Friday, July 30, 2010

Watermelon Revisited

After recently purchasing a whopper of a watermelon, so juicy and delicious, we thought it appropriate to relive our love of this wonderful fruit. Read on...
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If I say "Armenian fruit," you say... Apricot? Pomegranate? Quince?

All good answers. But why not watermelon?


Melons of various types are traditional Armenian favorites, and watermelon is near the top of most everyone's list.

My father-in-law had vivid memories of the enormous watermelons that grew in his native Dikranagerd (Diyarbakir, Turkey). Twenty-pounders are a common sight there along the fertile banks of the Tigris River.

Armenians make a sweet candy out of the rind, but doesn't everybody enjoy the sweet meat of the melon all by itself?

Actually...it's kind of funny, but plenty of Armenians don't.

Like all fruits in Armenia -- and unlike much of what we find in American supermarkets -- watermelons are notably sweet. Many Armenians have a tradition of balancing sweetness with salt. So fruit is often eaten with salted cheese- in our case - Armenian string cheese. Some even sprinkle salt right on the melon.

Watching your sodium? Here's another Armenian way to add a counterpoint to watermelon's sweetness: Mint.

Chop up a few springs of fresh mint and sprinkle over melon slices. It's a perfect marriage of flavors.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sweet, creamy and cool: What more is there?

Robyn's post the other day about the delights of yogurt in summer brought to mind another simple favorite -- madzoon with honey.

I remember my father's delight at his occasional indulgence in this treat from his own childhood in the Old Country.

Other times, he'd spoon on freshly stewed apricots or prunes (or both) in place of the honey.

None of it held much interest for a kid growing up in the sugary world of Good Humor and Twinkies. As far as I was concerned, madzoon was meant to go with dolma -- not dessert. 

As an adult, I love the contrast between the cold tang of the yogurt and the warm sweetness of honey.

The genius is in the simplicity: You just fill your bowl with yogurt and drizzle honey on top.

Of course, my idea of "drizzle" may not be quite what the dictionary suggests...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Classic Armenian Recipes": another cookbook discovery

You know how I love cookbooks, and that Doug and I are now writing articles for the AGBU's newly-launched online Ararat magazine, right?


I recently received a very warm email from Talia Jebejian, ABGU Special Events Coordinator. She noted that her family has Aintabtsi roots on both sides, and that their specialty recipe is yogurt soup with round keufteh and mint, called “keufteli yaghne” or “yogurt soup with wheat balls” - a recipe found in her late grandmother’s cookbook, “Classic Armenian Recipes: Cooking Without Meat”. This cookbook was written by Talia’s grandmother, Mariam Jebejian and Alice Antreassian back in the early 1980's.

Did Talia mention "cookbook"? Another “must have” as far as I was concerned.


But, easier said than done... I thought for sure I could order one from the St. Vartan Bookstore in NYC, but they didn’t have any. I thought all was lost.

Doug, came to my rescue by finding a used copy through Amazon.com. (Feel free to scroll down to see our Amazon link and other items we recommend.) He never told me he found the cookbook or that he ordered a copy. He quietly handed me the package when it arrived, saying, “This is a special gift for you, honey.”  I was delighted to discover the Jebejian-Antreassian cookbook inside...and in pretty good shape, too for something used.

Thanks, Talia, for letting me know about this cookbook. And thanks, Doug, for finding it and buying it for me!

All I need now is a larger bookcase.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bulgur Pilaf - Dikranagerdtsi style

Dikranagerdtsi Bulgur Pilaf
Just got off the phone with my mother. She was sitting on the front porch of her Jersey shore beach house when along came jogger, Dee Aljian-Barnes... Dee is a long-time family friend who spends summers at the shore as did her family for many decades. Dee, my mother and sister settled in for a visit when Dee mentioned she found our website while looking for a bulgur pilaf recipe.

Dee said she was surprised that the recipe we posted wasn’t the way Dikranagerdtsis make it. I told Mom that Doug posted it, so I went back to refresh my memory. The bulgur pilaf recipe he posted came from the Harvard University School of Public Health - a very tasty recipe for sure, but not the one Dee wanted.

