Sunday, November 29, 2009

Does Armenian food go better with Pepsi?

Check out the home page of The American Turkish Society and you can't help being drawn to the instantly familiar Coca-Cola logo trumpeting the group's Annual Gala Dinner on May 28.

(Of course, the date is also Armenian Independence Day -- but let's assume that's mere coincidence.)

The soft drink giant's promotion of the event -- and the organization -- is no surprise: Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the The Coca-Cola Company, is a member of the American Turkish Society's board of directors and one of this year's major honorees.

Not familiar with the American Turkish Society? It bills itself as "America’s oldest not-for-profit organization seeking to enhance economic, political, and cultural ties between Turkey and the United States."

In doing so, the group honors prominent Turkish-Americans like Mr. Kent, promotes Turkish business in the U.S. and encourages American companies and executives who do business in Turkey. Among the honorees in recent years, for example, was William Clay Ford of the Ford Motor Company, which has been a partner in a Turkish assembly operation since the 1960s.

This all seems harmless enough. However, the American Turkish Society also has opposed American recognition of The Armenian Genocide on grounds that it would harm U.S.-Turkish relations. The group's position echoes the insulting talking points of the Turkish government, referring to the "deeply painful period in history for both Turks and Armenians."

Mr. Kent is, by all accounts, a very impressive man whose business achievements are worthy of note. According to his company bio, he holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from Hull University, England, and a master of science degree in administrative sciences from London City University.

He joined Coke in 1978 and has risen through a variety of jobs since, including General Manager of Coca-Cola Turkey and Central Asia. He became chairman of the board of directors earlier this year.

I haven't done an exhaustive study, but a quick search of news archives turned up nothing controversial regarding Armenians in Mr. Kent's public statements. But to me, Coca-Cola's support for an organization that promotes Genocide denial speaks volumes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Friendly Christmas Reminder...

Time is running out!

Thanksgiving is officially behind us. Christmas is less than a month away, and New Year, and Armenian Christmas are close behind.

It’s time, dear friends, to share your family’s favorite holiday recipe(s) and tradition(s) (with photos, if possible) between now and January 6th.
So dig through your recipe files and photo albums, and send your favorites to:
Robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com.

Thanks!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Can the French really love Armenian frogs?

I've half-jokingly noted that Armenians aren't traditionally big beef eaters because cows can't walk up a mountain without falling over.

But it's quite true that present-day Armenia doesn't have an excess of flat land suitable for grazing, much less farming on a scale that Americans take for granted.

What Armenia does have is some very clever Armenians who are betting on aquaculture over agriculture.

The Web site Eurasianetorg reports that Armenia is exporting a "growing volume of farmed frogs, crawfish and eels to the European Union and Ukraine."

The effort may be just paying off, but the experiment has been going on for a while. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, commercial fish farming in Armenia started in the 1950s in the Lake Sevan area and has been growing since. Trout, sturgeon and carp are popular products.

Crawfish, eel and frogs have joined the menu because they fetch premium export prices.

The Armenian aqua-farms must be churning out some good stuff: So far this year, Armenia has shipped at least five tons of frozen frogs to France, which is pretty fussy about such things.



Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to ALL

We, at The Armenian Kitchen, extend our Happy Thanksgiving Wishes to our readers, followers and their families.

Thank you all for becoming part of our lives.

Robyn and Douglas Kalajian

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eggplant -or in my case- Zucchini relish

I don’t use eggplant in my home recipes. As I've noted, my husband is allergic to it.

So I always substitute zucchini for the eggplant.

But, eggplant is a wonderful vegetable in that it absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with, such as the recipe I’m about to share.

