Monday, January 30, 2012

A Mysterious Kitchen Tool to Some, But Not to Me!

Every once in a while I scan certain blogs just to see what’s new in the world of food. When I came across a post on ‘Taste of Beirut’ recently, I became very excited. Joumana, the Taste of Beirut blogger, wrote about a ‘mysterious kitchen tool’ where she asked her readers if they could identify it. Immediately I knew it was a manti-cutting tool, and that it was a MUST-HAVE in my Armenian kitchen. Before I had a chance to send my thought, someone else commented that it looked like a manti rolling tool. And it was – the Mantimatic! (How could you not love that name?? Mantimatic…it just rolls off your tongue!)
The Mantimatic (Image from TasteofBeirut.com)

I posted my own comment to Joumana  asking where – in the United States – would I  be able purchase one. (Joumana bought hers in Beirut.) She kindly wrote back suggesting I might find one in an Armenian store in Los Angeles or Glendale, CA. Well, since I live in south Florida, making a trip to California to search for a mantimatic was simply out-of-the-question. Instead I put out my feelers to cousins and friends who live on the west coast. The results of those inquiries were unsuccessful, so I contacted Armenian-Middle Eastern stores and wholesalers from South Florida to New York City to San Francisco and came up empty handed.
Now it’s my turn to ask my readers for help:

If you'll recall, my first try at making manti wasn't all that succuessful - it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either. Perhaps making dough from scratch and having a precise cutting device, would improve my next attempt.

With that in mind, can anyone reading this PLEASE tell me where -or- how  can I purchase a mantimatic?
Any thoughts and/or  information regarding a source would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks everyone!

Friday, January 27, 2012

'Made in Armenia Direct' Links Armenia's Craftspeople with the World


I had the privilege of meeting guest speaker, Gail O’Reilly at a recent Women’s Guild meeting at St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton, FL.

So now I’d like to introduce Gail and her business to you:
Gail Talanian O’Reilly is creator of a most unique business venture – Made in Armenia Direct, designed from the heart, to ‘link Armenia’s craftspeople with the world’.

Gail, who is 100% Armenian, and her husband Richard, an ABC – Armenian By Choice, traveled to Armenia for the first time in 1991 with the Armenian Assembly of America to celebrate the opening of the housing manufacturing plant. She was emotionally charged by this visit – appreciating what her ancestors had gone through in the early 1900’s to make their family’s life possible in the United States, and stirring inside herself a heart-felt sadness for the residents she met still living there under very poor conditions – especially after the earthquake of 1988 and the collapse of communism.
After numerous visits to Armenia, Gail was convinced that in order to help make Armenia a thriving, independent nation, there had to be a good reason for the residents to want to stay and work there.

With the establishment of MIAD (Made in Armenia Direct) in 2000, Gail has been working with crafts people to, as she stated: “… assist in the mindset change while providing them with a way to live with dignity in their homeland – AND- at the same time introduce their quality products to the global market.”
Gail continued, “MIAD has been refusing to pay bribes (which was a typical practice), has been identifying craftspeople, teaching quality control and accountability, finding the ‘right’ markets in Armenia and in the U.S., and developing trust. The main idea behind MIAD is for the craftspeople, designers and entrepreneurs to find some financial security and independence so they can support themselves, their families and extended families (while still calling Armenia home).”
My MIAD Christmas gifts
MIAD logo on back of box
As I listened to Gail speak, I proudly realized that I already have a few MIAD items in my home! Over the past few years, my husband, who loves to shop via the internet, had purchased some MIAD Christmas gifts for me – a lovely filigree basket, a carved wooden box with a swivel top, and a clay Christmas tree ornament in the shape of a saint.


Take a look at MIAD's products online, but also know that MIAD can fulfill custom orders as well, for example: darosigs (favors) for weddings, hand-carved family crests, and more.