So, Dee, here’s our Dikranagerdtsi-style Bulgur Pilaf recipe which serves 4:


Ingredients:


2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup fine noodles
1 cup #2 or #3 bulgur
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
salt to taste


Directions:


1. In a 3 quart pot, melt the butter. Add noodles and stir gently until noodles begin to brown lightly. Do not let butter and noodles burn!


2. Stir in bulgur allowing the butter to coat it.


3. Add the broth or water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low. Cover and cook about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender but not mushy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Failed Manti

Every summer Doug and I make a point of cooking as much of our frozen foods as possible. In the coastal south, tropical conditions can cause power-outages that mean losing those treasures packed tightly in the freezer.

After rummaging through the freezer shelves, I found a partial package of wonton wraps, and a half pound package of ground lamb. What to make? Manti, of course!

I’d never made manti before, but have always enjoyed it at church bazaars - except for the time when they topped it with vanilla yogurt instead of plain! AWFUL!

Here's what I did to make Short-cut Manti:

For the dough:
I figured the wonton wraps would work well and save me time from making dough from scratch. The recipe called for dough squares that are 2- inches by 2- inches. The wonton wraps were 3- inch squares, so I rolled each one out to four-inch squares making it paper-thin, then cut each into 2-inch squares - a very muscle-building activity. OK, so it wasn’t too time-saving, but at least I didn’t have to make the dough!

The filling was easy.
Defrost the meat in the microwave. Mix in 1 medium onion, finely minced, salt, black pepper, Aleppo red pepper, and coriander to taste. Cook in a little olive oil until onions are tender, and meat is browned. Drain any excess grease. Cool until ready to use.

Shaping the manti.
I spread a little water on the edges of each dough square to act as “glue” to hold the dough together when cooking. After placing about ½ teaspoon of the cooled filling in the center of the dough, I shaped each piece according to the directions in Alice Antreassian’s cookbook, “Armenian Cooking Today” - “lift up and pinch together neighboring corners to form a canoe”.

The shaped manti were placed in a greased baking pan, and baked for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. The bottoms were supposed to be golden brown and the tops just lightly browned.
The final step was to heat the manti in broth for another 10 or so minutes, and top with a dollop of plain - or garlic-enhanced yogurt.

Something went very wrong.
The timer went off, and I went to retrieve the manti from the oven. Much to my dismay, I found a pan of overly-toasted manti. I wanted to discard my failed attempt, but I could hear my mother's voice in the background warning me not to. (With our limited dental plan, I knew Doug and I wouldn't want eat these,  and risk chipping our teeth.)

I didn't throw them away, as I was tempted to do. Instead I wrapped them and placed them in the refrigerator. Turns out, over-baked manti makes a pleasant little munchy snack - once they've softened up a bit. Plain yogurt for dipping  helps, too.


What did I learn from this?
1. Wonton wraps don’t need to bake for 30 minutes.
2. Sometimes shortcuts aren't very short.
3. Throwing away food is forbidden.


Will I ever try to make manti again? Sure, but not until I gain strength back in my arms from rolling all of those wonton wraps.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A little rain (or even a lot) can't keep us from getting fired up!



We just had to share this picture.

That rain-soaked blur is Bonnie Gross, a great friend of ours and of this blog. Bonnie, who teaches multimedia journalism at Florida Atlantic University, has been an invaluable help in boosting us into cyberspace.


Bonnie's also an intrepid cook and former food editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Dinner with Bonnie and her husband, David Blasco, always means lively conversation and a memorable meal in a delightful setting: Their dining room offers an expansive view of Fort Lauderdale's Middle River.


Usually, that is.


The view on our most recent visit was obscured by a driving rain that went on and on...and on. Welcome to summer in South Florida, when the nickname "Sunshine State" offers a lesson in ironic humor.


Here's the thing about Bonnie: She had decided to grill dinner long before the rain started -- and when Bonnie makes up her mind, that's that. So the rest of us stayed dry, sipping cocktails in the living room, while Bonnie braved a slanting rain that showed no respect for her umbrella.


She nailed it, too, plating up salmon filets done to a perfect turn -- an impressive feat in any weather.


There may be a lesson here in how to succeed through sheer determination. Or maybe not.


But there's certainly something to be said for friends who don't let a little thing like a torrential rain interfere with their hospitality.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This just in from Sosie Catchatoorian...

