Friday, December 31, 2010

Please vote for TheArmenianKitchen.com!

Happy New Year everyone!

We're always excited and humbled when our blog gets recognition. We just received an email from Robyn Aitken, web producer at
www.FineCooking.com:

"Dear Robyn (Kalajian, that is),

We'd love to include your blog in Fine Cooking's Best of the Blogs 2010 - category of "the best of armchair travel blog of 2010!"
Thanks very much. And congrats on being selected as one of the best of the best blogs on the Web!"

To vote for The Armenian Kitchen.com, please click on the following link:
http://www.finecooking.com/item/27428/best-of-blogs-2010-armchair-traveler.

Thanks, and wish us luck!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reader Cookie Requests

It’s been a while since I received the following recipe requests. Since I’m still taking care of my hubby, I’m going to ask for suggestions from you, dear readers, in helping to secure the two cookie recipes mentioned below.



If the descriptions sent in by Leona and Linda sound familiar, please send your recipes to me: robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com, and I will gladly post them.


As always, thanks for your help - and- HAPPY NEW YEAR!!


Request #1:


Hi Robyn: I just found your blog and so enjoyed the memories that it brought flooding back of visiting with my grandparents in Tuckahoe, NY. Do you have the recipe for a nut- filled shortbread like cookie that was dusted with granulated sugar. Sorry I don't remember the name; I just remember loving them.


Thank you for your time and your blog,


Leona Bohjalian, Bristol CT


Request #2:


Hello! My name is Linda Kevorkian, I live in Kingman, AZ, but from the L.A. area. My aunt Ozzie (Osgoohie?) who recently passed away, used to make these delicious diamond-cut cookies, so I am assuming baked in a sheet pan. They are very buttery and dense, not real sweet, kind of like a shortbread cookie, I think. My mom said they are called Shakar Loukome, but maybe it's misspelled that's why I can't find it anywhere. Would you have any idea and a recipe? I am not even sure where her people come from, I am a Hye, and she married into the family. She was the only one in our family who made them, so I am hoping the recipe didn't go with her. Thank you, Linda

Monday, December 27, 2010

Spicy Olive-and-Okra Topped Hummus

I know you all know how to make hummus; it’s pretty darn easy. Even though making hummus isn’t that big a deal, sometimes it’s just easier to buy it ready-made. Go ahead, I won’t stop you.



To jazz up your New Year's Eve mezza, start with store - bought hummus or your favored hummus recipe, and top it with something special. Here’s a recipe I found in my favorite magazine, “Southern Living” this month. It sounded delicious - kind of Armenian, but with a southern flair with the addition of pickled okra.


Add this to your holiday recipe collection.


Spicy Olive - and - Okra - Topped Hummus


Ingredients:


1 tsp. lemon zest

1 small garlic clove, minced

½ tsp. dried crushed red pepper

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup mixed pitted olives, coarsely chopped (pitted Kalamata olives can be used, too)

4 pickled okra, sliced

1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
************************************
2 cups of your favorite hummus
************************************


Directions:


1. Sauté the first 3 ingredients in hot oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Add olives and sauté 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in okra and rosemary. Let stand 5 minutes.


2. Place hummus in a serving bowl. Top with warm olive-okra mixture. Serve with pita bread or chips.





Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry (non-Armenian) Christmas!

Being Armenian we get to celebrate Christmas twice - December 25th with most of the world, and January 6th. How fortunate we are!

With so much to be thankful for, Doug and I wish to share our Christmas Joy with all of you.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kourabia Cookies - ala The Armenian Kitchen

After posting Sara Raymond’s family recipe for Kourabia, I thought it only fair to share my own recipe with you.

My recipe does not require the use of an  electric stand or hand mixer. Instead, I use the basic wooden spoon, mixing bowl - and God-given hands. Wrapping my hands around the dough  makes the preparation very personal.

Happy baking everyone!


Kourabia
Yield: Approx. 2 ½ dozen cookies


Ingredients:
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. Arak (or cognac, or whiskey)
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
½ tsp. baking powder
Dash salt
Sliced almonds
Powdered sugar for dusting, optional


Directions:


1. Using a wooden spoon, cream the softened butter until fluffy. Beat in powdered sugar, mixing well.
2. Beat in egg yolk and Arak.
3. Stir the baking powder and salt into the flour. Gradually add the flour mixture into butter/sugar mixture. Stir with your hands until a soft dough is formed. (If dough feels too sticky, add a little more flour.)
4. With lightly floured hands, pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1- inch balls.
5. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten slightly and press an almond slice in the center of each cookie.
6. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheet. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Koorabia - A Christmas Cookie Favorite

Reader Sara Raymond wrote recently when she noticed we didn’t have a Koorabia (Kourabia)  cookie recipe on our website. She noted that it simply wouldn’t be Christmas without them. Kindly, she offered her family’s recipe for us to share with you. Thanks, Sara!