Flyer for St. David Food Festival
For those fortunate enough to be in Boca Raton, Florida the weekend of February 25-26, Made in Armenia Direct will have merchandise available for sale at St. David Armenian Church Food Festival to be held in their fellowship hall.
If you’d like to support a business that is truly trying to make a difference in Armenia, place your trust in – and place an order with - Made in Armenia Direct!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Black Beluga Lentils, our latest discovery

Archer Farms Black Beluga Lentils
Doug and I don’t usually shop for groceries at Target Super Stores, but we found ourselves wandering through their grocery aisles before the holidays making note of some rather interesting products. One such item was a pouch of black beluga lentils, already cooked, and according to the microwave instructions on the pouch, ready-to-eat in 90 seconds. We’d never encountered these before, so feeling adventurous, in our cart it went.

NOTE: Black beluga lentils are petite, black lentils which have a resemblance to beluga caviar. They’re perfect in soups and salads, and are a good source of protein and fiber.
At the beginning of the new year, I reorganized  my pantry and noticed the black beluga lentil pouch sitting there, begging to be used.

It was a soup- kind- of- day, so I decided to make– you guessed it- Black Beluga Lentil Soup. Yield: about 5 to 6 servings
Here’s what I did:

·         finely chopped a small onion, minced a clove of garlic and  sautéed them in a wee-bit of olive oil in a 3-quart pot - until the onions softened.

·         poured in a 32-oz. box of low-sodium chicken broth.

·         added about 1 cup of frozen, chopped spinach, some seasonings, and let it all come to a boil.

·         reduced the heat, added the pouch of pre-cooked beluga lentils, partially covered the pot, and allowed the soup to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Served with a small salad, this made a perfect lunch. 
Just so you know:  the 2-serving pouch contained more than enough lentils for the soup recipe.

Would I buy Black Beluga Lentils again? Definitely!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The search for Zadig Kahke continues...

In an effort  to fulfill  Hermine  Kabbendjian’s request for Zadig Kahke, I turned my search over to one of my brand new cookbooks, ‘Armenian Cuisine ‘ by Aline Kamakian and Barbara Drieskens. In it I found a really delicious-sounding recipe called Zadigi Kahke. I emailed the recipe to Hermine, who said it sounded great, but her family didn’t use farina in their version. I’ll keep on searching for that perfect recipe for Hermine, but in the meantime, Aline’s recipe sounded so, yummy, I contacted her to see if she’d allow me to post it for you. Her co-author, Barbara wrote back giving me full permission to share Aline’s mother’s Zadigi Kahke with all of you.

If any of you try making Aline’s recipe before The Armenian Kitchen does, we'd would love to hear how  yours turned out. Simply send an email to: robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com.
Zadigi Kahke (from the cookbook “Armenian Cuisine”)
Yield: About 50 cookies

Cookie Ingredients:
6 cups flour, sifted
2 cups farina, sifted
1 cup butter, melted
½ cup sunflower oil
½ cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 tsp. ground mahlab
1 ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. dry granular yeast
1 egg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
A dash of salt

Glaze:
1 egg
2 Tbsp. milk

Garnish:
1 Tbsp. raw sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. black cumin

Directions:
1. Using a stand mixer, blend one fourth of the flour and farina with all of the other cookie ingredients. Mix until well-combined.
2. Gradually add the rest of the flour and farina. Knead the dough with your hands until it is smooth.
3. Divide the dough into several balls and place them in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then with a clean towel. Let dough rise for 2 hours.
4. Roll balls of dough into fine sausage-shapes that can be formed into twists, rings or braids.
5. Place shaped dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with egg glaze made by mixing together one egg and 2 Tbsp. milk. Sprinkle tops with either sesame seeds or black cumin.
6. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven until cookies are golden.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sini Kufteh (Oven-Baked Kufteh)

Baked Sini Kufteh
In the past the Armenian Kitchen has prepared kufteh in two ways – heart-healthy, and kufteh deconstructed. One method we haven’t made – until now -  is sini kufteh. Think of it as a kufteh casserole which is fairly easy to make and is great for a buffet.