Eggplant Relish

Ingredients:
1 eggplant,( or 2 medium zucchini) peeled, and cut into ½ inch circles
2 peppers (green, red, yellow, orange - it’s up to you)
2 onions
2 cloves garlic & 2 wooden toothpicks
1 - 4 oz can tomato sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
Vegetable oil for frying

Directions:
1. Fry eggplant (or zucchini) in ½ inch of cooking oil. Drain on paper towel. Cut eggplant into 1 inch pieces and set aside.
2. Spear each clove of garlic with a toothpick. Set aside.
3. Cut peppers and onions into 1 inch pieces. Place in skillet and sauté with garlic cloves until soft. Remove garlic cloves- it‘s easy to do, just grab the toothpicks! Drain excess oil.
4. Add the eggplant (or zucchini), and tomato sauce in the skillet with the peppers and onions; cook for another 10 to 15 minutes- or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in juice of one lemon.
6. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
7. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ara Kassabian's Armenian Stuffing

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Are you ready?


One of the many recipes I’ll be making is the Armenian Stuffing recipe mentioned here.

One of my readers, Ara Kassabian, was kind enough to share his family’s version of Armenian stuffing. It sounds most delicious with the combination of spices, nuts, meat, and rice.

Ara says:
Similar recipe: When you buy the chicken, make sure it comes with the giblets, liver, etc. Also take a little bit of lamb or beef. Cut everything into small dice (about 1/2 inch) and season with salt, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and clove ("baharat").

Heat butter in a small frying pan and fry some slivered almonds, pine nuts, boiled chestnuts, peeled pistachios... Remove the nuts and add the meat. After it is browned, add water and cook.

Make the rice separately, again adding the baharat. Mix the two and stuff the chicken.

In "ghoozoo ichi," you do the same thing but keep the meat in large, flat slices. I think you can also add dried apricots, raisins, a little sugar. The mixture then goes on top of the rice. Alternatively, you take a whole suckling lamb and stuff with the rice/nut mixture. When the lamb is cooked (I guess in the oven or on a barbecue), you just put it on a large platter with the stuffing artistically pouring out of the cavity.

Thank you for sharing, Ara.

We, at The Armenian Kitchen, wish you ALL a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HOT NEWS FLASH...

This item was just sent in from Audrey in NY.

Today's blog follows this announcement...........................................................



IF YOU'RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, JOIN US TOMORROW FOR FELLOWSHIP AND GREAT FOOD!

ANNUAL FOOD FESTIVAL/BAZAAR
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2009
FROM 1:00PM TO 6:00PM
FOLLOWING THE 10:30AM CHURCH SERVICE

HOLY CROSS ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH
580 W 187TH STREET
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
(212) 927-4020

~ AUDREY

How Much Do You Know About Rice?

Armenians love rice. Who doesn't, really?

A staple for more than half the world's population, rice is a marvelously adaptable grain. It can be ground into flour, starch, meal and flakes.

We're particularly fond of rice in the form of...well, rice. It can fill a belly all by itself, stretch a bowl of hearty stew into a family meal or (best of all) soak up all the richness and flavor of gravies and meats.

In other words, it's a perfect Armenian side dish.

Historically, Armenians had to import much of their rice because it's not much of a mountain crop. Rice is actually the seed of grass-like plants that grow in water, so it's better suited to flat, marshy lands.

Henry C. Barkley, English author of the 1891 book A Ride through Asia Minor and Armenia, wrote about an ambitious plan to grow rice in the province of Bursa by damming streams to create a flooded plain a few miles outside town.

The plan worked so well that it held "the prospect of becoming one of the richest spots in Turkey."

Unfortunately, Barkley writes, its success was its downfall. "The jealousy of the Turks was aroused so they reported to Constantinople that the rice fields produced fever..."

The flooding had indeed left stagnant water that could have been cleared up without destroying the rice fields, but the Ottoman government put an end to the enterprise.

Barkely noted "the Turk can bear with the fever...but he cannot bear the successful Christian..."

Today we buy our rice in the grocery store, choosing from a sometimes bewildering variety. White and brown are just the beginning. There are also three distinct categories based on grain types: short, medium and long-grain.

Some readers have asked which is best for making pilaf. That is really a matter of personal preference.

My maternal grandmother used Carolina long grain rice which has a soft, light texture. My mom uses Uncle Ben’s converted, parboiled long grain rice which allows the grains to remain separate, yet fluffy.