She’s looking for a specific lentil kufta recipe (one we haven’t posted), and we need your help finding it. Please read below, and if this sounds familiar to you - and if you have a recipe, please email robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com.
Thanks a million!

Sosie wrote:

“Hi Robyn,
I love looking at the Armenian Kitchen blog and find it very educational for a novice cook like me. My life has always revolved around food, family get togethers and fun.

I have been looking for a recipe that I believe is Anjartsi in origin. The pinch of this/handful of that mentality has made it impossible for me to replicate this. It is a lentil kufte (unlike the ones you have on your blog). It is similar to “meechegov kufte” (oval shaped stuffed meat kufte) but is made with potatoes. I believe the filling is also potatoes and onions but the difference between this and the ones on your blog is that it is also deep fried just like regular kufte.


Have you ever had this?
Any help would be appreciated.


Best,
Sosie”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Can our lamb burgers stand the heat of battle?


Last summer, we cooked up a plan to teach Americans a thing or two about lamb but wound up with egg on our face instead.

My bad, as the kids say.

I waited until the last minute to make a video entry for the American Lamb Board's annual grilling contest, and we got rained out.

This year, the calendar and the weather both cooperated. We're officially entered -- and our fingers will remain crossed until the winner is announced July 15.

We're particularly excited because this year's challenge is to make the "ultimate lamb burger."

That would be luleh kebab, right?

I mean, seriously! We sure couldn't think of anything better, so we stuck with a very basic recipe for Armenian ground lamb rolled into the traditional sausage-without-a-casing shape.

I have to say: It tasted pretty good to us!

Check out our entry video and let us know what you think.

Here's the recipe we followed:

Armenian Lamb Burgers (makes six portions)
1 1/4 pounds ground lamb shoulder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. allspice
3/4 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper

Also chop 1 medium onion and one bunch parsley and set aside.

Directions:
Add the seasonings to the lamb and mix thoroughly. Of course, you can adjust the seasonings to taste: Make a small patty and cook it on the stove to test the mix before proceeding.

Divide the meat into even portions and shape each by rolling between your hands.

Cook on a hot grill (charcoal rather than gas, if you can), turning frequently with tongs. Serve well done.

We like to grill veggies at the same time: tomato, squash, bell peppers.

Serve on lavash or other flat bread. Place each burger on a piece of bread, add a sprinkle of the onions and parsley, and wrap as you would any other sandwich. You can also wrap in some of the veggies.

Really, no other condiments are necessary. Unless you've really incinerated the meat, the lamb should be juicy enough to require no sauce.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Keeping Cool with Madzoon (plain yogurt)

With summer temperatures rising all across the globe, we thought we’d offer three of our favorite cool and refreshing madzoon recipes - no cooking required!


1. Tahn


Add enough water to plain yogurt so that it’s thin enough to drink. Stir to remove any lumps.


Crush a little dried mint (fresh can be used as well, but bruise the leaves a little to release more of that minty flavor), sprinkle a little salt - optional - and add an ice cube.

2. Chilled Yogurt-Cucumber Soup (Jajik)

Yield: about 4 servings

Ingredients:


1 long, seedless cucumber, washed and peeled
2 cups plain yogurt
½ cup cold water
1 clove garlic, squeezed through a garlic press, or hand-mashed (optional)
Dash salt
2 tsp. crushed dried mint

Directions:


1. Cut the cucumber in quarters, lengthwise. Slice each section into thin pieces.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt with the water.
3. To the yogurt, stir in cucumbers, garlic, if using, salt, and mint. To keep this very cold, add a few ice cubes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
4. To serve, stir, ladle into bowls, and add an ice cube in each bowl. Garnish with fresh sprigs of mint.

3. Yogurt “Cheese”

1. Line a large strainer with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Set the strainer on top of a bowl or large liquid measuring cup.
2. Place 2 cups (more or less) of plain yogurt into the lined strainer.
3. Cover the top of the strainer with plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator - bowl and all- for up to 24 hours. The whey (liquid portion of the yogurt) will drip into the bowl. What will be left in the strainer is the curd, “yogurt cheese”.
4. The yield will be at least half the original amount of yogurt you started with.