Note: This recipe was not tested in our kitchen, but I'm sure it will please the fussiest sweet-tooth.

Read Sara’s message, and give her family recipe a try. She says her mother ALWAYS uses Crisco instead of butter, and they turn out fine every time.  The cookies should not be chewy or tough; they should just melt in your mouth when you eat them. (Sorry, no photo at this time.)

“Hi Robyn --
I have been enjoying your blog quite a bit! I skimmed through it yesterday looking for a recipe for cheese boreg (which I found -- thank you!) and also for koorabia. I didn't see a koorabia recipe, so I thought I would share my family's recipe. It wouldn't be Christmas without these cookies, that's for sure!


KOORABIA
From Aunt Marina and Sophia Toroian (my maternal grandmother)


1 c sugar
1 c Crisco or butter (or half of each)
2.5 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 drops brandy
Garnish: candied cherries in red and green, cut in to quarters


1. Heat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Cream the sugar and Crisco/butter together. Take your time with this, as if you go too fast, the cookies will be tough.
3. Add flour and salt slowly, and the drops of brandy.
4. Roll the dough into long ropes, about the width of a finger.
5. Cut the ropes into lengths about 1 1/2 or 2 inches long. Pinch each end of the lengths and push towards the center, so that each length forms an "S" like shape.
6. Decorate each "S" with a slice of cherry.
7. Place in the oven to bake. Check cookies after 15 minutes. Depending on your oven, baking may take a bit longer. Cookies should not brown! Take them out of the oven when they become stiff to the touch.


Enjoy! These are so delicious! Santa loves them, too. They may even help your husband feel better, too.


Yours,
Sara Raymond (Castro Valley, CA)”









Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Scones with an Armenian Twist

The best scones Doug and I ever ate were the ones we had in London about 10 years ago. For about 50 cents apiece, we were able to pig-out on these tender, slightly sweet, perfectly baked delights with freshly brewed tea. Heavenly!


As soon as we returned from that trip, I began making scones with whatever dried fruits and nuts I happened to have on hand.


Here’s a recipe that would be perfect on Christmas morning – or any other morning. Hope you’ll like it!


Apricot – Pistachio Scones
Yield: 8 substantial scones


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup light cream, divided

1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped

¼ cup chopped pistachio nuts


Directions:


1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

2. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut-in the butter until the mixture is crumbly, about the size of small peas. Chill in the refrigerator about 10 minutes.

3. Add ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. of the light cream, the apricots and pistachio nuts, stirring until dry ingredients are moist. Dough will be a bit crumbly.

4. Place dough on a clean work surface, patting it down into a circle about ½ inch thick. Cut into 8 pie-shaped wedges.

5. Place the wedges on a lightly greased baking sheet so they are not touching.

6. Lightly brush the tops with remaining cream. Sprinkle tops with a little extra sugar, if desired.

7. Bake in a preheated 450°F oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown.





Friday, December 3, 2010

A Very Important Message

Dear Friends,


Due to a family medical emergency, we are temporarily placing our pots and pans on the back burner. We expect to return in full vigor once a complete recovery has been achieved.


Thanks for your complete understanding and constant support.


Please stay tuned...
The Kalajians

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How long do leftovers last? 5,900 years may be stretching things

Every day must seem like Christmas morning for archaeologists in Armenia. 

Recent discoveries include the world's oldest shoe, the world's oldest human brain and the remains of the world's oldest wine-making operation. 

Now comes evidence that the researchers have apparently dug their way into  an ancient Armenian's closet: The world's oldest skirt, woven from reeds, has turned up not far from the shoe. 

We're betting on socks and underwear next. (We can't wait to see what the world's oldest vardiks look like.)

But even more interesting to us is that the same joint Armenian/American/Irish expedition has turned up a mummified goat believed to be at least 5,900 years old, more than 1,000 years older than any mummified animals in Egypt.

Few details emerged, as scientists have just begun to study the mummy. We're wondering why any Armenian would go the trouble of preserving a dead goat?

The Egyptians, of course, were big believers in the after-life. A pharaoh's entire household, including the servants and pets, all got tucked into the same tomb for expected re-animation in the next world.

Our completely unscientific guess is that the Armenian cave-dwellers had something less spiritual in mind for the goat. We figure they just hadn't gotten around to eating it. 

