Everything about Armenian food!

Celebrating a heritage of Armenian recipes


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Onions make Armenian food worth shedding a few tears


Armenians may not have been the world's first onion eaters, but we are probably the most enthusiastic.

It's hard to imagine an Armenian meal without onions as an ingredient.

Really, it's common to find onions in every dish on a fully laden Armenian table -- and plenty more sizzling on the stove waiting to take their place.

To me, the smell of onions frying has always signaled that dinner is on the way, although it never held a clue to the menu because you can start almost any Armenian recipe with, "Saute one onion..."

As with other Armenian food essentials, onions show that our
ancestors were either very lucky or possessed an uncanny instinct for choosing healthy ingredients.

Everyone knows by now that red wine is believed to be beneficial to the heart, but do you know why? Researchers say it's because of something called quercetin, a flavonoid compound also found in tea, apples -- and onions.

In fact, one study showed that eating a modest serving of onion actually gave arteries the biggest anti-inflammatory boost.

According to the National Onion Association, onions also have properties that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and protect against cataracts and stomach ulcers.

They're also low in calories, high in Vitamin C, and fat free.

Wild onions are native to Armenia and the surrounding region. My father said travelers who carried a pouch of dry bulgur could enjoy a fine dinner by adding a bit of water from a stream and plucking a few wild onions from a hillside.

Scallions were an essential part of the mezze plate whenever Dad and his chums got down to the serious business of drinking and listening to the songs of the Old Country.

As a kid, I was no more interested in those spicy green stalks than I was in that weird music or those drinks that smelled like medicine.

As an adult, I'm pleased to report that I've managed to acquire a taste for all three.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nory Rahat Locum: Sweet Treats for Easter - or anytime!

I know it’s Lent, and many of you have probably given up sweets. I’m not trying to tempt you or encourage you to break your “fast”; I want to you to start planning ahead - Easter is right around the corner!

Not long ago, I was searching the web for information and a recipe for Soorp (St.) Sarkis Halva, (see Feb. 5th post). With a lot of sleuthing, and some help from a family friend, I was able to find a home-friendly recipe using marshmallow creme as an ingredient, as strange as that seemed.


The internet led me to a candy company in California, Nory Rahat Locum, which made this special, seasonal Halva.
‘Now I’m getting somewhere,’ I thought.


I e-mailed Nory Rahat Locum hoping to acquire some background information about this Halva, and possibly a recipe that could be made at home. After a short wait, I heard from Armand Sahakian, who currently owns Nory Rahat Locum with his wife. They bought the company last June from the previous owners, Mr. and Mrs. Jibilian.  The Jibilians retired after making these sweets for over 30 years. Mr. Sahakian says he wishes to “re-introduce Armenian Locum to the consumer”, as “most people seem to think locum is only made in Turkey.”


In regard to their St. Sarkis Halva, Mr. Sahakian and Mr. Jibilian decided to discontinue it from their product line. (And I thought I finally found a place where I could buy it. Oh well.) He confirmed, by the way, that his mother, and just about everyone he knows uses marshmallow creme to make it. I guess it's not such an unusual ingredient after all!


Mr. Sahakian also sent me an interesting article about St. Sarkis Day, but I’m saving it for next year when the celebration rolls around again. Don’t let me forget!


After inspecting their products on-line, I could see that Mr. and Mrs. Sahakian take pride in everything they make. Their candies are “proudly made in California using the finest ingredients”. (I've sampled their locum, and it's really, really good! Be warned: You'll be tempted to eat your way through the whole box in one sitting.)


If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself at: www.norylocum.com. You might as well place your candy orders now, so that you’ll have them in time for Easter.

And tell the Sahakians The Armenian Kitchen sent you!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You're in the right place. Really!

Did you notice we've redecorated the Kitchen?

The new logo up top is the creation of a talented graphic artist, whose work caught the artistic eye of our own very talented daughter Mandy.

We wanted something modern yet traditional, colorful yet tasteful, bold yet...oh, you know how we non-artist types are. We know what we like, but we have to see it before we can describe it.

Now that we've seen it, we love it!

The new look marks a celebration: We're rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of TheArmenianKitchen.com, and it's been a remarkable journey. The marvel of the Internet is that it's interactive, which means you're as much a part of this venture as we are.

YOU have made this site the joy and passion of our lives.

Thanks to you and your comments, your recipes, your curiosity and your interest, we feel as though we've sat down to dinner in your homes all across America and in more than 100 countries where TheArmenianKitchen.com has been discovered.