Sini Kufteh (Oven-baked kufteh)
Shell Ingredients:
Mixing shell ingredients
1 1/2 cups fine (#1) bulgur
1 cup lukewarm water (or just enough to cover bulgur)

2 lb. finely ground beef (or lamb, turkey) - not too lean
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Aleppo red pepper
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Meechoog (Filling)
Filling (Meechoog):
1 lb. ground beef, lamb or turkey – not too lean
3 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. Aleppo red pepper
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ to 1/3 cup pine nuts

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions for the shell:                                                   
1. Place the bulgur in a large bowl and cover with warm water. Allow bulgur to absorb the water to soften. Drain excess water, if necessary.
2. Place meat in a large bowl.  Add the bulgur and seasonings to the meat, mixing with your hands until well-combined. If the mixture seems a bit dry, add a little warm water, and mix it in with your hands until you reach your desired the consistency.
3. Divide the mixture into two equal parts. Set aside until ready to use.

Directions for the filling:
1. In a large skillet, cook the meat over medium heat until it is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat. Remove meat from pan.
2. Using the same skillet, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Add onions and cook until onions become soft. Add the seasonings, parsley and cooked meat; cook another 2 minutes; remove from heat and allow filling to cool. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Stir in pine nuts. Set filling aside until ready to use.

Assembling and baking the Sini Kufteh:
1. Use a 13”x9” baking pan, or a large (10”) round pan or pie pan. Lightly grease the bottom of the pan.
2. Press one portion of the shell mixture into the bottom of the pan, flattening it evenly to fit the shape of the pan.
3. Evenly spread all of the filling over the bottom layer of the shell mixture.

Rolled out top layer of sini kufteh
4. NOTE: Keep a bowl of warm water on hand for this step. Using a large piece of parchment paper or waxed paper, flatten the remaining portion of the shell mixture with your hands or a rolling pin so that it will fit the shape of the pan. Lift the paper with flattened topping and carefully invert it over the filling in the baking pan; gently peel the paper away and lightly press down the top layer. If the top layer cracks or separates, dip your fingers in the bowl of warm water and press the topping back together. Tuck in the edges.
Side view of sini kufteh layers (unbaked)

5. Using a knife that’s been dipped in water, score the top layer into squares or diamond- shaped portions. Brush surface with a little olive oil or melted butter.
6. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

Serve with plain yogurt, and a refreshing chopped salad!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Armenian Christmas Family Tradition is Born

At the end of last December, after recovering from the joy and of hosting Christmas with family and friends, I received a most-interesting request from recently wed Lindsay Peckham of Weymouth, MA.
Lindsay, grandmother Rencie, and husband Jay Peckham

Lindsay wrote:
“I just recently came upon your blog and couldn't be happier!  My paternal grandmother is half Armenian which only makes me a small percentage, but since I was very young I have always had an interest in everything Armenian!  I guess you could say I feel more Armenian than I actually am!  Every year - since before I was born - my family has had an Armenian cook-out where we indulge in all the wonderful Armenian food.  A few years ago my grandmother taught me how to make kourabia and now I have turned it into my own Christmas tradition making it for family and friends.  The reason for my email...besides telling you how much I appreciate your great blog...is to ask for some advice.  I know that Armenian Christmas is on January 6th.  My family has never done anything on that day, but now that I am married I was thinking that it would be nice to start my own tradition.  I would like to host a small Armenian brunch that weekend and hopefully it will become an annual event.  Do you have any suggestions of some things I could make for this occasion?  We have a small apartment and an even smaller kitchen (literally no counter space)!  I'd like to make a few different things, but since I have limited space, nothing overly complicated.  Any suggestions or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!  I look forward to reading more of your blog and trying out some of the many recipes.”


I love requests like this!
Lindsay mentioned that her family gathering was to take place on Sunday, January 8th  so, I put on my thinking cap, poured myself a steaming cup of mint tea, and gave it some thought. I had to keep in mind her key points – recently married, starting her own annual family tradition, Armenian Christmas brunch, small kitchen, no counter space, nothing complicated.
My suggestions included: a mezza platter with basturma, string cheese, pita bread; nevik , parsley- onions- and -eggs, and few other favorites. You know me, I had to ask Lindsay if she would share her result with us.
On the evening of January 8th, after her guests had gone, Lindsay filled me in on her gathering:
“ After consulting your blog and hearing your feedback I decided to make the Pomegranate and Pear Salad, Cheese Beoreg ( my grandmother's recipe which uses muenster cheese ), Parsley- Onion- Eggs (which I scrambled), Armenian Walnut Cake (it was very simple to make), and Kourabia (I used my grandmother's recipe which is a family recipe, and one of my favorite things to make. Plus, making these cookies really makes me feel connected with my Armenian side. And my husband who is not Armenian at all LOVES them!). In addition, I bought some bastourma, Armenian string cheese, and pita bread. My father also brought some homemade lahmejune which we cut into smaller portions, so everyone could try it. “
Mezza Platter