Without knowing details of the Armenian mummification process, we're thinking: salt and fat. In other words, the world's oldest kavourma

Goat's not usually on the menu at our house -- but in case this latest discovery inspires you, here's a thought:

Goat Stew:
Serves 6 

Ingredients:
3 pounds boneless goat, cubed

3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
½ cup dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
salt, pepper, and ground coriander to taste
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
2 cups water
1 cup white wine


Garnish: chopped parsley or cilantro


Directions:


1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat; add meat in small batches, browning on all sides.
2. Stir in onion, carrots, celery, lentils, garlic, ground coriander, salt and pepper.
3. Dilute tomato paste in 2 cups water.
4. When vegetables begin to soften, add diluted tomato paste and wine; stir. Reduce heat and simmer - partially covered - for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until goat is fork-tender.
5. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.

























Saturday, November 27, 2010

Want to be healthy as well as calm? Eat like an Armenian!

It's not hard to imagine that Americans were a bit jittery in April 1918. 


The world was at war, and now the United States was too. The American Expeditionary Force was poised to join the fight in France, but material shortages were already being felt at home. 


American Cookery magazine offered plenty of advice. For those seeking nutrition in the absence of both wheat and meat, there was a recipe for nut-filled "Liberty Sandwiches" on oat bread. 


For those seeking relief from war-time tension, there was this: Eat like an Armenian.


In an article titled, "The Food Habits of a People Without Nerves," Henry C. Tracy notes that Armenians "endure more than an American cares even to think of a human being enduring," yet they enjoy "exception freedom" from nervous afflictions.


The merchants and tradesmen he encountered in various cities were also remarkably healthy and vigorous, despite their relatively sedentary lifestyle.


He concluded that the Armenian diet must be responsible, and that Americans would do well to emulate it.


More important than specific ingredients was the "physiological soundness of the Armenian's habitual diet" that provided just the right nutritional balance.


"There seems to have been acquired a national instinct for the right combination and proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, together with the rendering of them digestible and most assuredly appetizing."


The author notes that this natural balance is not found among Americans, who even then were prone to eating all the spare ribs and potatoes they could gobble down.


The Armenian diet provided a sharp contrast to "the habitual eating of twice as much of everything (from meat to sugar) as the body needs."


This sounds like a remarkably contemporary observation, doesn't it? 


Of course, the author identified yogurt (which he called by the Armenian name "matzoon") as essential to good health. But he also zeroed-in on the Armenian love of onions, "the pungent and soothing 'lily of the vegetable garden.' " 


The source of Tracy's expertise isn't noted in the magazine, but other citations indicate he was a naturalist who traveled through Asia Minor studying birds and other wildlife. 


He spent enough time eating with Armenians to understand that "a fundamental tenet of the Armenian kitchen is that a meal must be appetizing as well as simple."


"The word 'hamov' means literally having taste; but our word 'tasty' could never translate it."


Nearly a century later, we certainly agree. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In our house, Thanksgiving was an Armenian holiday -- and so were all the rest

Like any other American family's table, ours overflowed on Thanksgiving -- and a golden-brown turkey was always the centerpiece. 

But my mother never made anything without adding an Armenian twist: Our turkey was stuffed not with bread and chestnuts but with lamb and rice.

It was typical of our holiday meals -- and plenty of every-day ones -- that both the old world and new shared the table.

In fact, Mom almost always served two complete holiday menus, one Armenian and one American. Anyone who didn't want the Armenian stuffing could have his turkey with mashed potatoes and a side of broccoli. 

I didn't see the point of bothering with such things as long as Mom was also serving her steaming-hot kufteh with home-made madzoon as cold and rich as anything Ben or Jerry ever dreamed up.

Naturally, dessert included paklava,  Armenian walnut cakeapricot pie and piles of Mom's flaky, buttery Dikranagertsi lavash. 

Leftovers -- everybody's favorite part of Thanksgiving! -- also got the Armenian treatment. There was turkey soup, but with egg and lemon. And turkey keshkeg, which I didn't much appreciate then because it reminded me of oatmeal except with the taste of cumin instead of sugar.

What wonderful memories! 

Our holiday menu this year is still a work in progress as I write this, but it certainly won't be as ambitious as Mom's. The meal will be still be special, however, because of the company who will share it.

We wish all of you a wonderful day. Even if you don't share the tradition of this most American holiday, we can all be thankful for any opportunity to break bread with the ones we love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Season 2010

The countdown has begun. Christmas decorations have been popping up in stores since October – a little ridiculous, if you ask me! Black Friday, traditionally the Friday after Thanksgiving – and the busiest shopping day of the year- began weeks ahead of schedule. Enough already!


It’s time to take a deep breath, and focus on the true meaning of the holidays – the “reason for the season”, family, friends, food, and good cheer to all.