Our aim, as always, is to preserve and share the rich, flavorful and incredibly varied culinary heritage of Armenians from every part of the world. We think it's a worthwhile goal, and apparently you do too.

So please keep reading and keep sharing. We'll do our best to reward you, just as you've rewarded us.

Thanks! -- Robyn and Doug Kalajian

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Zerzevetov Pilav (Pilaf): A Vegetable and Bulgur Dish

My friend, Hasmig Eskandarian, sent me a link to a September, ’09 article written by Maria Titizian in The Armenian Reporter newspaper about a recipe called “Zerzevetov Pilav."
(http://www.reporter.am/go/article/2009-09-04-zerzevetov-pilav-the-autumn-dish-of-musa-ler)

Titizian states that this recipe is native to Musa Ler (also known as Musa Dagh, the Mountain of Moses). I don’t think Hasmig realized it, but that is the region of Syria where my mother’s parents came from.

This recipe was of great interest to me since my grandmother made many variations of this dish based on the seasonal vegetables she found at the farmers market. Bulgur was a staple in my grandmother’s kitchen, as it is in mine.

Even though Zerzevetov Pilav is considered an autumn dish, it can be made any time of the year. In fact, it makes a perfect Lenten dish as long as you make it with water or vegetable broth. Simply add whatever vegetables are in season- or even your favorite frozen vegetable. Although my grandmother’s recipe is a bit different from the one Titizian included in her story, it’s just as easy to make, and very tasty.

Yeranuhe Nanny’s Vegetable* Bulgur**

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
½ lb fresh green beans*, ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
1 cup (#2 or #3) bulgur
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup canned chick peas, rinsed and drained

Robyn's Note: I used frozen flat Italian (pole) beans, partially cooked them, drained excess liquid, then added them in step #3. 

Directions:
1. Cook fresh green beans in lightly salted, boiling water for about 3-5 minutes, or until tender-crisp. Drain. Set aside.
2. In a skillet, sauté onions in hot oil until golden brown - but not burned, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
3. In a pot bring water (or broth) to a boil. Stir in tomato paste. Add bulgur, green beans, chick peas, and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and cook until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes.
5. Before serving, top with sautéed onions.

*NOTE: You can substitute just about any of your favorite fresh vegetables to this recipe - asparagus, zucchini, potatoes (parboiled first), tomatoes. The possibilities are endless!

** If you don’t have bulgur, use rice in its place. Use the same proportion of liquid (2 cups) to rice (1 cup). If using brown rice, follow the manufacturer's directions on the package for proper proportions.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Surum -- Homemade Pasta with Yogurt-Garlic Sauce

Every once in a while a reader will ask for a specific recipe that stumps us. This time the request came from distinguished author, physician, and instructor, Dr. Carolann S. Najarian, (http://najarian.info/about.htm).

Her request was for Surum.  Dr. Najarian included in her e-mail a link to an essay she wrote about her visit to Turkey in 2005, which was led by Armen Aroyan. (http://www.najarian.info/essays/sept2005.htm)

One passage, which makes a clear reference to 'surum', was written during her visit in Kharpert.

Dr. Najarian wrote:
"Armen had already told us two local specialties would be served – Kharpert kufteh and surum! Surum! My aunt Hasmieg and I couldn’t wait! For years we have enjoyed surum (or serim) in our family, but today, few people are familiar with this dish – it is not in any recipe book or on any menu. It is a forgotten food! Hasmieg and I simply could not believe that surum was here, in this desolate town. During the summer, on the days our grandmother baked the flat round bread on the sheet of zinc – the sahje – over the outdoor fire, she would make surum for lunch. Some of the flat rounds of bread would be cooked until thoroughly dried and hard making it possible to store the breads for weeks while others were taken off the sahje while still soft. These she rolled and placed in a large baking pan layered with garlic, butter, and with her own madzoon (yogurt), and then baked. This is surum!"

After searching through my resources, I found  a recipe called 'Surrum' in the cookbook, Treasured Armenian Recipes. The dough preparation is labor-intensive, but back-in-the-day there were no grocery stores with ready-made pasta, so everything was made from scratch. I could envision a group of village women helping each other to make the dough. After all, it couldn’t possibly have been a one-person operation!

When reading the recipe below, don’t be put-off by the directions. In case this recipe sounds appealing but you don’t have the time or interest in making homemade pasta, I’m adding a time-saving version of this recipe at the end of this post, thanks to my Aunt Arpie. Remember her? She’s the one from our video on "How to make Boorma".

