on YouTube.com has drawn this comment from a reader who identifies himself as Engafaf.

"It looks delicious, just wanted to say the word Fasolia means green beans in Arabic and that's what we call our dish too, what a coincidence.

There are a lot of similarities in the names of dishes like kashke and haresa too. I wonder how?"

The same reader commented on our boorma video: "Very yummy, this is also how Turkish people make them."

Who can argue with a compliment?

And while we're at it, let's also give a nod to the Greeks, Assyrians and Persians, among others.

The Near and Middle East combined make for a big neighborhood, but it's easy to see how some common ingredients mixed thoroughly by a few thousand years of migration, invasion and assimilation have resulted in remarkably familiar dinner menus across ethnic and cultural lines.

We don't pretend to be food historians, so we are always careful about claiming any dish as exclusively or even originally Armenian. Our focus is mainly on what Armenians enjoy and what we cook well.

In fact, we think politics has no place in the kitchen -- it can't possibly help the digestion. So perhaps, like Engafaf, we can all show appreciation for the good stuff regardless of what anyone calls it.

All of us except Mr. Tahir Amiraslanov, it seems.

Mr. Amiraslanov, director of the Azerbaijani National Cuisine Center, is reported to have taken extreme umbrage at a Russian food company's alleged mislabeling of a traditional Azeri dish as Armenian.

We say "alleged" because the label's in Russian. For all we know, it could be cat food.

But according to the story reported on an Azerbaijani Web site (Today.Az), the recipe in question is bozbash, identified by various sources as a lamb soup with quince and chestnuts.

Sounds good to us, but not remotely familiar. We'd be willing to accept Mr. Amiraslanov's claim at face value if he'd stopped there.

But he added this: "We have proved (to) the world that there is no Armenian cuisine. Their food consists of dishes that they stole from Azerbaijani cuisine. In our articles and publications, we constantly expose the Armenian lies."

Just for the record, the present-day Azeris are direct descendents of the Seljuk Turks, who moved into the neighborhood in the 11th Century.

If Mr. Amiraslanov is correct, the Armenians who founded Erebuni (Yerevan) must have gotten awfully hungry while waiting 1,800 years for the Azeris to teach them how to cook.

We may not know anything about bozbash, but we sure know baloney!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Drawing on the past: There was nothing depressing about these Armenians

Watching the all singing, all dancing Gold Diggers of 1933 on TV the other night, I couldn't help blurting out that The Depression seemed like an awful lot of fun.

Of course, we know it wasn't -- except sometimes.

Armenians never a let a little inconvenience like poverty keep them from getting together to make kef (as the old-timers called having fun).

A grand gathering demanded nothing but willing participants, at least one oud and -- of course -- plenty of food.

Robyn and I heard the stories of good times on a shoestring budget throughout our childhoods. My mother left behind a perfect illustration, tucked among her photo albums: A cartoon drawing of an Armenian get-together from what appears to be the early 1930s.

You'll want to click on the picture above to magnify the image. If you're from New Jersey, you may recognize many of the names even if (like us) you're too young to remember the scene. These are the Armenians of Hudson County, N.J., heading out for a summer boat ride.

The clue that there was lots of good food is lower right: Vahan Aramian's grocery wagon. I remember Mr. Aramian's store from the 1950s. This is before Armenian grocery stores became boutiques, or even relics. It was simply Mr. Aramian's store.

What a hoot to see who's pulling up just ahead of him: Nalband the Packard Salesman, my mother's uncle Aram-- and there's Aunt Felicia on the upper deck. And look in that sailboat: It's Aram Mazoujian! He was still an engraver at The New York Daily News when I worked here in the 1970s.

This is nostalgia from 20 years before I was born.

Who created this fun, wonderful and loving work? His signature is at the lower right: Ashod Pinajian. That's all I knew for years. But in March 2007, The New York Times revealed much more.

Using the first name Art, Pinajian became a comic book illustrator but he gave up commercial work after World War II to become a painter. He apparently never sold much, if anything. He shared a house on Long Island with his sister, who supported him until his death in 1999 at age 85.

When she died seven years later, surviving relatives sold the house and left Pinajian's paintings behind for the new owners. Not a handful of paintings, either -- more than 3,000 works, plus daily journals dating back years.

The buyers shifted their efforts from flipping the house to cataloging and appraising Pinajian's life work. Meanwhile, his comic book illustrations are increasingly prized by aficionados and now command collector prices.

I hope his paintings are eventually released and shown to the public. I'd love to see an exhibition.

I'm guessing I might recognize some of the faces.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Armenian food in America is old news

I love reading old newspapers, which is natural enough for an old newspaper man.