Grandmother Rencie's Kourabia cookies

Pomegranate and Pear Salad
Lindsay began her food preparation on the Thursday before the event, carefully planning her work-strategy. With hard work and great determination, her first-annual Armenian Christmas brunch was ready in time for her guests’ arrival.
The Final Outcome:
"The Armenian Christmas brunch was a great success! When my parents and grandmother, Rencie, showed up they were really impressed! I've never been much of a cook, so seeing how much (food) I made was quite a shock. While everything was a huge hit, I think the most talked about item was the Pomegranate and Pear salad. Not only was it colorful, but the mint and lime gave it such a great taste. Absolutely delicious! The string cheese was also good. My father, grandmother, and I had never had it before. I can definitely see how that could make a good snack item! It was so much fun pulling it apart! My sister-in-law and her husband and my brother-in-law were also in attendance. I was thrilled that they tried and liked everything. I'm looking forward to when my husband Jay and I have a bigger place and can invite more of our family and friends. But, this will definitely be an annual tradition no matter where we live!"

The Armenian Kitchen is honored to have had a small part in the establishment of the Peckham Family's annual Armenian Christmas tradition. Thanks, Lindsay, for this opportunity, and for allowing us to share your first-ever Armenian Christmas event!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nevik Soup? Why not?

How many of you made Nevik for Armenian Christmas Eve this year?

In keeping with the season, I went to a new farmer’s market on the morning of Jan. 5th and bought the most incredible bunch of Swiss chard I'd ever seen. It was so huge I had to carry it with two arms, just as you would carry two dozen long-stemmed roses.

When it was time to prepare the Nevik, I trimmed away the thick stems, washed each enormous leaf separately to make sure any sandy grit was completely washed away. I cut the leaves into manageable, bite-sized pieces, rinsed them again, and spun them dry in my ever-so-handy salad spinner. I made the Nevik as usual, but was surprised to see so little final product in the pot. It’s amazing how such an enormous amount on chard can cook down into almost nothing! It looked like a bunch of chick peas with a hint of chard. That just wasn’t going to do!

Nevik Soup!
Are you familiar with the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention”?  While examining my meager pot of Nevik, I came up with a plan, and created Nevik Soup.
Here’s what I did…

To the already prepared Nevik, I added:
1 medium, finely chopped onion and 1 clove minced garlic which were sautéed in olive oil
1-32 oz. box of reduced sodium beef broth                                      
 -and-
about 4 Tbsp. tomato paste

I mixed these ingredients all together, adjusted the seasonings, and allowed it to cook  gently for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring on occasion.
When all was said and done, the Nevik Soup was served with wedges of lemon and crusty bread providing a very satisfying, delicious meal.


Monday, January 9, 2012

I may go flat broke buying flat bread, but it might be worth it!

I learned this habit from my father and I'm not about to un-learn it any time soon: When I'm grocery shopping, I reach first and ask the price later—if I ask at all.

Robyn does not find this amusing.

Case in point, I was headed toward the pita-bread display at our local Middle Eastern store when I spotted a shelf loaded with Armenian cracker bread. I plucked a bag in a flash and placed it gently on our growing check-out pile.

When Robyn got a look at the receipt on the way home, she informed me that I'd just paid $16.50 for a little under a pound of bread. I instantly corrected her: I did not pay for bread at all. I paid for a trip back in time.

My mother didn't bake this sort of bread because she baked everything in the soft, butter-rich style of  her mother's Dikranagertsi family. But her father's sister, Aunt Veron, paid homage to her native Kharpert by cranking out a constant stream of crisp sheets flecked with brown bubbles.