Surrum, from the cookbook, Treasured Armenian Recipes

Yield: 6 servings

Dough Ingredients:
5 cups flour
1 Tbsp. Salt
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
4 Tbsp. Melted butter
1 tsp. Sugar

Dough Directions:
1. Make a dough of the above ingredients.
2. Divide dough into 15 equal pieces. Place on a baking sheet and cover with a damp cloth. Let stand for ½ hour.
3. Roll out each piece with a long type rolling stick to same size as the inside space of your oven. Sprinkle flour when rolling.
4. While dough is rolled on the stick, take it to the oven and spread it directly on the flat surface directly over the heating unit at 375ºF. (Robyn’s Note: Make sure the bottom surface of your oven is clean!)
5. Bake ½ minute on one side; turn over and bake another ½ minute on the other side. Leave door open while baking to keep dough soft and not browned too much.
6. Take the baked dough to the table. Fold twice the same way. Sprinkle a few drops of water and fold again 4 times until you have a 1 inch wide long strip. Put aside and cover with a dry towel. (Are you following all of this??)
7. Continue the same process with the remaining pieces of dough.
8. Pile all the strips on top of each other. Cut the pile into 2 inch long pieces.
9. Arrange these pieces in a pan close to each other with the cut sides up to let sauce run down.

Sauce Ingredients:
2 quarts madzoon
1 tsp. salt
½ lb. Butter, melted
garlic (optional)

Sauce Directions:
1. Prepare sauce by heating the madzoon mixed with salt. If madzoon is too thick, dilute with a little water.
2. Then blend the melted butter with madzoon. (If using garlic, it can be thinly sliced and sauteed in the butter.) While hot, pour sauce over the dough on the pan and serve immediately.

**********************************************************
Aunt Arpie’s Easy Pasta with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Yield: 4 to 5 servings

1. Sauté 2 to 3 cloves of thinly sliced garlic in 4 Tbsp. butter until garlic is soft. Cool slightly.
2. Stir in 1 to 1 ½ cups plain yogurt. Set aside.
3. Boil ½ lb. shell-shaped pasta according to package directions. Drain.
4. Place cooked pasta in serving bowl; toss with garlic-yogurt sauce.
5. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Garnish with chopped parsley (optional).
6. Serve immediately.

NOTE: You can use any shape pasta you like, but Aunt Arpie recommends the shell-shaped pasta because the sauce collects inside each shell for a deliciously tangy bite.
Oh, and eat this with a spoon!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lentil Soup with Spinach

I’ve know Bonnie Gross for over 30 years . She and her husband, David Blasco, moved to South Florida from Chicago in late 1978 -- almost the exact time Doug and I moved here from New Jersey.

David and Doug both worked for the Miami Herald’s Broward edition in Fort Lauderdale. Bonnie was hired by the Sun-Sentinel, also in Fort Lauderdale. I was the only one of the four of us who was not a journalist. My love was -- and still is -- in the field of education.


Bonnie began writing for the newspaper’s “Lifestyle” section. In time, “Food Editor” (and a number of other titles) were added to her list of credentials. One of the perks of being the food editor was that she received complimentary copies of cookbooks.



While dining at Bonnie and David’s home on a recent Sunday, Bonnie pulled a cookbook from her kitchen shelf, called “Aphrodite’s Kitchen: Homestyle Greek Cooking.” The cookbook looked ancient. The copyright date was 1978- - the year the four of us met, 32 years ago. Boy, if that didn’t make us feel old!



For the sake of professional curiosity, I had to examine the book to see if there were any interesting recipes. Many of Aphrodite’s recipes could easily be Armenian. Lots of lamb, eggplant, and recipes with phyllo dough -- you know, the usual.

One recipe stood out: Lentil Soup with Spinach. It’s one of our favorite soup recipes that was to be part of my Lenten dishes collection. What is the soup's origin -- Armenian, Greek, Mediterranean? Who knows? All I know is that it’s delicious, nutritious, and perfect anytime of the year, but especially for Lent.

 
Lentil Soup with Spinach



1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. Olive oil

1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed

6 cups water or vegetable stock

1 -10 oz. Package frozen chopped spinach, thawed 
salt and pepper, to taste

lemon wedges

Directions


1. In a large pot, saute celery, carrot, and onion in olive oil until soft but not brown.

2. Add lentils and water or vegetable stock. Cook, with pot cover tilted, on medium heat for about 45 minutes or until lentils are soft. Stir occasionally. Add more liquid if needed.