While poking around fragile stacks of yellowed papers and scrolling countless yards of microfilm over the years, I've always kept an eye out for news of Armenians.

Much of it is grim stuff, particularly from the late 1800s through the 1920s. But there's plenty of fun, too, if you enjoy seeing Armenian names pop up unexpectedly as inventors, soldiers, scientists and athletes.

These days, I do most of my scrolling on the Internet and my focus is on Armenian foods. I'll share some of what I find from time to time. Here's one I got a kick out of, from the Feb. 22, 1935 edition of Maryland's Cumberland Evening Times.

The newspaper, which ceased publication more than 20 years ago, featured a section of food tips and recipes called Modern Homes News. Typical of the day's features, "One Piece Meals You Will Like" and "Tasty Fruit Cake For Tea Table."

At the very top and center of the page is the headline, "Two Oriental Meat Dishes." Both recipes were "secured from one of the Armenian restaurants of New York City." Readers were advised to consult previous editions for such side dish recipes as rice pilaf and "Armenian cereal concoctions."

Cereal concoctions?

The first recipe is called "Roast Beef Armenia." Great name! But the details sound suspiciously like Tass Kebab: cubes of beef filet sauteed with onions, butter and tomato and then braised in water.

Change the main ingredient to lamb and I'll have seconds!

The second recipe is called simply "Oven Roast with Rice." It strikes us as a little odd that this "highly seasoned" recipe seems to be missing seasonings.

What do you think?

Oven Roast with Rice


Ingredients:
Two or three pounds beef
1/2 cup rice
two or three ripe tomatoes OR four or five tablespoons canned tomatoes
salt and pepper

Directions:
Boil the meat in water, removing any scum
When it is half done, place the meat over the rice in a roasting pan and pour over both the broth from the boiling pot.
Add tomatoes.
Season and roast at 350 degrees until well done and water is evaporated.

Was that a big 'ol hunk of beef or cubes or...what? The article doesn't say. Nor does it specify any seasoning other than salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

For Armenians, grapes have always been a sweet blessing

Unlike the pomegranate and apricot, grapes occupy no unique place in Armenian lore. But they bring every bit as much joy to the Armenian palate.

How can that be? Armenian grapes are known for their special sweetness. If you know Armenians, no further explanation is necessary!

We've never eaten real Armenian grapes, but all grapes taste a little sweeter this month as Armenian churches around the world celebrate the Blessing of the Grapes along with the Feast of the Assumption.

This is one of the big days on the Armenian religious calendar, marking the Holy Mother's assumption into heaven.

There's nothing about grapes in the Biblical version, but the feast coincides closely with the first grape harvest of the year. So, the Armenian pagan tradition of offering the first crop to the goddess Anahid was adopted and transformed by the early church.

The old-timers really didn't eat grapes before the blessing, although that's tradition and not a religious prohibition. Luckily, we're not old-timers, so we snack on grapes year-round.

I brought home a particularly alluring basket of plump, red "seedless" grapes a couple of weeks ago without even noticing that they were shipped by a noted Armenian grower from California. Robyn took one bite and protested: "They have seeds!"

Some people take things so literally.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Food fight! Americans discover that pomegranates are worth fighting over

How much do Americans love pomegranate juice?

So much that the most popular brands all seem to be suing each other over the right to claim that their juice is the real thing.

What could be more American than that?

According to news reports, Pom Wonderful -- the country's number one producer of pomegranates and pomegranate juice -- has filed false advertising suits against a number of competitors that sell (or claim to sell) pomegranate juice blends.

Pom Wonderful boldly touts the health benefits of pomegranate juice in its advertising. Even its blended juices contain enough pomegranate juice to give consumers all the healthy benefits, the company claims.

But those other blends? Pom says they just don't have enough of the good stuff and consumers are being misled.

Last year, Pom Wonderful successfully sued a small manufacturer whose "100 percent" pomegranate juice turned out to be mostly high-fructose corn syrup. Pom collected $1.5 million in damages.

Now Pom Wonderful is targeting some of the biggest names in the business, including Ocean Spray. Pom claims that Ocean Spray's cranberry-pomegranate blend is nearly all apple and grape juice. A federal court rejected Ocean Spray's plea to dismiss the case on technical grounds.

Also on Pom Wonderful's complaint list are such well-known juice brand names as Tropicana, Welch's and Coca Cola. Tropicana succeeded in getting a court to dismiss Pom's first complaint, but Pom is making another try.

The stakes are high: Pomegranate juice sales in the U.S. have topped $100 million annually and are still rising as health-conscious consumers continue to discover its touted benefits for the heart, the prostate and even improved sexual function.