We like Basmati -- or its American cousin, Texmati.

Whatever you choose, be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for cooking. Some say to boil the water first, then add the rice and simmer; others say to add the rice to the water, bring to a boil then simmer.

But please don’t use instant rice for any of the long-cooking Armenian recipes such as dolma or yalanchi. The filling will be nothing but mush.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!
















The Holiday Season is Here!

You can tell that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Here in South Florida, it’s not the weather that gives it away because it’s still 80-plus degrees outside.

You can tell the season is here with the arrival of numerous auto transport carriers which are delivering car-after-car for our “Snow Bird” residents, my mother included.

Stores began displaying Christmas decorations before Halloween -- talk about rushing things! I suppose it’s a good idea to plan ahead, but... Really!

What are YOUR plans? Have any of you finalized your Thanksgiving guest list and menu?

We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving for the last 30 years with our dear friends Barbara, Kevin, Joe and Caitlin Hall, along with whichever friends or family members happen to be visiting Florida at the time. Mom and Auntie Arpie top the list, of course. By the way, that's Caitlin in the photo.

Our guest list has grown to include Cailtlin’s husband, Richard and their, son, Dylan, plus two other special friends who have become an extension of our family - Leila Alson and her husband Sheldon Teller.

The more the merrier, we say. Sadly, our daughter, Mandy hasn’t been here for Thanksgiving since she began working in New York City, but we are blessed to have her with us for Christmas.

Our Thanksgiving meal is a collaborative effort. Since we are the hosts, Doug makes the turkey and delicious homemade gravy. We usually have another protein which varies from year to year - sometimes it’s ham, or even kufta!

I make the Armenian stuffing- and American-style too, fresh cranberry sauce, plus apricot pie and pumpkin pie. Barbara makes the best mashed potatoes, and green bean almandine; Caitlin makes homemade vanilla ice cream (so yummy!); Aunt Arpie makes cheese boregs or her famous midia dolma; Leila brings deliciously caramelized fresh- from- the- farm roasted vegetables. Oh, and don’t forget the freshly baked loaves of bread!

However you celebrate, remember to give thanks, each step of the way.

We, at TheArmenianKitchen.com, wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bishi or Zing-a-Ling, the Armenian Zeppoli (or Pancake)

Margie, a reader from PA., had a special request for me - to help find a recipe her grandmother used to make. The recipe, bishi, is deep-fried dough -- lighter than donuts, more like a crueller sprinkled with sugar.

When I consulted Doug, we decided it sounded a lot like the Zing-a-Ling recipe his mother and my grandmother used to make. Great, I thought, but I didn’t have the recipe. He suggested asking cousin Alice Bakalian.

Within a few hours of my e-mail, Alice responded in disbelief. She said she was given the Zing-a-Ling recipe in 1987 from her husband’s cousin Rosie but never made it until one week before my request,  when Rosie
paid her a visit.

She was shocked at the timing of my request. What a coincidence! Alice immediately mailed me a copy of the recipe.

In the meantime, I was curious to see if anyone out in computer-land had a recipe for bishi - or zing-a-ling. The answer……of course! I found a recipe for Bishi, the “Armenian Zeppoli” at http://www.recipezaar.com/ sent in
by a person named Manoushag. It was her grandmother’s recipe using yeast, flour, eggs, etc.

I sent Margie this website/recipe information. Much to her delight, it was exactly what she was looking for! The recipe from cousin Alice was very similar.

Margie sent me photos of her attempt to make the bishi, which I promised I’d share with all of you. Thanks Margie for your inquiry and gracious participation!

Here's a slight variation of the recipe from cousin Alice Bakalian:


Bishi or  Zing-a-ling
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
¾ cup water
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 cup flour

Dissolve yeast and sugar in ¾ cup water.
Mix flour, baking powder, and eggs in a bowl. Stir in yeast mixture until blended.  Let stand 20 minutes to allow mixture to thicken and rise.
Heat vegetable oil, such as Mazola, in a deep fryer to 375°F.
Test with a small amount of dough. Drop dough in hot oil, one tablespoon at a time. Fry until golden brown all around.
After frying, drain on paper towels, then dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Armenian coffee: A soorj of delight. (With VIDEO!)