3. Add spinach and cook for another 15 minutes.

4. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Looking for some lentil soup variations? See what reader Ara sent as a comment on our September 23rd post on lentils:

Ara wrote:
"Lentil soup is a favorite comfort food for me and my family.
Some variations on your recipe: (Ara is referring to the lentil soup recipes from the September post.)

In Cilicia (where my family is from), they use short-grain rice instead of bulghur. The use of rice is probably Turkish-influenced, since rice is a newcomer to the area. Also, my mom's recipe calls for cooking half the onion with the lentil and sauteeing the rest until medium brown ("sokharants").

Also, I have seen some recipes that add basil in addition to the ingredients you have listed.
Personally, I have added cumin, red pepper, and/or jalapenos with some success. if you want to go totally Indian, you can also add a very small pinch of asafoetida ("hing") and some raw peanuts (in which case you saute the spices and peanuts in olive oil before adding the rest of the ingredients).

Any of the above combinations works, of course. A simple bowl of lentil soup on a cold winter night is like the sun rising over your tummy. :-)"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Swiss Chard with Chick Peas (Neeveeg, Nevik)

Ara Kassabian from Los Angeles sent me a recipe he makes with farm-fresh Swiss chard and chick peas. It sounded delicious- and somehow  familiar.  

As I rummaged through my recipes, I discovered a copy that I'd saved a long time ago, but never got around to making. You know how it is. My copy is very similar to Ara's recipe (how different could it be, really?), and makes an excellent lenten meal or side dish.

Living in an agricultural section of Palm Beach County, Florida, I was determined to find farm-fresh Swiss chard, too. My mother accompanied me as I searched several farm stands to find the perfect bunch.

We were in a time crunch, because the temperature was about to plunge, causing farmers to worry about a cold spell that could possibly damage delicate vegetables. (Can you imagine? Cold weather warnings in February in Florida? Just yesterday I was swimming in the pool!)

On our third stop, I found a perfect specimen of this wonderful, green leafy vegetable. Our dinner menu was set.


Here is the recipe Ara sent for ‘Swiss Chard with Chick Peas’:
Ara said:
“ This is my version, which is based on my mom's recipe (but, really, it's a very simple dish):
1 bunch swiss chards (green or mixed)
1 can chick peas
2-3 tablespoons of tomato sauce
1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt (very little), black pepper
Aleppo red pepper or equivalent (cayenne, chili colorado, etc.), to taste.


Wash and coarsely chop the chards. Make sure you get all the dirt out. (Robyn says: 'A very important tip, trust me!') Heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the chard until it is limp. Add the chick peas, tomato sauce, salt and peppers. Cover and simmer on low heat until the chard is soft but not "dead". About 20-30 minutes.


As a variant, you can substitute some ready-made ajika (Georgian tomato-pepper paste) for part of the tomato sauce. In which case, you can omit the Aleppo red pepper.


Note: Swiss chard tends to be high in sodium, and of course canned chick peas also have sodium, so go easy on the salt. You can of course use dried chick peas but I'm a lazy bum.


Nevik is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve (January 5th), along with rice, fish, and yogurt soup (madzoonaboor).”


The Armenian Kitchen's variation: We sauteed 1 small, sliced onion, and 2 small, minced cloves of garlic in the oil before adding the Swiss Chard. Instead of tomato sauce, we used 2 Tbsp. pepper paste diluted in a few tablespoons of water. Yum, yum! Served with rice pilaf, our meal was complete. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent

Lent, as all Christians know, commemorates the 40 days of fasting of Jesus Christ.

According to the book Saints and Sacraments of the Armenian Church by Bishop S. Kaloustian, Lent begins on the Monday following the Sunday of Poon Paregentan (today) and ends the evening of the Friday before Palm Sunday.

Lent is a time of self-discipline. We are instructed to "examine ourselves, strengthen our character, renew our purpose in life, and to make penance to correct our faults, weaknesses and sins." At the same time, we resolve "to be more humble, more gentle, and exercise self control over our appetites."


Humans have many appetites, of course, and many of the faithful try to keep the whole range in check by avoiding dances and other amusements.

Sadly, there's no loophole for us food lovers.

In fact, the Armenian church is stricter than most Western Churches when it comes to food abstinence during Lent. Western Churches generally call for abstaining from meat, but Eastern Christians abstain from "all kinds of flesh meat, including fish, and all other animal foods, i.e. dairy products and eggs."

Of course, this was a bit less of a challenge in the days when meat and eggs weren't necessarily part of the daily routine. These days, at least here in America, we don't know many people who follow Lenten law to the letter.

But many of us do give up one or more of our favorite foods, while others take the opportunity to get in touch with their inner-vegetarian.