Pom Wonderful says its claims are backed by a $25 million scientific study. Just this month, the journal Clinial Cancer Research reported on a study that suggests pomegranate juice may actually slow the growth of prostate cancer.

The winner in all this may not even get bragging rights worth bragging about. Welch's counter suit charges that Pom Wonderful's health claims have no scientific basis at all.

Can that be true?

We don't know. But regardless of what the courts decide, we'll still love pomegranate juice -- even if we have to squeeze our own.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Double-Whammy!

My husband , Douglas, is cursed with an Armenian double-whammy.

Not only is he allergic to eggplant, an Armenian staple, he’s also allergic to walnuts, which are sometimes ground up and hidden in recipes.

We ALWAYS have to ask if either of these ingredients have been used when dining away from home.

I am his “food detective” in restaurants, or when dining at events where an individual’s dietary restrictions aren’t considered.

Needless to say, we don’t use either of these ingredients in our home cooking, and have learned to use suitable alternatives in recipes that call for them.

One recipe which I enjoy, Muhammara, is one of those recipes with “hidden”, ground-up walnuts. Fortunately, I am aware of this, and can steer Doug away, leaving more for me!

Here’s my home-version of Muhammara using pine nuts so Doug can enjoy it, too:

Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper & Pine Nut Spread)

2 - 8 oz. jars roasted red peppers, drained & rinsed
1 cup toasted pine nuts ** (see below)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. pomegranate juice - or - 2 tsp. lemon juice - or - 2 tsp. pomegranate molasses (sold in Middles Eastern stores)
½ tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Directions:
1. Puree all ingredients EXCEPT olive oil in a food processor until almost smooth.
2. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil, blending until incorporated.
(NOTE: This can be made a day in advance.)
3. Serve with crackers, toasted pita chips, or assorted vegetable dippers.

** How to Toast Pine Nuts:
Place the pine nuts in a dry, non-stick pan. (Do not use oil.)
Turn the heat to medium.
Shake the pan every 30 seconds, tossing the pine nuts.
When they are lightly golden brown, remove from heat. Cool.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Remembering summers among Armenians in Asbury Park, N.J.

Asbury Park, NJ is a small shore town a hop, skip & a jump from North Jersey and New York City.

In its hey-day, Asbury was famous for its beaches and a boardwalk with miniature golf, arcades, shops, saltwater taffy, and Madame Marie - the fortune-teller.

The beachside convention center hosted big-name concerts, and -- at the south end -- the Casino housed the best, old-fashioned merry-go-round. The Ferris Wheel and Swan-shaped peddle boats were south-end attractions, too.

What drew Armenians to Asbury Park were the Armenian-owned, family-style hotels: the Van Hotel, Hye Hotel, and Roosevelt-Hye Hotel - all on 6th Avenue. (Pictured above is the Van Hotel.)

My family stayed at the Van Hotel owned & operated by Sam and Varsenig Eretzian. This hotel was home-away-from-home for so many Armenians, and what a deal, too! With the price of the room (by the week, usually), a family received lodging, 3 meals a day, passes to the famous Monte Carlo swimming pool (at the time, the world’s largest outdoor, salt water pool), and entrance to the beach.

Summertime in Asbury was all we could think of all winter long.

Barbara (Minassian) Hovsepian, niece of the owners, is a dear family friend. She, my sister Dawn and I were reminiscing last month about the good-old-days in Asbury. Barbara, her sister Rose and their brothers Larry and Donald all worked in the hotel's dining room.

Dawn was the desk clerk for several summers. The year I was old enough to work in the dining room, she joined me there, too.

The Van Hotel had two main chefs: Leonard, the breakfast cook, who made the best omelets, and “Chief," the Greek chef, who took over after breakfast.

What food! That’s all I can say!

Breakfast: There were always 3 bowls on each table: grape jelly, Greek olives, and feta cheese. Then came eggs, bacon, toast - or- whatever your heart desired.

Lunch: Usually a variety of sandwiches, which they’d pack for guests to take to the beach.

Dinner: Served at 6 pm sharp, dinner was the highlight! Each night of the week offered a different entrée , complete with salad, a starch dish, dessert, coffee.

Barbara, Dawn & I had trouble recalling which dinner entrée was served when. It doesn’t really matter now, but here’s what we did remember:

Friday: spaghetti and meatballs or fish
Saturday: steak
Sunday: shish kebab (always!)
The other entrees were chicken, moussaka, lamb chops, roast lamb. Not a bad selection, I must say.