Here are a few ways to use yogurt cheese:

* As a spread (add your favorite seasonings)
* As a dip with olive oil
* Shape into small balls and coat with sesame seeds, chopped parsley, zataar, etc. (makes a nice appetizer)
* Mix with pasta to create a cream-like sauce
* Blend with sun-dried tomatoes or red roasted peppers in food processor, then spread on crackers, pita bread
* When making tuna or chicken salad, use instead of mayonnaise

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How we celebrated the Fourth of July

Our friends Hap Erstein and Elaine Oksner host an annual 4th of July celebration at their home, which is conveniently located near a park that provides a pretty amazing fireworks display.


We happily participate in the festivities whenever we’re in town. Each guest brings a dish to add to our hosts' impressive repertoire of party fare.

Hap suggested we bring a recipe we would post on our website..... well, naturally!

This is what I made:
Lentil Salad with Feta and Tomatoes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:


2 cups dried lentils
juice of 1 ½ lemons (or about 1/4 cup)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
dash of Aleppo red pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup onion, thinly sliced
½ cup reduced-fat Feta cheese, crumbled or diced
2 Roma (plum) tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Directions:


1. Place dried lentils in a 6 quart pot. Cover with water to about 2 inches above the lentils. Bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes or until lentils are tender but not mushy. Rinse lentils with cold water in a colander; drain well and set aside.


2. For the dressing: whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic in a large mixing bowl.


3. Add the lentils, onion, Feta cheese, and tomatoes to the dressing, tossing gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.


4. Adjust seasonings, if necessary before serving.


5. Serve on a bed of salad greens with tomato wedges and toasted pita triangles, if desired.

NOTE: Making this salad ahead of time will allow the dressing flavors to intensify.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday America!

A year has passed since we first posted this story, but felt it was worthy of posting again - especially since we've acquired a much larger audience. (Thanks everyone!)
Enjoy your holiday weekend with family and friends, but please take the time to read the Armenian connection to America's history.
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The Fourth of July certainly isn't an Armenian holiday -- but there were Armenians in America even before the Revolution.
In fact, the first Armenians to arrive were among the first Europeans to settle in the New World, according to Prof. Dennis Papazian, founding director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan.
Papazian writes that one "Martin ye Armenian" turned up in Jamestown -- the first permanent English settlement in The Colonies -- by 1619.

Two more Armenians (one of them named George) arrived there in 1655 at the invitation of the governor of Virginia. Both were experts in silkworm breeding.

Papazian notes that the efforts to raise silkworms apparently fizzled, but George received 4,000 pounds of tobacco in return for his efforts.

We have no further information on these Armenian-American pioneers. Strictly conjecture: Could they have been Robyn's relatives? After all, her maternal grandfather was a silk weaver from Musa Dagh.

Robyn and I haven't been to Jamestown, but we did visit Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg some years ago. I remember being struck by the presence of a backgammon set in one tableau.

Now I understand!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Discovering the sole of an ancient nation


Did you read that archaeologists recently discovered the world's oldest leather shoe in a cave in Armenia?

Scientists say it dates back at least 5,000 years and is surprising well preserved.

It even looks more or less like a shoe. Not the most stylish shoe, perhaps, but sensible enough. It's made of a single piece of leather, laced over the top and clearly fitted to a human foot. In fact, it still has the imprint of someone's big toe.

Not only is it old, it's clearly a model for European shoes that followed many centuries later. Scientists will be studying this for a long time for clues about migration as well as cultural currents.

The big distinction from other known footwear from these times is that the Armenian shoe is genuine cow hide, not fiber. The news stories suggest this is a sign of advanced civilization. We agree, of course, but from a different perspective.

Where there's cow hide, there's beef.

On one hand, we're a little surprised that the ancient Armenians didn't make their shoes out of lamb hide. (We've had some kebab that was certainly tough enough.) But we're pretty sure our ancestors wouldn't go to the trouble of butchering a cow just to make shoes.

We figure that if they poke around a while, the same archaeologists will find evidence of ancient khash, the Armenian soup made of boiled cow's feet.

By the way, this was reportedly the same cave where archaeologists dug up the world's oldest known human brain. Now we know it was a brain smart enough to figure out how to get dinner and a pair of shoes from one cow.
At least, we assume there was a pair. So far, only one shoe has turned up.
We'll just have to wait for the other Armenian shoe to drop.