To begin the festivities, I’ve selected a cocktail recipe to help get you in the mood. This comes from one of my favorite magazines, Southern Living’s December 2010 issue. Because it contains pomegranate juice, the cocktail is billed as “healthy”. We all know that the pomegranate, one of our favorite Armenian fruits, helps to keep our cholesterol in check, is a good source of fiber, protects our skin, and helps prevent arthritis. But did you know it also keeps your teeth clean by helping to rid your mouth of plaque, a cause of gingivitis?


Now that you know, sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday season! But, please, drink responsibly!


Healthy Holiday Cocktail


Serves one


Pour 2 Tbsp. refrigerated 100% pomegranate juice and ½ cup chilled Prosecco or other sparkling wine into a champagne flute (or as in our photo, martini glass).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Portable Armenian Kitchen: A 19th Century Spoon Solution

I love digging into the world of digital archives. It's like archaeology for those of us who don't want to leave our seats.


Today's discovery turned up in the endlessly fascinating collections of Hathitrust (www.babel.hatitrust.org), a digital collaboration of various research libraries.


Tucked deep in the virtual stacks was an 1874 issue of Frank Leslie's ladies magazine, a nicely illustrated periodical of fashion and fiction that also carried a variety of non-fiction reports from around the world. There, among the bustles and whale-bone corsets, was the photo at top over the caption, "Portable Armenian Kitchen."


The companion item explained: "In nearly every Armenian house will be found, hanging against the wall of the principal room, one of these contrivances for holding the kitchen utensils. It is nothing more than an ornamental rack, carved out of wood, in which the spoons used at meals are placed. A great deal of taste is shown in the matter of curious devices for these portable kitchens, which show at a glance, perhaps as much as anything else, the social status of the family."


There's nothing more, but it looks pretty neat to us (even though we'd call it a spoon rack rather than a kitchen.) And it's clearly Armenian, judging by the cross.


Sadly, nothing like it made the journey to America with either of our families.


Have any of you ever seen anything like it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simit

It’s November and the weather has finally started to cool down in South Florida. It plunged down to 70 degrees F for a high today; tonight's temperature will be in the mid 50's. Go ahead laugh; for us it’s pretty darn chilly!

Tourists and seasonal residents have finally started to return, which means the holidays are right around the corner, and the arrival of out-of-town guests is inevitable.

For me it means it’s time to start baking again. So I’ll start off with a simple recipe for Simit - a cross between a cookie and a chorag. Whatever you call it, simit is a favorite  when folks drop in unexpectedly for a visit.  Since Simit freezes well, they can be made in advance and can be ready to serve in a jiffy.

Serve with coffee or tea, fresh seasonal fruit or an assortment of dried fruit and cheeses.

Simit
Yield: approximately 3 dozen

1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup milk
4 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
dash of salt
2 sticks butter

*************************
1 beaten egg
toasted sesame seeds

Directions:
1. In a saucepan, heat the milk and sugar until milk is warm and sugar is dissolved. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork, until the mixture looks crumbly. Stir in the heated milk - sugar mixture; mix to form a dough.
3. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface until knead until it becomes smooth.
4. Divide the dough into several balls, then roll each ball into a long rope about ½ inch thick.
5. Cut each rope into about 6-inch pieces. Create an “S” shape, or leave straight.
6. Place pieces on ungreased baking sheets. Brush each piece with beaten egg, then sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
7. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are lightly golden brown.
8. Cool on wire racks; store in an airtight container.
 


Friday, November 12, 2010

Science is still peppering us with salt questions

Armenians love salt, maybe a little too much.

Or maybe not.

We inherited the Old World tradition of heavily salting our food to preserve it. Also, like everyone else, we know a little salt makes everything taste better.

But these days, just thinking about the sodium content spread across the typical Armenian table -- from pistachios to twisted cheese to basturma -- sends our blood pressure soaring.

That's why we've both been working very hard to reduce the salt content of our recipes while scrutinizing labels on prepared ingredients. The problem is that it's awfully hard to know just how much salt is too much.

The federal government recommends no more than 2,000 mg. of sodium a day for the healthy adult, but that's easily exceeded by anyone who eats a bowl of commercially prepared soup along with a fast-food burger or slice of pizza.

Many experts have noted that the increasing prevalence of high-sodium foods parallels the increased incidence of high blood pressure over the past several decades.

This has resulted in increasing calls for sodium limits on prepared foods, or perhaps even restaurant meals. (It's not much of a secret that restaurant chefs lean heavily on the salt shaker.)

But now comes startling news in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Analysts who reviewed a series of studies of thousands of patients over the last half century found no increase in sodium consumption over that time: Americans average 3,700 milligrams a day today, just as they did in 1957.

