Sunday, April 30, 2017

Vegetable Gouvedge - an Armenian comfort food!


Doug and I are just back from a 14-day transatlantic cruise. We left from Fort Lauderdale, FL’s Port Everglades (a short 40-minute drive from our home) aboard the Crown Princess. We sailed the high-seas, with over 3,000 other passengers, for seven days before reaching our first port – Azores Islands (Portugal). Seven days later we reached our final destination – Southampton, England, after having visited Lisbon, Portugal; Bilbao, Spain; and Le Havre, France. Three additional days were spent in London after the cruise.

We were looking forward to our stay in London – except that Doug contracted the flu while on board ship creating some tense moments. Our time in London turned into a recovery period for him - our play tickets were forfeited, an out-of-London excursion and a planned visit to see a friend in London were cancelled. The good news is, Doug had a chance to rest for the journey home.

Flying back to the US (via JFK airport) wasn’t too bad, but getting through customs and trying to make it to our connecting flight home was more challenging than expected. We decided then and there that we didn’t need to take this kind of trip ever again. 
Don't get me wrong, we did enjoy most of our trip. Next time, however, it will be shorter and keep us closer to home. 

The lesson we learned? Start and end a cruise from Port Everglades, FL – which, for us, would mean no flying at all!

What we missed most during those 17 days was Armenian food. While in London we managed to track down a Middle Eastern restaurant one block from our hotel. As soon as Doug felt up to it, we wandered over to this hole-in-the-wall establishment and had a delightful lunch – the first meal he was able to eat in days.
Our Yalanchi Appetizer 
Doug's Bamya (okra) with Lamb
My Lule Kebab Platter
Once home, I went to our farmer’s market and gathered as many locally grown veggies as I could carry, and made a huge tray of Vegetable Gouvedge - one of our family’s Dikranagerdtsi recipes, but without the traditional lamb.
Our homemade Vegetable Gouvedge

We found it very comforting – eating homemade Armenian food in our own dining room – just the two of us.

Vegetable Gouvedge
Yields about 6 servings

Ingredients:
2 medium-sized eggplants, medium dice
2 medium-sized zucchini, medium dice
1 small orange pepper, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 (15-oz.) can diced tomato with its juice
¼ cup olive oil
2 to 3 Tbsp. red pepper paste (available in Middle Eastern stores) NOTE: If unavailable, use 2 to 3 Tbsp. tomato paste mixed with 1 tsp. paprika 
1 tsp. dried oregano (dried mint and/or basil can also be added.)
Salt, black pepper, and Aleppo red pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Lightly spray a 13”x9” baking pan with vegetable spray.
3. Place all of the cut vegetables in a large mixing bowl.
4. In a smaller bowl, mix together the diced tomatoes and juice, red pepper paste, oil, and seasonings. Stir until blended. Pour mixture over the vegetables, tossing to coat all of the vegetables.
5. Spread the vegetables evenly in the prepared baking pan. Cover the pan with foil, and bake in the preheated oven for one hour.
6. Uncover, and bake 30 minutes more.
7. This can be served hot or at room temperature.

Note: This recipe can be made up to 2 days in advance. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What makes coffee Armenian? We do, just by drinking it.

Our YouTube video showing How to Make Armenian Coffee is approaching 50,000 views, and the comments keep coming.

Most have been enthusiastic but some have been downright nasty, and others genuinely obscene. This sure contradicts the idea that there’s nothing like a cup of coffee to bring people together.

The complainers just can’t swallow the idea of Armenian coffee, which is simply the coffee Armenians drink.

As our video makes clear, all cultures of the Near and Middle East consume remarkably similar versions of the same finely ground coffee heated to a frothy finish in a copper pot.

When Greeks make it, it’s Greek coffee. When Turks make it, it’s Turkish coffee. We should probably all call it Ethiopian coffee, given the likely origin of the venerable bean.

I don’t really care whose flag is stenciled on the wrapper, but I do care what’s inside. Despite its popularity around the world, good Armenian-style coffee isn’t easy to find in much of this country.

Even at a Middle Eastern specialty store, you risk getting something that’s been on the shelf since the fall of Troy.

I was grumbling about this dilemma a few weeks ago after finding the cupboard bare at afternoon coffee time. Forays to local shops turned up a couple of choices that were no more than passable. Then an mail popped up from Hrag Kalebjian, “co-owner of Henry's House Of Coffee, and third generation coffee roaster in San Francisco.”

He’d seen our website as well as our YouTube video and offered to send us some fresh-roasted Armenian coffee. It was if he’d somehow sensed that a fellow Armenian on the other side of the continent was thirsty! How could I refuse?