Unfortunately, those days are gone and can never be recaptured. The Van Hotel and its surrounding structure burned to the ground in the late 1960’s, taking the life of Mrs. Eretzian. Soon after, Asbury Park was affected by riots of that turbulent decade.

To this day, Asbury hasn’t fully recovered, but we were happy to see, recently, some signs of life as we drove down 6th Avenue and along the boardwalk where we spent so many carefree summers.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Shish Kebarbecue Machine

I received an e-mail from reader Lynn Nakashian. Our families go way back. My mom and her father, John, grew up together and remained friends until his recent passing.

Lynn asked if I knew who built her dad’s shish kebab machine. It’s a square metal box with gears and hand-crafted skewers that uniformly turn, allowing the meat to cook evenly over perfectly hot coals.

Of course I knew the answer: My father built it!

My dad, Andrew Dabbakian, was an amazingly talented man. That's him in the photo with a kebab machine that he built for our family.

He was a metal worker at Bendix Aviation in Teterboro, NJ., who later became a high school metal shop teacher. He was able to build or fix anything. If something didn’t fit properly, he’d examine it, think about it, then conjure up a new part.

He got to thinking about a better way to make kebab while helping out at our church picnics back at St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Hungry crowds had to wait in line while the men turned dozens of skewers by hand.

Dad knew there had to be a better way, so he fiddled around in the basement until he came up with the Shish Kebarbecue. The model he built for the church was an instant success.

Surrounding Armenian churches heard about this machine and wanted one for their own picnics. Dad was commissioned to build more. Some of the men wanted in on this, too, so dad built a few home versions of the machine.

Here's how Lynn remembered her father's:

"The machine had a motor with gears and chains with slots for perhaps a dozen shishes. The shishes themselves had gears, and fit on the machine -- a rotisserie with a dozen skewers, so to speak.

A few special times during the year while growing up, my Mom would get out the shishes, order legs of lamb from George's Market, and make pounds of chunk kebab. Mom would grind the smaller pieces and make lula kebab -- my favorite at the time.

She would marinate (in a wonderful concoction with onions that we would later fight over) and put them on the shishes, along with onions, peppers, "pataljahn," and tomatoes.

Mom would chop the onions and parsley, and wet the lavash crackers so we could make our kebab "wraps."

As Dad cooked, Carol, John and I, along with assorted cousins, would gather around Dad, hoping he'd slip us a piece of meat as it came piping hot off the shish. Grandma Nakashian would make her pilaf with so much butter it would practically run down to our elbows (in the days before cholesterol). Yum!

It is a special art to make kebab -- one that unfortunately has been lost on this generation of Nakashians! But, we certainly have wonderful memories."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Safer foods: Why is this so hard?

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote this week on The Food Safety Enhancement Act, a sweeping bill that promises closer inspections at every step of the food supply chain along with tougher penalties for violators.

The legislation was spurred by several recent scares, including E-coli contamination discovered in spinach and pisatchio nuts.

The bill would require every food producer and processor to register with the Food and Drug Administration and to develop food safety plans. According to the McClatchy news service, an estimated 360,000 facilities nationwide face FDA inspections under the bill.

Sounds good to us -- but haven't we heard this before?

Food safety has been a major public issue since the first federal food-safety acts were passed amid the uproar over Upton Sinclair's reality-based 1906 novel, The Jungle.

Tip: If you haven't read it, wait until after dinner. Sinclair's depiction of a corrupt and filthy meat industry is still stomach-churning after all these years.

If you're convinced we've made progress since then, consider that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 325,000 people across the U.S. are hospitalized each year because of food-borne illness.

And 5,000 die.

How can we still be struggling with something so basic: How to be sure we're eating clean, fresh food that will nourish us instead of poisoning us?

Monday, August 3, 2009

The best lamb video you'll never see

When the American Lamb Board invited TheArmenianKitchen.com to enter its annual grilling contest, we immediately started sharpening our "shishes."

Is there a grilled-lamb recipe anywhere in the world that can beat real Armenian shish kebab?

Hah! Of course not!

Our only question was: Which Armenian shish kebab recipe should we use?

Robyn and I have each eaten dozens of variations on shish kebab -- khorovatz, if you like -- over the years. The one common element (besides lamb) is onions. Otherwise, it just isn't Armenian.

After that, the arguments begin. Some kebab chefs insist on plenty of garlic. Others say never use garlic.

We both agree that coriander (keens as my mother called it) is essential because we're both at least part Dikranagertsi. But other Armenians never heard of the stuff and like their kebab just fine.

And what to marinate the meat in? I like to use a semi-sweet wine, but others insist on a dry red -- or no wine at all.

What do you think?