Rest assured that we're here to help. We've gone through our files to find traditional Armenian Lenten recipes, and we'll be posting them throughout the season.

If you have a family favorite, please share!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Preparing for Lent

With the approach of Lent, readers have been asking for suitable recipes.The Western Church's less strict lenten practice excludes meat from the diet.The stricter lenten diet of the Eastern Church excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, dairy products or eggs.


We already have a variety of "Lent-friendly" recipes in our Armenian Recipe file from which to choose. I've created a menu of our recipes to help you, however, I've deliberately omitted breads and desserts since these are usually the foods that are "given up"  this time of year.

 For those of you following the Western Church’s meatless diet, I’ve placed a "W" next to the recipe’s name in the list below. If you are leaning toward the stricter, Eastern Church lenten diet, you'll find an "E", next to the recipe's name. Those are suitable for anyone to eat. All you’ll have to do is click on the recipe’s name in our Armenian Recipe column on the right of the screen, and you will be led to the story and appropriate recipe.


SPECIAL NOTE: To make some of our recipes into a lenten version, substitute water or vegetable broth for any beef, lamb or chicken broth mentioned. If a recipe calls for butter, use oil or margarine instead.

Use the following as a guide to "Mix-n-Match" your Lenten menus:

Appetizers: Hummus (E), Muhammara (E), Stuffed grape leaves (E), Cheese or spinach boregs (W), Dill cheese (W), Cilantro Tahini Dip (W)


Salads: Armenian chick pea salad (E), Armenian potato-egg salad (W), Armenian potato salad (E), Armenian salad (E), Cardamom fruit salad (E)


Side Dishes: Tabbouleh (E), Plaki (E), Fassoulia (green beans) without meat (E), Jajik (W), Bulgur or rice pilaf (E), Zucchini and eggs (W)


Soup: Cabbage soup (E), Lentil soup (E)


Entrees: Eggplant - zucchini bake (E), Mujadarra (E), Parsley, onions and eggs (W), Tomatoes and eggs (W), Plaki with Fish (W)


 I'll be posting Lenten recipes throughout this special season. If you have a favorite one to share, please e-mail it to me at robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com, and I'll be happy to include it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poon Paregentan

Have you ever been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras?

People dress in colorful, outrageous costumes, parading down the main street, or riding on exotically decorated floats while tossing beaded necklaces into the crowds. Everyone dances, sings, eats, and drinks during this festive time with reckless abandon. Then....LENT begins.


Armenians have a celebration before Lent, too. It’s not quite the spectacle of Mardi Gras, but it serves a similar purpose.


In the Armenian Church, Lent begins on the Monday before the Catholic Church’s Ash Wednesday. On the Sunday before Lent, Armenians celebrate Poon Paregentan, or " day of good living," a time to feast before the fasting of Lent begins. This day is considered the first step of the Lenten journey.


This year, Poon Paregentan falls on Valentine’s Day. I can’t think of a better time to combine feasting with spending time with the love of my life!

How will you celebrate?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More on Hoom Kufteh

Last week we posted a recipe and video for making “Hoom Kufteh”. We received a number of comments, and an e-mail from Tom Merjanian, who provided his thoughts on cooking  leftover any kufteh, as well as a delightful Hoom Kufteh story from his mother’s family.

Tom's recipe suggestion:
“The note about frying the left over Hoom Kufteh with eggs may need clarification as to the recipe.
Patties are made from the leftover kufteh measuring approximately 2” in diameter and flattened in shape to this measurement. They are dipped in beaten eggs with a small amount of milk to help the consistency of the eggs. Then they are fried in a frying pan with butter.”

Tom’s family’s story:
“The story in my mother’s family that I heard recounted by my grandmother is that when my grandparents, Bedros and Khatoun Babigian, were newly married and living in Egypt (they had fled Turkey when it was possible, each separately in 1902 and 1907) that Grandpa one day asked Grandma to make 'Sizzle.' She had no idea of what he wanted until one day she was talking with someone in her social circle who described what to do with leftover Hoom Kufteh. The bride took this recipe under advisement. On the next occasion that the Babigians ate Hoom Kufteh and on the following morning when Grandma served Grandpa the delicacy for breakfast, he became ecstatic, proclaiming that this was his grandmother’s 'Sizzle!' Grandpa’s parents died young and his grandmother raised him."
 
While I'm on the subject of Hoom Kufteh, Doug and I went to a dance at St. David Church (Boca Raton, Florida) last Saturday night. The music was FABULOUS! Onnik Dinkjian sang; Ara Dinkjian, Ken Boyajian, Mal Barsamian, and Mike Gregian provided the music. The dance floor was hopping.
 