Hrag was in fact kind enough to send three varieties of Armenian coffee: light, dark and half-and-half. We agreed to give each a taste test and relay the results to both him and to you, our readers.

I’m delighted to report that all three were excellent: remarkably smooth with no bitterness—and absolutely no trace of lingering acidity that can be hauntingly familiar to patrons of certain American coffee chains.

We all have our own frames of reference, but here’s mine: Henry’s Armenian Coffee compares to the tin-can grocery store variety as a good 12-year-old single malt compares to no-name bar Scotch.

Robyn doesn’t drink Scotch, so her verdict was more direct: “Wow. This is excellent.” We both agreed that our favorite was the dark roast, with the half-and-half a close second. I liked the depth of both better than the light version.

Your preference might well differ. Hrag says the darker coffee is generally favored by Lebanese Armenians, and the light by Armenians from Iran—but we all have definite opinions. (Surprise!)

Interestingly, there’s no difference in caffeine content among the three varieties although many who try the light version think it’s super-charged because the density of the roast allows more coffee in each scoop.

You can learn more about the subtleties and skill that go into a good cup of soorj by checking out the Henry’s House of Coffee web site. You’ll also find ordering information as well as pricing.

As for what distinguishes Armenian coffee from any other, Hrag offers this answer: “In general, Armenian Coffee refers to the actual grind size (powder sugar consistency) and not necessarily the country of origin, or even the type of coffee."

Henry's dark roast, for example, is made from a blend of beans from Central and South America. "You could technically take any type of coffee, grind it extra fine, and call it Armenian Coffee,” he said.

I guess you could do that. But I think it's better when an Armenian does the grinding—and best of all, when this Armenian does the sipping!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Christine Datian's 'Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup' is sure to please!

Christine Datian's Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup
Ready for another special recipe by Christine Datian? This time, she’s whipped-up a pot of tantalizing tomato-bulgur soup – Armenian style. (Anything with bulgur in it makes it Armenian, as far as we’re concerned!)

Chris notes that this recipe is great for vegetarians and/or Lent by using vegetable broth or water as the base in place of chicken broth.

Thanks, Chris, for sharing your recipe with us!

Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
6-7 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 cup fine grain bulgur
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large lemon

Garnishing options: Paprika or Aleppo pepper, fresh chopped tomatoes, parsley and mint, and a drizzle of Olive oil

 Preparation:

 Bring broth (or water) to a full boil over moderate heat in a large pot.

 Meanwhile, in a small pan, sauté the onions and bell pepper in olive oil for 5-8 minutes until the onions are golden brown.  Set aside.

 Add the tomato paste to the boiling broth.  Stir until tomato paste is distributed evenly before adding the bulgur, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine, then add the cooked onions and bell pepper.

 Cover pot, lower heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring a few times before serving.  Serve hot soup with a little lemon juice, and top with paprika or Aleppo pepper; garnish with chopped tomatoes, parsley and mint.  Drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

 *Christine's recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee Newspaper, Sunset and Cooking Light Magazines, and at thearmeniankitchen.com
 Go to: http://www.myrecipes.com/search/site/Datian or http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/



Friday, April 7, 2017

Apricot Almond Cookie Bites

With the Lenten season coming to an end, I’ve set my sights on finding a dessert recipe that would have just enough sweetness to top off anyone’s Easter meal.

Christine Coyle, blogger of Hye Thyme Café, posted a recipe for Apricot Almond Bar Cookies which sounded pretty close to what I had in mind, so I decided to try it. I tweaked it a bit to suit our taste buds and came up with a mighty-fine two-bite dessert  that’s a little sweet with a hint of tart – perfect with a cup of coffee or tea! 
Apricot Almond Cookie Bites

Apricot Almond Cookie Bites
adapted from Chris Coyle’s recipe at Hye Thyme Café

Yield: about 32 - 1 ½ inch squares

Ingredients:

10 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1 stick, plus 2 Tbsp.)
2 cups light brown sugar, loosely packed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dried apricots, diced
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove saucepan from heat to cool.

Once butter-sugar mixture is cool, stir in the vanilla extract and beaten eggs until well-combined. Transfer the butter mixture to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour into the butter mixture, beating after each addition. The batter will be quite thick.

Apricot bits coated in flour
Coat the chopped apricots with 1 Tbsp. flour to help keep the pieces from clumping together.
Finished cookie batter

Fold the apricots and chopped almonds into the batter until evenly distributed.

Skillet-toasted almonds
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9”x 12” baking pan. Using a rubber spatula, spread the batter evenly into the baking pan.
Batter evenly spread in baking pan

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
Place the baking pan on a cooling rack. Cool completely before cutting into 1 ½-inch squares.

For an attractive presentation, place each square in a mini muffin paper liner and arrange on a platter.