Like so many adult indulgences, Armenian coffee is an acquired taste -- and I'm glad I finally acquired it, although it's only an occasional treat now because I managed to consume about four lifetimes' worth of caffeine during my years in the newspaper business.

Sadly, I squandered my ration by guzzling mug after mug of weak and tasteless American coffee made in machines where the water and coffee grounds pass by each other like strangers on fast-moving trains, never even getting friendly much less intimate.


Properly made, Armenian coffee demands a bit more time and all of your attention. The result is definitely worthwhile.


Truth in brewing: Everyone I knew as a kid, including my father, called it Turkish coffee. There's no point arguing about whether Armenians or Turks invented it because we'd both lose. Coffee was most likely brought to the Near East by the Arabs, who carried the beans from North Africa.


The common element in coffee from Greece to the Middle East is that the beans are ground so finely that they turn nearly to powder. If you can't find the proper grind in a Middle Eastern store, you need to grind your own with a device that can produce the right consistency.


Note: Do not substitute espresso. It won't taste right.


Armenian Coffee (Soorj)


You'll need an Armenian coffee pot (available in Middle Eastern stores) or a small saucepan, and Armenian coffee cups (or demitasse cups)


Ingredients:

Coffee, ground super fine
Water
Sugar (optional)
Cardamom (optional)

Directions:

Set the empty cups on a serving tray near the stove and place one cardamom pod or seed in each.
Pour one cup of cold water in the pot for each cup of coffee.
Add one generous teaspoon of coffee for each cup of water and stir thoroughly. (I like to add an extra spoon of coffee, but adjust to your taste.)
Add one level teaspoon of sugar for each cup of water and stir again.
Turn the heat on high.

Keep an eye on the pot. In this case, a watched pot definitely WILL boil -- but an unwatched pot will boil over. Either way, you've ruined the coffee.


Critical point: The coffee mixture will begin to foam when it heats. As it's about to boil, the foam will start to rise to the top of the pot. Take the pot off the heat. DO NOT let the coffee boil.


Stir the coffee and place it back on the heat. Repeat at least once more.


When the foam rises a third time, the coffee's ready.


Pour a little coffee into each cup and continue until they're all full. (Don't fill one cup at a time or there may not be enough foam to go around.) Leave enough room at the top to add some of the foam. If the foam has dissipated before you're done, put the coffee back on the heat JUST until it foams again.


Never add milk when serving -- but, for a rich variation, substitute cold milk for cold water for all or part of the recipe.


Don't be alarmed if the bottom of your cup has a thick, muddy coating. That's normal. When you're done with the drinkable part, try turning the cup upside down (in a saucer, of course) and let the sludge coat the sides.


In the Old Country, the wise old women could tell fortunes by "reading" the resulting patterns. If your fortune says you're entitled to another cup, just heat the remaining coffee.


See how it's done by clicking here for our video.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to make Red Pepper Paste - the LONG Version


In a posting from April 22, I wrote about the “secret ingredient” in so many of my grandmother’s recipes - Red Pepper Paste. The original method of preparation is time-consuming - and messy, so I offered a simpler, neater version of the recipe.

An anonymous reader of the Armenian Kitchen requested the original, lengthy version of how to make red pepper paste, so here it is, and don’t say I didn’t warn you! Please note: it’s best to make this in late September when red peppers are at their peak (depending on where you live, of course) and prices are low. Also note that the amounts given for salt and cayenne pepper are vague, because Nanny never measured; she could tell by taste when things were just right.