The flyer advertising the dance said mezze woud be provided- a nice touch we thought. Out came a platter of cheese and olives, and a basket of bread for each table. Next came individual plates with cheese boregs, yalanchi, bruschetta, skewers of grape tomatoes and mini meatballs (we think), and the piece d' resistance..... you guessed it, HOOM KUFTEH! "Oh no!",we gasped.
 
Call us hoom kufteh snobs. Our philosophy is: If we don't make it, we won't eat.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

There's nothing fishy about Armenian liver


When I was probably six or seven, my father tried to trick me into eating lamb's liver by telling me it was Armenian fish.

This was not so ridiculous. It looked more like fish than, say, like steak or chicken. I could have just agreed and moved on.

But I was a skeptic even then.

I'd eaten liver without protest since I was younger, but now I wanted to know the whole story. My mother obliged by explaining that it was really a form of meat, but that only led to more questions and then to the awful moment when she told me it came from inside the lamb.

At that point, I wished I hadn't questioned my father's fish tale.

My liver-eating days were over, but only temporarily. I actually liked lamb's liver -- fried up crisp, dusted with ground coriander and served with sauteed onions and a sprinkle of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Lamb's liver is much milder than beef or even veal liver and yet it has a distinctive and delicious flavor.

If you've never had it, you probably never will.

Lamb's liver just isn't part of the American diet. You might have luck at a Middle Eastern or Italian butcher, or you might not. We've pretty much given up asking -- and I'm not interested in substitutes.

Well, maybe one: chicken liver.

If they're familiar with chicken liver at all, most Americans think of the pate-like sandwich spread served at Jewish delis. Armenians usually cook chicken livers whole, which means they at least resemble the traditional cubed lamb or beef liver.

My mother made chicken liver often, but not for dinner. It was always an appetizer or snack because it's very rich, almost like eating butter. But even a small portion of chicken liver can be very satisfying. It makes a great meal served with rice along with bread and a salad.

It's also ridiculously cheap, especially when you consider that a little goes a very long way. We bought about a pound and a quarter for $1.89 -- and nearly half was left over. So we satisfied three very health appetites for about $1.

Like most livers, chicken liver is vitamin-rich and has only one real nutritional drawback: lots of cholesterol. We'd worry about that more if we ate bigger portions or served it more frequently.

Here's our recipe:

Armenian Style Chicken Livers (serves 3-4)
1 pound chicken livers
1 medium yellow onion
a few tablespoons of flour
olive oil or butter
1 teaspoon coriander
salt
pepper
fresh lemon (optional)

Trim connective tissue off the livers and cut larger pieces so they're all about the same size to ensure even cooking. Pat dry and dredge lightly in the flour.

Chop onion and sautee in butter (traditional) or olive oil (healthy choice) on medium-high heat.

As the onions start to brown, add the liver. Then add half the coriander, plus salt and pepper to your taste.

Brown the liver about four to five minutes, then turn and add the rest of the coriander plus salt and pepper.

Cook about another five minutes. It's done when the liver is brown all the way through but still soft.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Note: You can serve this dish over rice or make sandwiches on lavash or pita bread with chopped parsley and onions.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Searching for Soorp (St.) Sarkis.... Halva, that is.

Hi Everyone,

Reader Debbie Boyadjian, wrote:.

"I am searching the net for a recipe for a special kind of halva that is made to celebrate Soorp Sarkis. I am a Canadian married to an Armenian and enjoy cooking very much. I am so happy that I have found your blog. My mother in law has been a great help in teaching me different things over the years, but this is one recipe that she does not have.

My children’s godfather is wanting to eat this sweet, but the only person who made this for him has passed away. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated."

While I am currently investigating leads on where to find this recipe, I thought I’d ask my loyal readers - just in case any of you have it, or know where to find it.

Any help in procuring this recipe for Debbie would be greatly appreciated!
**************************************************************
Debbie, this is what I've been able to find so far.  If this isn't what you're searching for, the hunt will continue. READ STORY and RECIPE BELOW.

Soorp (St.) Sarkis Halvah


When reader Debbie Boyadjian asked if I could locate a recipe called “Soorp (St.) Sarkis Halvah”, I had no idea what paths I’d have to cross to get it.