The researchers know the figures are accurate because they didn't survey people about salt intake; they measured sodium excreted in urine, which is a reliable indicator of salt consumption.

As with so many health studies, what this means depends on who's doing the explaining. The research is already being hailed by some in the food industry as proof that no limits are necessary.

Some experts have concluded that when it comes to salt intake, humans may be self regulating. Others suggest that high levels of salt may not be harmful after all for the average person, and that the increase in hypertension may be due to other factors such as obesity.

Still, all the experts say people who already have high blood pressure or who have been placed on a low-sodium diet for any medical reason should stick to the limits suggested by their doctors.

We'll watch closely to see how this shakes out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kufteh ... Deconstructed

Every so often, Doug and I get a craving for kufteh. When time doesn’t allow for the full preparation, we just make the meechoog (filling) and serve it over bulgur pilaf with a side of plain madzoon.
Kufteh Meechoog

You can make your favorite meechoog recipe, or use the one below. If you closed your eyes and took one taste of this simple version, you’d swear you were eating the real thing!

Kufteh Meechoog

2 large onions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lb ground lamb, beef, or turkey
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped
ground coriander, allspice, black pepper, paprika to taste
1/4 cup to 1/3 cup pine nuts

1. In a skillet, melt the butter, then add olive oil to heat. Add chopped onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft - about 10 to 15 minutes.
2. In a separate skillet, cook the ground meat until it is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add meat to the skillet with the onions. Stir in the remaining seasonings, parsley, and pine nuts. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.

To serve: Place bulgur pilaf in the center of the plate (or bowl), top with meechoog, and a dollop of madzoon, if desired. A tomato-cucumber salad makes a perfect accompaniment.





Saturday, November 6, 2010

Our culinary heritage

Faithful reader Ara responded in his usual, thoughtful manner to our recent item on Armenia's effort to identify and preserve the nation's original cuisine. 

He noted that time is running out for those of us in The West to survey our elders -- but, on an encouraging note, he pointed to a series of books published by Hamazkayin (The Armenian Educational and Cultural Society) some years back that captured many recipes unique to various regions and cities. 

We've heard about these books before, but there's no use for us in tracking them down because we don't read Armenian.

This highlights another challenge. Many of us and our children don't have the Armenian language skills to do such research, or even properly sort through the names of dishes and ingredients for clues to their origin.

It would be a valuable and generous undertaking for anyone who does have such skills to translate the resources that do exist so the rest of us can make use of them.

As for surveying our elders, we know many of you have already done that. Maybe not in a formal way, but perhaps you've at least scratched out a recipe or two that your mother or grandmother (or grandfather) passed down.

Even if it sounds so much like other recipes on books or on this Web site, it may differ in some small but significant way that tells us something about the food of their village.

Why not send it to us? 

Better yet, did you make a video?  We know some of you have done just that. Our daughter's gunkahayr, Dr. Aram Aslanian, the distinguished psychologist, captured hours of video of his maternal grandmother in the kitchen. He keeps promising to share it, but...he's busy.

We're all busy, but let's make an effort before any of this is lost. We're more than happy to act as a repository or as go-betweens or whatever anyone needs. We'll post videos for the world the see and study, or tell you how to post them yourselves. 

We can't offer much except our limited knowledge and good intentions. If you can offer the same, maybe we can all accomplish something important together.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Flavors of Autumn

Besides pumpkin, autumn has an abundance of other fantastic flavors. Two that come to mind are pomegranates and pears.

Here’s a quick and delicious fruit salad with very few ingredients - just make sure you use the freshest ingredients possible. The color and flavor combination are sure to please.

Pomegranate and Pear Salad
Yield: 4 to 5 servings


1 pomegranate, seeded and membrane discarded
2 lbs. Barlett or other green-skinned pear
(about 6 pears -depending on size), cored and cut into bite-sized pieces (leave skin on)
2 to 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
3 Tbsp toasted and chopped pecans or walnuts, optional


• Place the pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Set aside.
• In a large separate bowl, combine the cut-up pears and lime juice. Toss to coat.
• Add the pomegranate seeds and chopped mint, tossing gently.
• Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour for flavors to blend.

Before serving, top each portion with chopped nuts, if desired.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Oh no! We're late for dinner -- by about 60 years...

One of our minor but very real gripes about South Florida when we moved here in the late 1970s was the almost total absence of Armenian food.

Somehow, we moved to a place where it was probably easier to buy a kilo of cocaine than a sack of bulgur.

As we've noted, the culinary scene has definitely brightened for Armenians and fans of other Near and Middle Eastern cuisines as well. But the advertisement above suggests we may have arrived a little late rather than early.