I observed the ritual as a boy during our annual visits to her home in Somerville, Massachusetts. Aunt Veron—Emmeh, as my mother called her—trudged down to the basement at the crack of dawn to fire up her old wood-burning stove. She insisted the new-fangled kitchen stove just wasn't hot enough for good bread.

She carried tray after tray up the steep steps, keeping up a constant conversation with her cat in Armenian.

I gobbled that bread as fast as she could bake it, and I think it made her as happy as it made me. I'm not going to tell you this bread was better than my mother's, but it was every bit as special.

Now a good 50 years later, I'm sitting in my living room in Boynton Beach, Florida eating Armenian cracker bread and thinking about Emmeh and her cat and about the grandfather I never met and about the far-off city he left more than a century ago.

That's a lot of joy for $16.50.

Footnote: Nostalgia aside, you can't beat Armenian cracker bread. It's the perfect snap-crackle accompaniment to Armenian cheese, and it's just as good crumbled into stew or soup. A sprinkle of water or gravy softens it up nicely if you prefer.

Or just take a bite and wait a moment. Proper Armenian cracker bread melts in your mouth.

Americans seem to have caught on, as flat bread is all the rage lately. But they haven't quite got it right. A lot of what passes for flat bread is wooden or (even worse) leaden.

Luckily, my $16.50 bought the real article, genuine Armenian bread from Valley Lavosh in Fresno, California.

Even luckier, while I was busy eating bread some smart person invented the Internet, so I was able to discover that the Valley folks will ship the very same 15-inch rounds for less than half what I paid in the store.

I'll remember that next time I get nostalgic about Armenian bread, assuming I don't spot a display within reach first.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Merry Armenian Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all! Don't forget...it's Anoush Abour time.

Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetsav
(Christ is born and revealed among us)
Orhnial eh haydnootiunun Krisdosee
(Blessed is the revelation of Christ)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You Can Never Have too Many Cookbooks!

My Christmas gifts - 3 new Cookbooks!
My passion for collecting cookbooks is widely-known, especially Armenian cookbooks or any that reflect a similar cuisine. Even in today's electronic age, I enjoy holding a cookbook in my hand, turning it page by page.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to find not one, but THREE new cookbooks under the Christmas tree to add to my growing collection. (Santa – a.k.a. my husband - really hit the mark this year… I wonder how he knew!)

The first package I opened revealed Flavors with History – Armenian Cuisine’, from the AGBU that was translated from Spanish into English. According to Diana Kaprielian Sarafian, Chairlady of the Ladies Committee of the AGBU, the purpose in preparing this cookbook, was “to reach young generations, including those that not knowing their predecessors’ language, identify themselves with the Armenian culture through the flavors that were captured and kept in their taste memory since childhood.” Kaprielain Sarafian goes on to say, “by publishing the book, we also express our recognition to the Armenian people’s survival, to their nationalism, their faith, and respect for their traditions and customs.”  
The AGBU cookbook is arranged according to geographic regions each with a menu representing that area. For example: Urfa, a brief history of the region, then its menu with photos - in this case, borani (chickpea and spinach stew), semsek (open fried pie) and mamunia (syrupy cinnamon semolina).

The second cookbook, Armenian Cuisine’, was co-authored by Aline Kamakian, co-owner of Mayrig restaurant in Beirut, and Barbara Drieskens. Besides a fabulous assortment of delectable recipes and mouth-watering photos, the authors offer insight to a bit of history from numerous regions which represent the homelands of those who contributed to the making of this cookbook.
My third gift is a Persian cookbook, Persian Cuisine – Traditional, Regional, and Modern Foods, by M.R. Ghanoonparvar. In his introduction, Mr. Ghanoonparvar states, “The cuisine of every nation is a way of celebrating culture.”  With beautiful visuals and clear, concise recipes, I’m looking forward to trying these recipes –adding an Armenian twist, of course!

I’ll be keeping busy in the New Year reading every page of each cookbook, and testing as many recipes as I can manage.
I thank the authors and cooks who made these cookbooks possible – and my husband who continues to encourage and fulfill my need to know more about Armenian cuisine.