We settled on a simple mix of Armenian signature seasonings: onion, pepper and coriander with salt and olive oil reserved to be brushed on just before grilling.

Then, for killer ingredient guaranteed to make the judges swoon, we marinated the lamb in pomegranate juice.

Americans, who generally believe pomegranates were discovered about two years ago in California, are suddenly wild about pomegranate juice. You've seen the stories about its anti-oxidant properties and heart-healthy benefits.

I made the point for our video audience that we Armenians have been conducting our own experiments with pomegranate juice for at least 3,000 years -- and we're still around, so it must be good stuff.

I was feeling very confident at this point -- a little too confident for a guy who messed up in a big way.

We'd been waiting out a couple of weeks of rotten weather, pushing the entry deadline as our vacation also neared. Finally, when the rain took a day off, I rushed to the store for a fresh leg of lamb and set to butchering while we videoed the process.

I like to marinate the meat for 24 hours, so we carefully scanned the weather report for the next day: Sunny in the morning, rain in the afternoon. I got up early and started the fire while Robyn skewered the meat, sliced the veggies and put the bulgur pilaf on the stove.

As I dashed into the house to get the meat, I could feel the darkness suddenly closing in. Enormous, black clouds rolled in from nowhere. Thunder crashed.

I could hear the pounding rain before I had the heart to look out the window.

We sat and stared for the longest time. We stared at the beautiful chunks of raw lamb. We stared at the grill as the coals sizzled and fizzled in the downpour. We stared at each other, knowing our chance to win an American contest with an Armenian recipe had just floated away.

After an hour, when the rain showed no sign of letting up, Robyn carefully slid the meat off the skewers and emailed the American Lamb Council's representative. We were leaving town the next morning, so there would be no rain date for our kebab. We were forced to forfeit.

So that's why you'll never see the video: I never got a chance to finish it.

Our story does have a semi-happy ending, however. We did get to eat the kebab.

Despite the forecast, the rain let up later in the day. Although our coals were soaked, my brother-in-law Drew Dabbakian rolled out his gas grill and finished what I'd started.

It's a shame we'd already withdrawn from the contest. The kebab was fantastic!

By the way, don't worry that the pomegranate juice will make the lamb too sweet. The effect is subtle but distinctive.

Armenian Shish Kebab
1 whole leg of lamb, cubed
3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons coriander
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
salt
olive oil
2 cups pomegranate juice

Directions:
Place the lamb in a large mixing bowl.
Add onions, coriander and pepper and mix thoroughly
Pour in pomegranate juice and mix again
Cover tightly and refrigerate for 24 hours, mixing again at least once
Skewer the meat, then brush on enough olive oil to coat lightly
Add salt last to keep the meat from losing moisture

Cook over hot coals after flame has died down, rotating skewers evenly. Cooking time depends on how well-done you like your meat.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kalustyan’s, Food of Nations

I’m always searching for places to order specialty and hard-to-find ingredients.

When I found Kalustyan’s on-line, I was truly excited to discover an Armenian store in New York City with walls and walls of ingredients both common and exotic.

My husband & I were in NYC recently visiting our daughter, so a field trip to Kalustyan’s was a MUST!

We found it in a section of the city known as Curry Hill for its many Indian and Asian restaurants and shops -- and in a sense, Kalustyan's fits in perfectly because its offerings span the globe.

The first sensation on entering is the overwhelming perfume of spices from around the world. The second is claustrophobia: Walking down the jam-packed aisles is an exercise in Big City squeeze.

But it's worth tucking in your tummy, if only to fill it up.

The shelves are stocked with herbs, spices, teas, canned goods. Coolers contain prepare foods, yogurt and cheese products, hummus, babaganoush, you name it! Did you know that tahini (sesame seed paste) comes in squeeze bottles? Kalustyan’s has it.

About the only thing missing, at least from the first floor, was an Armenian.

There hasn't been a Kalustyan on premises for some time. The store, which opened in 1944, was purchased by Marhaba International, Inc., which kept the well-known “Kalustyan” name.

The friendly and helpful manager, Mr. Aziz Osmani, did greet us with a few words of Armenian when I presented my card and ushered us upstairs.

The second floor has cookware, copperware, earthenware - and Mr. Arpiar Afarian.

Mr. Afarian is the gentleman who makes the fresh salads, kuftas, and other Armenian treats. There are a few tables and chairs, so shoppers can make their selections, sit and enjoy.

Products can be ordered on-line, and items are shipped daily via UPS.

Kalustyan’s contact information is:
123 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212-685-3451
Fax: 212-683-8458
e-mail: sales@kalustyans.com
Website: www.kalustyans.com