The enticing prospect of a shish kebab dinner for $1.50 greeted readers of the now long-departed Miami News on May 3, 1950.

Was it any good? The same paper gave the restaurant a rave review a few months earlier.

The headline: "Armenian Dinner Offers Variety at Palm Tree Inn Overlooking Bay." Reviewer Helen Burns warned readers to arrive hungry because "the courses are numerous, the portions are generous and the food is delicious."

Of course, like any good reporter dining on the company's tab, Helen splurged. She ordered the beet soup, salad, borek ("a pastry with hot cheese") and finished up with paklava. The bottom line: $2.58.

Best of all, the lamb kebab was tender and "roasted perfectly."

The setting sounded even better than the food. The dining terrace overlooked the spot where Miami River flows into Biscayne Bay.  As she enjoyed her lamb, "the moon, a great golden globe, appeared to come up out of the very water."

I know the spot. The Bay still shimmers seductively by either moon or sunlight, but you'll get only the briefest glimpse passing over the bridge on Brickell Ave. Mostly you'll be dazzled by the reflected glory of blue-glass office buildings framing the Miami Convention Center.

The Palm Tree Inn gave way to rental apartments many years ago, and they in turn gave way to years of controversy. Excavations in the late '90s turned up evidence of an ancient Native American burial ground along the water's edge.

Today, Googling the Palm Tree Inn's address will land you in Miami Circle Park, which preserves and commemorates the historic site.

Pondering all this left us with yet another destination on our long list of places to visit if anyone ever invents a time-travel machine. (We're betting on Google.)

But it also left us wondering about "your genial host Aram." Who was he?

If any of you remember the glory days of Miami and a certain Armenian who served up shish kebab by the Bay, we'd love to know more.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rachal - Candied Pumpkin

Traditional orange pumpkins are great for Halloween jack-o-lanterns, their seeds, and pulp for pumpkin pies - and they're easy to find.

I had my heart set on trying my hand at making rachal - candied pumpkin, which requires a yellow or white pumpkin - also known as white milk pumpkin... not as easy to find.

I came across a recipe in my newly acquired cookbook from NJ's St. Leon Armenian Church’s Women’s Guild (thanks Mom!!). The recipe, submitted by Carolyn Soojian and Ginny Clarke, is said to be a favorite of their Der Hayr, Father Diran Bohajian.


Carolyn’s and Ginny’s recollection: Father Diran’s mother Victoria made rachal every autumn - a treat he loved very much. We gave him the recipe, which he now prepares for his family and himself.

Aside from the length of time to prepare, making rachal really didn’t sound too daunting. Finding two of the necessary ingredients, however, presented the challenge - slaked lime powder, and yellow or white pumpkin.


Failing to find slaked lime powder in the types of stores suggested in the recipe, I turned to my friends, Nazan and Eddi Macarian, proprietors of Macar and Sons, Inc., International Food Distributors, for help. Alas, they did not have slaked lime powder.


Doug came to my rescue, as always. He simply googled “slaked lime powder” and found that a brand called Mrs. Wage's Pickling Lime, is carried by - are you ready for this? - Ace Hardware stores! 


Before jumping in the car, I called 3 local Ace Hardware stores. Of course, they’d never heard of Mrs. Wage's. Hmmm. On my fourth try, I hit pay-dirt! The store in Boca Raton (a 30 mile round-trip drive) had 2 bags left, and they would put one on hold for me.


One ingredient down, another to go.


The other hard-to-find ingredient was the pumpkin itself. I called my local farmer’s market, but they only had the orange variety. Whole Foods wouldn’t have white ones for another couple of weeks. My last hope was The Fresh Market; they carried them - and - they were in stock. (If this hunt sounds familiar, I went through the same thing last autumn looking for quince!)


Finally, I had all the ingredients on hand.
Mrs. Wage's Pickling Lime and white pumpkin

Today, I offer you two recipes...rachal and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Recipe #1: Candied Pumpkin - Rachal
from Carolyn Soojian and Ginny Clarke (with a few of my own touches)


Day 1:
one 5-lb pumpkin (yellow or white)
2 small bottles slaked lime powder (about 3 to 4 Tablespoons)**
1 gallon water
Day 2:
10 cups sugar
3 3/4 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
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chopped walnuts for garnish
** NOTES:
I used ½ cup of Mrs. Wage's pickling lime to 1 gallon of water.
Be sure the lime powder you use is “food grade” and not “commercial grade”.
Older cookbooks suggested that slaked lime powder or calcium hydroxide could be purchased in Middle Eastern stores or your local pharmacy. Neither of those proved successful, however, pickling lime in powdered form can be purchased on line at http://www.mrswages.com/.