Red Pepper Paste - the way Nanny made it

Ingredients:
1 bushel red bell peppers
Cayenne pepper, to taste -or- optional, if you don’t want the heat
Salt, to taste

Directions:

Initial Preparation:
1. Wash peppers. Remove seeds and white membrane. Rough cut peppers to fit into a hand grinder or food processor. You’ll need a large pan to collect the ground-up pepper “mash”.
2. Add salt, tasting as you go, so as not to overdo it.
3. Stir in cayenne pepper to taste, if using. Be very careful; this stuff is HOT! The pepper mash should have a little “kick” to it, but it shouldn‘t make you cry.

Cooking: You might need to cook in batches, depending on the amount of red pepper mash you end up with.
1. Place mash in a large pot and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the amount reduces. Be very careful not to burn the mash during this process, which will take a very long time - hours, in fact.
2. When the mash resembles the thickness of ketchup, remove it from the heat, and transfer it to large, flat cookie sheets with 1-inch sides. Spread the mash evenly.
3. Take the cookie sheets outside and allow to dry in the sun for 2 to 3 days.
SPECIAL NOTE: Nanny monitored this process diligently, making sure no insects or other outdoor debris came in contact with the pepper mash. She always brought the trays inside if there was a hint of moisture in the air, and after dark. Also note: if making this in hot, dry weather, the drying process shouldn’t take as long.

Becoming a Paste: When the mash is dried, it takes on the form of a thick paste.

Storing:
1. Place red pepper paste in sterile jars. Leave the jars open a few more days in the sun.
2. Before sealing the jars, pour some olive oil to cover the surface. Seal jar tightly with lid.
3. Refrigerate after opening, or freeze.

How to freeze 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 or place in freezer plastic bags, and place trays in freezer. When ready to use, remove the number of red pepper paste cubes you need & defrost in the refrigerator. Keep the other “cubes” frozen until needed.

What to use red pepper paste in: Sarma Gurgood- Nanny's version of Tabbouleh, potato salad, soup, stew, Banerov Hatz, bulgur recipes, dips, spreads - or whatever recipe your heart desires!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armenians in Charlotte, North Carolina

On our recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, Doug and I were excited to see the blazing autumn colors as we drove past the trees and rolling hills.

The last time we saw any trees so vibrant was the fall of 1978 - just as we were making our move to South Florida.

We didn’t go to Charlotte just for the scenery; we were on a mission, of sorts. We’re trying to decide if the Upper South is a good fit for us.

One big consideration for me is that there must be an Armenian community, and I already know that one exists in Charlotte.

How do I know? Diane Gulkasian Tudor, a girl I knew from Sunday School in New Jersey, is the chair of the Parish Council at St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Charlotte. Since I also know Diane’s mother, Florence, and sister Joan, I contacted Diane to tell her of our visit.

We tried to coordinate our trip with a church event, so we could get a feel for their Armenian community.

As luck would have it, there was a fundraising dinner at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The purpose of the event was to raise money for the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), which “offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination."

For the buffet-style dinner, the Orthodox churches in the area provided an array of ethnic foods -- Armenian, Greek, Serbian, Ethiopian, Coptic -- after which was entertainment by Greek and Serbian dance groups. The dinner menu was as varied as it was delicious: avgolemono soup, sarma topped with pomegranate seeds, white bean salad, a fava bean dish that was to-die-for, rice with nuts, roast pork, fish, spicy chicken, baked chicken - too many items to mention - except dessert- an assortment of mini paklavas, homemade brownies, cakes, fruit; OK, I'll stop here since I'm running out of room.

Doug and I sat at the “Armenian” table where we had a chance to chat about life in North Carolina. I have to say, everyone was gracious, and had a true love of Charlotte’s way of life.

We only got a tiny taste of what it would be like as an Armenian in North Carolina, but what we experienced, we liked.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quince: The confoundingly delicious Armenian fruit

Have you ever taken a bite out of a quince? You'd remember if you did.

Like olives, quince is not edible when first picked. It looks like a yellow pear and smells deliriously sweet, but the fruit inside is a tongue-puckering nightmare that instantly sucks up every last trace of saliva.

Cooked quince, however, has been savored throughout Asia and the Mediterranean region for more than 4,000 years. Armenians have a particular fondness for quince that's candied, jellied or cooked in stew to lend its sweetness to meat.