The first thing I did was Google the recipe name. I found an article stating that a recipe by that name was in a cookbook called,   ”Landing on Ararat”. The cookbook was created as a fundraiser for The Ararat Home of Los Angeles in - or around- 1996. The information given mentioned that the halvah recipe was submitted by Vanda Mazmanian, who specified ”that the sugar be measured in Armenian coffee cups.”

St. Sarkis Halvah is a confection that is served on St. Sarkis Day (celebrated on January 30th this year). According to Hermig Janoyan, it is “pale in color, and as chewy and nutty as nougat. It’s embedded with sesame seeds and comes in two shapes - flat squares or rectangles, or rolls with a walnut stuffing.”

The article also stated that “Janoyan, who researched the chapter on Armenian feast days, explains that engaged girls and brides fast for a couple of days at this time, then are honored at a feast at which the halvah is presented on a tray along with fruit that conceals a gift of gold jewelry.”

With a history like that, I was determined to find this recipe. But how? I e-mailed the Ararat Home of LA to see if the cookbook was still available. While waiting to hear back, it occurred to me that a family friend, Madeline Eskegian, of Pacific Palisades, CA, might know. Her mother resided at that home years ago, so I thought perhaps that Madeline would have the cookbook.
Alas, no, but, her friend did!

Madeline was kind enough to get Vanda Mazmanian’s recipe for Soorp (St.) Sarkis Halvah for me. It’s like no other halvah recipe I’ve ever seen!

St. Sarkis Halvah
Yield: 40 pieces

4 (Armenian coffee) cups of sugar
4 Tbsp. Marshmallow creme (sold in jars; can be found in most grocery stores)
1 Tbsp. Fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. Water
1 tsp. Orange blossom water, optional
2 lbs sesame seeds
walnuts - either halved or coarsely chopped

Directions:

1. Boil the water, lemon juice, marshmallow creme, orange blossom water (if using) and sugar until mixture begins to change color. Don’t let it turn brown. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

2. Place a small pile of sesame seeds on table. Make a small hole in the middle of the seeds. Pour 1 tbsp. Sugar mixture into hole. Cover hole with additional seeds.

3. Lightly roll with rolling pin to flatten. Place a walnut half - or a little chopped walnut- in center of flattened mixture. Wrap flattened sugar-sesame mixture around walnuts.

4. Slice off each end to make a rectangular shape. Continue to do this until all ingredients are used.

**Sugar mixture can be reheated if it thickens while working.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hoom Kufteh (Armenian Sashimi?) With VIDEO!


Tired of cooking? Here's the ultimate uncooked Armenian delicacy.

Some call it hoom kufteh, some call it chi kufteh. Armenians used to describe it to odars (non-Armenians) as "Armenian steak tartare" -- but these days, who knows steak tartare?

Maybe "Armenian sashimi "works better?

No matter what you call it, it's raw meat with raw bulghur and raw onions. Anything more raw than this would cry when you bit into it.

In the Old Country, it was made with lamb. We use beef for the simple reason that we can get fresher beef -- and you definitely want to use the freshest meat possible.


CAUTION! We've read a lot lately about the dangers of raw and under-cooked meat, and many of those stories have involved ground beef. If you're skittish or have health reasons to be extra cautious, just cook your kufteh until it's well done!

If you're more daring -- but, like us, only a little more daring -- you can significantly decrease your risk by avoiding store-ground beef. Get your meat from a butcher you trust, and tell him you're planning to eat it raw. Buy it whole and grind it yourself at home, so you won't have to worry about what went through the grinder last.

We like to use London Broil. Whatever cut you choose, make sure it's as lean as possble and trim off any fat, veins or chewy bits. Run it through the grinder three times -- or, if you're using a food processor, make sure it's ground very fine.

The other main ingredient is #1 bulghur, or the smallest variety you can find , soaked until soft.
Basically, that's it -- although there are plenty of variations on the basic theme. Some Armenians spice it up more than others. Some add onion and even chopped peppers to the mixture. Others (including us) serve chopped onions and parsley on the side.


One thing to keep in mind is that today's fresh meat is tomorrow's not-so-fresh meat, so it's best to make no more than you can eat in one day. The good news: leftovers make great burgers! Or, fry them up with eggs for a special Armenian breakfast.

Check out the VIDEO on YouTube!