Day 1 Directions:
Cut pumpkin in half. Remove seeds and save for making roasted pumpkin seeds. (See recipe below.)
Cut pumpkin into 1/4 inch slices; peel slices.
Place pumpkin slices in a large porcelain (or plastic) container.
Dissolve slaked lime powder in one gallon of water.
Add lime-water mixture to pumpkin slices. Place a large, heavy plate on the pumpkin to keep slices submerged. Let stand overnight.


Jars of finished rachal

Day 2 Directions:
Remove pumpkin and wash each slice thoroughly in cold water.
In a large pot dissolve sugar in 3 3/4 cups water, stirring until completely dissolved.
Tie cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in cheesecloth, and add to sugar water.
Add washed pumpkin slices. Cover and bring to a boil.
Remove cover; simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours. Turn slices occasionally.
Add lemon juice; simmer 15 minutes.
Remove and discard cinnamon and cloves.
Syrup should be somewhat thick and pumpkin should have changed color and texture.
Cool. Store in glass jars and refrigerate.
To serve: sprinkle chopped walnuts on top for garnish.

A Dabbakian Family specialty...
My Aunt Zippi (Zabelle Dabbakian) Keil shared this with me: 
"after my mother made rachal, she stored it in a cool place to preserve its crispness. I can still see the pumpkin slices so beautiful and appetizing in its syrup with walnuts throughout. So during the winter months, when it snowed and while it was still snowing and so nothing would touch the new-fallen snow, my father would go into our backyard with a large bowl and collect the fresh snow. In the meantime, my mother would have the "rachal" chopped into bite size pieces together with chopped walnuts (or almonds) and we children would be waiting with great anticipation for the winter's most delectable dessert! They would spoon out the "rachal" over the fresh snow into bowls and we would dig in! This was very much like today's sorbet or Italian ice desserts.....only much, much better."
Doesn't that sound glorious? It's a shame there's no snow in South Florida.

 
Recipe #2: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (unsalted)
• Wash pumpkin seeds thoroughly in cold water. Remove any fibrous, pulpy strands.
• Place in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet (or use a vegetable spray instead of oil); stir to coat seeds. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Bake at 325 F until toasted - about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally during baking.
• Cool completely; store in an airtight container.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Armenia aims to preserve as well as serve its native cuisine

We started this blog with one major goal: to preserve the recipes we remember and love.

Since then, we've heard from many Armenians in America and around the world who feel the same urge to record the culinary traditions of our parents and grandparents before it's too late.

Now comes news that the same sense of urgency is just as strong in the homeland -- and an exciting effort is now underway.

The National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia has launched its ambitious Cuisine Revival Project, which aims to reverse decades of neglect and foreign influence in the nation's commercial kitchens.

The foundation's announcement said the project "aims to foster the revival of lost recipes and the creation of new dishes based on Armenian ingredients and traditions."

"We want to make Armenia a culinary tourism destination," foundation CEO Pegor Papazian said in a press release.

Unfortunately, many younger cooks are untrained in Armenian food. Chef Setrak Mamulyan noted in the same release that "we are facing the danger of losing some of our dishes with the passing away of the older generation."

The revival effort, which involves many of the country's top chefs and restaurateurs, was launched in six villages in the Syunik province. Local residents were surveyed about each village's traditional cuisine, and recipes carried back to the national's capital for testing and development by professional chefs.

As the project grows, villagers through the country will be called on. Researchers are also scouring old manuscripts and other historical sources not only for recipes but for evidence of the unique roots of Armenian cuisine.

The results will ultimately be shared with the world through a Web site and cookbook.

"It's like mining for gold," Papazian said. "We want to bring out the full hidden potential of Armenian cuisine thorugh a process that starts with research but also involves substantial creativity and teamwork."

Friday, October 22, 2010

“Mayrig” a unique Armenian Restaurant


The interior of Mayrig restaurant, Beirut
 I recently received an email from my friend Lucine,  sharing a link to a YouTube video for an Armenian restaurant in Beirut called “Mayrig” (translation: "Little Mother"). 
From what we've heard  from our world-traveler friends and family members, Beirut sounds like a gastronomic paradise.

Mayrig, in operation since 2003, was started by the family of talented cook, Manouchag Jouhourian, who, I believe, hailed from Musa Dagh, the homeland of my maternal grandparents.


As I watched the Mayrig video, a well-done advertisement-documentary, my stomach began to growl, and my mouth watered uncontrollably.

Mayrig's Delicacies
I immediately consulted with blogger Joumana, who writes “Taste of Beirut." I wondered if she’d ever dined at Mayrig. Not only had she been there, and loved it, but she wrote an item for her website describing her visit.