It's a treat that most Americans will never taste, as quince isn't stocked in most grocery stores here. Case in point: I went to my local supermarket and asked the produce manager where I could find the quince. He thought for a moment, walked with me to a display, and handed me a persimmon! Not even close! I suggested he research his produce some more. You really have to search for it, and most people don't know enough to bother.

Doug remembers his father's delight at discovering a quince tree in a friendly neighbor's yard. The neighbor had no use for the fruit, so bushels of it were cheerfully passed over the fence to find their way into pot after pot on his Mom's stove.

The Romans used the fruit and flowers of the quince for perfume and honey. The quince symbolized love, and was given as a sign of commitment to that special person.

It has a yellowish skin and hard, off-white interior. Its peak season is October to December. Because quince is high in pectin, it’s great as jelly, jam or preserves. Peel it before using it in any sweet or savory dish, and never-ever try to eat it raw!

Here’s a recipe from The Assyrian Cookbook, created by the women of the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, Paramus, N.J.

NOTE: Because we haven't been able to find any quince this season, this recipe has not been tested in The Armenian Kitchen - yet.

HYVAH - Quince Stew
Yield: 4 to 5 servings

2 lbs. lamb, trimmed and cubed
3 lbs. quince, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp salt

1. Cover lamb with water. Bring to a boil, removing foam as it rises to surface.
2. Cover and cook until tender, about 1 hour.
3. Brown quince in butter.
4. Add quince and remaining ingredients to meat. Cover and simmer until tender.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A friendly reminder...

We’re asking you, Dear Readers, to share your family’s favorite holiday recipe(s) and tradition(s) (with photos, if possible) between now and Armenian Christmas. So dig through your recipe files and photo albums, and send your favorites to:

Robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com.

Thanks!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chef George Duran - aka George Kevork Guldalian

I’ve been trying to reach George Duran for the last couple of months.

With each e-mail I send, I get an instant reply stating that he’ll get back to me as soon as he’s done frying his Twinkies. I guess it takes a long time to fry Twinkies, because I haven’t heard from him yet.
NOTE: In case you don't know, Twinkies are golden, spongy snack cakes filled with cream. These were Doug's favorite American snack treat; I preferred Hostess Chocolate cream-filled cupcakes!)

I have to exercise patience because George has had quite a busy schedule. He was recently on an Alaskan cruise as the celebrity chef, toured the country doing Latin cooking demonstrations at various Macy’s Department stores, and lately has been seen on TV in an amusing commercial for Hunt's canned tomatoes. If you happen to be in New York City's Times Square, you'll see a bigger-than-life billboard of George and the Hunt's tomato promo. Pretty impressive!

If you don’t know who George Duran is, then you don’t watch the Food Network. I first heard of him when he had a show on that channel called “Ham on the Street." Duran is not only a chef, he's one with a sense of humor.

About a year ago, I read an article in the Armenian Reporter written by Lola Koundakjian that revealed Duran’s true identity. George Duran is an Armenian from Caracas, Venezuela -- real name George Kevork Guldalian.
Imagine that... an Armenian chef on the Food Network! Way to go George! He attended NYU (New York University) to study communication (TV, radio, etc.) and later turned his sights to becoming a chef, getting his training in France.

Fortunately, he speaks French (and Spanish and English), got his training there, ended up on a French cable TV cooking show, and won some awards for it. Back in the US, Duran wound up with his own show on the Food Network. Not bad for a kid from Caracas.

Why am I interested in getting in touch with George? Well, first of all, he’s Armenian. Second, we both have a passion for food. And third, I am curious to know if he or anyone in his family knows my relatives who live in Caracas - their family names are: Kelesarian, Berejiklian, and Bekirian.

Armenian families tend to know who’s who no matter where in the world they are, and who knows, we might be related, too!

In any case, we're proud of you , George. Keep up the good work!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding the Middle East in The South

We just got back from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we had a great time with new friends as well as old.