Here are two recipes, ours and another contributed by reader Tom Merjanian.
Hoom Kufteh (Chi Kufteh)
Ingredients (serves four)
1 pound very lean, raw London Broil
1/2 cup #1 bulgher
salt
ground black pepper
ground red pepper
coriander
1 medium yellow onion or several stalks green onion
1 bunch parsley
Directions
Chop the onion and remove stems from parsley
Add 1/2 cup water to the bulghur and let it soak while you're preparing the rest
Trim the meat of all fat and veins
Grind the meat three times, or until very fine
Add the softened bulghur to the meat in a mixing bowl
Add 1 teaspoon ground coriander, plus salt and pepper to taste
Knead thoroughly
Shape like lule kebab (or like a sausage)
Serve immediately with the onion and parsley on the side
These make great roll-up sandwiches when wrapped with the parlsey and onions in soft lavash bread!

Tom Merjanian, of Valley Cottage, NY, submitted Mrs. Meline Merjanian's recipe,
Raw Beef and Wheat Germ Pate:

2 lbs. London Broil
3/4 cup finely ground wheat germ (#1) per one cup of finished ground meat mixture
1/3 cup water - to start
1 medium size onion
4 sprigs curly parsley
salt to taste
1 to 2 tsp. Aleppo ground red pepper
2 scallions
1 frozen red bell pepper

Preparation:
1.  London Broil is a good cut of beef for Chee Kufteh for its color and flavor. Remove veins from the meat as best as possible. Cube the meat.
2. Cut the onion into squares suitable for processing.
3. Defrost the red pepper and remove the skin and seeds. Cut into squares for the food processor. Always keep some red peppers frozen for this use.
4. Separate the meat into portions that will be able to be finely grind in your food processor. Divide the sweet red pepper and onions to match these batches. Process the meat until it has the consistency of "chewing gum"- that is to say "smooth," while adding salt to taste to each batch.
5. Put the processed meat, onion, and red pepper in a bowl, blend together and then measure into measuring cups.

Kneading:
Have a bowl of water for moistening your hands. Your hands must be free of any odor including soaps that are odoriferous.
1. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons of Aleppo ground red pepper and place in approximately 2 ounces of water to allow the flavor to disperse.
2. Place the meat mixture into a large enough bowl for kneading. For each cup of meat, add 3/4 cup of #1 finely ground wheat germ. Add the hot pepper. Keep your hands moist. Add the 1/3 cup of water. Knead until blended well and add more water to complete the texture, making sure not to add so much water that the mixture becomes gooey. Keep in mind that the cut London Broil and the amount of onions and red pepper may affect the need for you to be sensitive by touch to the texture of the mixture.

Serve
Spread on a platter, oval or rectangular. Smooth surface with moist hands. Impress the sign of the cross into the middle of the Chee Kufteh, just as you would for dough. Garnish with the chopped scallions and chopped parsley. Additional scallions and parsley may be needed or can be served on the side.

Zahleh, Lebanon style: Your guests can pour olive oil on top of their Chee Kufteh.

Some people roll their Chee Kufteh in bread:
1. Aleppo style - "Toneer Hatz"- paper thin bread cooked on a half dome.
2. Gesaratzi style - softened "Dan Hatz"- the hard, thin bread that is softened by sprinkling with water and then rolling in a towel to allow the water to permeate the entire loaf of flat, hard bread.
3. Arabic style - so-called "pita" which is the easy way out

Salads to go with this meal are:
1. Cucumber, tomato and sliced onion salad dressed with lemon and olive oil and plenty of fresh spearmint. Salt and pepper to taste.
2. Lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Olives optional.

Drinks: The old-timers drank Armenian style anise flavored brandy known as OGHEE. This product is sold in liquor stores as "Arak".

In the old days, the women would gather and work the meat into a fine pate working with a stone slab and a stone to grind the meat and break down the sinew. What a labor of love!   

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mannix is back!

This isn't exactly a food item, but it has been on my personal front burner since I discovered recently that the classic 1960s TV detective series Mannix is available on DVD.

I loved this show when I was a teenager, in part because it was a great action series with lots of car chases but mostly because it starred the rugged and handsome Armenian-American actor Mike Connors, who has always proudly proclaimed his birth name as Krikor Ohanian.

My favorite moment occurred right at the start of each episode, when Mike's name appeared on a red, blue and orange background in the exact pattern of the Armenian flag.

To me, this was like getting a message in secret code each week! I imagined I was off on another adventure right along with this modern version of Sasuntsi David, the original Armenian superhero, except that Joe Mannix rode a Plymouth Barracuda instead of a horse. Mannix was almost always outnumbered and outgunned, but he never backed away from a fight -- and he always got his man.

The third season of shows was released this fall and it's available in stores and from online sellers such as Amazon.com. (We get a small referral fee if you use our search form below.) The first two seasons are also available.

The show ran on CBS from 1967 to 1975, so there should be plenty more to come.