Follow Joumana's account of her visit to Mayrig, "Armenian Delicacies in Beirut."

Then it occurred to me that my nephew has been to Beirut a few times. Sine he and his wife attended a wedding there just a few months ago, I wondered if they’d ever been to Mayrig.

This is what my nephew wrote:

“... Not only have I heard of Mayrig, I have been there 3 times and it is HANDS DOWN the best restaurant I have ever been to in my life. It is SO good, in fact, that it is worth a trip to Beirut just to eat there."



Hoom (Chi) Kufta at Mayrig
Well, that clinches it! If Doug and I ever travel to Beirut, one thing is certain, we'll be dining at Mayrig, too!

In case you're interested, Mayrig is offering franchise oportunities. Perhaps someone would like to open a Mayrig's in South Florida??

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkin Hummus

The arrival of pumpkins in stores and roadside stands signals cooler weather, Halloween, and, of course, Thanksgiving. I have to admit - I’ve never been interested in carving pumpkins; I dislike the mess. So I stock up on canned, solid -pack pumpkin for my recipes.



Since I like to experiment with traditional ingredients in non-traditional ways, I thought I’d try adding pumpkin to a hummus recipe. Doug didn't  think that combination sounded very appetizing, but approved the experiment anyway.

As it turns out, I'm not the only one who thought of adding pureed pumpkin to hummus. I found a number of recipes which included other ingredients as well - yogurt, cayenne pepper, and cumin - to name a few.


Try this (or a version of your choice) and see what you think. Is it a hit-or-miss?

Pumpkin Hummus


1 -15 oz can solid-pack pumpkin
1 cup canned chick peas, rinsed
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup tahini
juice of 1 to 2 lemons
pinch salt
water, ½ cup or more


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


a drizzle of pomegranate molasses - or - 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish, if available


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


Place the pumpkin, chick peas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture is well combined and lightens in color. Add enough water to thin-out the mixture to the consistency of a spread or a dip. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.


To serve, spread the dip/spread in a serving bowl and drizzle the top with a little pomegranate molasses, or sprinkle with pomegranate or pumpkin seeds.


Serve with vegetable dippers and/or toasted pita triangles.


Our evaluation: In a word, interesting. This recipe has a mild pumpkin taste with a hint of chick pea and sesame flavor. The pomegranate syrup garnish added a sweetness that one would not associate with hummus, but gave it a surprising twist.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kebab Cubano: Remembering the Armenians of Cuba


Cuban food in Florida is like Italian food in New Jersey, so nearly ubiquitous that it's almost the native cuisine.

As long-time Floridians, we're hooked. We can't imagine who wouldn't be. If you don't know Cuban food, you should know this: It isn't highly spiced and it isn't fast food.
The intense flavors are sophisticated blends of seasonings and ingredients, and many dishes demand time to marinate, prepare and cook oh-so-slowly. We're usually happy to leave all that work to the people who do it best -- but, we do love to cook, so we can't resist trying our hand once in a while.

Mojo (sounds like mo-ho) is a citrus blend. You can buy it in any store (at least, we can), but the commercial blends are too salty for our taste. We prefer a simple mix of orange, lime and garlic
-- with a touch of Allepo pepper flakes.

The prep was a snap. The time was no problem either: We let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours and went on with our lives.

Basically, we just roasted our Kebab Cubano like any other kebab and served it with rice and a home-made version of our favorite Latin salad that's as old as its name, the "1905 Salad" from Tampa's famous Columbia Restaurant.

We don't like to brag, but...well, it tasted great. The mojo tenderized the meat and lent a slightly but not overpoweringly sweet, fresh citrus taste .

If Armeno-Cuban fusion sounds odd, consider this: Not long ago, Cuba was home to a substantial Armenian community. The island nation continued to welcome Armenian refugees in the 1920s after America began enforcing restrictive immigration quotas.

Many families waited a generation or more to come to the U.S. Some stayed and made Cuba home, at least until Castro came to power. How many remain is an open question.

We're sure the Armenians of Cuba learned to adapt their recipes to local ingredients and customs. Kebab Cubano would almost certainly have been high on the menu.

Kebab Cubano (serves four to five)

Ingredients:
two pounds lean pork loin
one cup orange juice
juice of one fresh lime
two cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste


Directions:
Cut the pork in kebab-size cubs and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the orange juice, lime juice, pepper flakes and garlic.
Add the pork to the marinade, stir and cover. Refrigerate for 24 hours, mixing two or three times.
Skewer the meat, adding salt just before roasting. Cook well.

Serve with any sides you like -- but salad and pilaf are always appropriate!