Our imaginations were stirred by the charming homes and luxuriant landscape. We wondered: Would this be the right place to settle down in our semi-retired years?

Obviously, there are many factors to consider before making any move. As usual, Robyn boiled everything down to one essential question: Is there any place to buy Armenian ingredients?

We assumed so, as we know there is a large Armenian community. But we had to find out for ourselves. A trip to each of the local grocery chains satisfied part of the question. Not only did we find American lamb, we were stunned to see a bin full of fine, ripe quince -- something we've failed to turn up so far this season here in South Florida.

This still left a long list of less-common items in question. The answer came from an unexpected source when a sticky toilet handle prompted us to call the hotel's front desk on our first night in town.

A fellow named John showed up quickly to fix the problem. As I thanked him, he looked me in the eye and asked, "Are you from the Middle East?"

The question caught me off guard and I replied, "No, I'm from Florida." Then I realized he was really wondering about my ethnicity and added, "We're Armenian."

John beamed.

"I'm from Egypt," he said. "We're Coptics."

The Armenian and Coptic churches share an ancient kinship, and it was interesting to discover that both communities in Charlotte are large enough to support parishes. But it was our culinary commonalities that interested Robyn.

"Where do you buy groceries?" she asked.

John reached in his pocket and pulled out a receipt.

"I just bought bulgur," he said, handing me the paper so I could copy down the name and address of the store.

Friendly people are certainly one of Charlotte's major assets -- and John from Egypt ranks near the top.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Zatar, Za’atar, Zahtar

What is this, you ask?

Zatar is a spice blend, commonly used in Middle Eastern or North African cuisine. It is used on meats, and vegetables, or can be blended with olive oil to use as a spread on pita bread, or as a dip.

Commercially prepared Zatar can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores- or try making the mixture yourself.


Zatar Mix:

1 cup ground sumac**
2 cups roasted, ground sesame seeds
½ cup ground thyme
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. dried marjoram
2 Tbsp. dried leaf savory - or ground savory ***
Salt to taste, optional
Mix all ingredients -except the salt- together.
Store in a tightly covered container.


**Sumac: a fruity-tart spice, sold ground, powdered or in the whole dried berry form. The powdered form usually has salt in it. It complements fish, meats, and vegetables, and is sold in Middle Eastern stores.

***Savory: comes in 2 types. Summer and winter. Summer savory is milder in taste than the winter variety, but both are pretty strong in taste, so use sparingly. It’s flavor is a cross between thyme and mint. Savory is used in soups, stews, on meat, fish, and bean dishes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Okra is NOT an Armenian talk show host

I'm not a fan of okra (bamya).

I can’t help it! It’s not that it tastes bad; it’s the texture I object to. Have you ever seen fresh okra? Touched it?

It’s not a bad looking vegetable, but it has a somewhat fuzzy exterior. The words “fuzzy” and “vegetable” should never be used in the same sentence, if you get what I mean.

It’s taste is actually mild - inoffensive, in fact. What REALLY turns me off is the slimy goo okra produces when cooked for a long time. This “goo” is actually a viscous substance that serves as a thickening agent.

Being a culinary person I know this, but somehow my tongue just can’t get past that texture. It’s really a shame, too, because Doug really loves okra. On a rare occasion, he’ll make himself okra cooked with tomatoes, onions, and spices.

I’ll have to admit, the recipe always smells great, but I just can‘t bring myself to eat it. If okra is cooked until it has a bit of crunch left in it, I might give it a try. In fact, I’ve eaten pickled okra and was perfectly fine with that - it had more of a firm cucumber pickle crispness - no goo.

Armenians are particularly fond of okra and use it in many recipes including gouvaj and geragours. Young okra, 3 to 4 inches long, will be tender. Larger okra will be more fibrous and chewy.

My friend, Hasmig Eskandarian, thought of me when she came across an article about okra (bamya) because she knows how I feel about it. Unlike me, the article’s author, Betty Apigian-Kessel, was able to “conquer her fear” of bamya. Click on this link to read her story, and try her recipe.