Friday, September 29, 2017

Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup by Christine Datian

It’s officially autumn, at least according to the calendar. Eventually the temperature will drop into a more comfortable zone. When it does, you’ll want to ward-off the chill with a nice, hot bowl of Christine Datian’s Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup, which was recently featured in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator ( with a few minor changes).
So, gather your ingredients, and head for the kitchen.

Christine Datian's Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup


Armenian Tomato and Bulgur Soup by Christine Datian
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 large white onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded, finely chopped
8-9 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1/2 cup fine grain bulgur
1/2 cup low-sodium tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice of one large lemon (more to taste)
Olive oil
Garnish with choice of yogurt, paprika, Aleppo pepper, fresh chopped tomatoes, parsley and mint, and a drizzle of olive oil- or - maybe a dollop of plain yogurt!

Preparation:
1. In a small pan, sauté the onions, garlic, and bell pepper in olive oil for 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.  Set aside.
2. In a large pot, bring the broth to a full boil over moderate heat.
3. Add the tomato paste to the boiling broth. Stir until paste is distributed evenly before adding the bulgur, tomato sauce, spices and lemon juice.  Stir, then add the cooked onions, garlic and bell pepper, and bring to a boil again.
4. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, stirring soup a few times before serving.  Garnish as desired.

Note: To make this a hearty main dish, add small lamb or beef meatballs to this soup when cooking.

See recipe below from The Armenian Kitchen for Lamb Meatballs.

Lamb Meatballs

Ingredients:
    ¾ lb. ground lamb (ground beef or ground turkey may be substituted)
    3 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/4 tsp. Aleppo red pepper, or paprika
    Kosher salt and pepper to taste
   
Directions:
1. In a mixing bowl, add the ground lamb, chopped parsley, lemon juice and seasonings. Mix gently using your hands until well-combined.
2. Shape into small (1/2" to 3/4”) balls until all of the mixture has been used.
3. Drop the meatballs into the soup as it cooks in step # 4. Stir occasionally. Serve as directed above.



Friday, September 22, 2017

Montreal - a French city with a Middle Eastern twist!

After a 6-week excursion to NJ, upstate NY, and Montreal, we’re finally back in Florida. I’m relieved to report our home – and surroundings in general - escaped the worst of Hurricane Irma. Other parts of the state, however, were not as fortunate.

Our hearts go out to areas which have suffered severely from recent storms, wild fires, earthquakes, and whatever else Mother Nature has ‘dished out’.

We are truly feeling blessed.

Doug and I stayed a week longer in the Catskills than we’d planned, due to Irma. When we learned our home had no electricity, we felt no need to rush back, since the house was standing and the roof was intact.

Doug suggested we visit Montreal, a short 300 miles from the Catskills. He’d been suggesting this trip for the past 40 years (He wanted to go there on our honeymoon, but I had other ideas – I won!)
I’m happy I agreed to go this time.

It took us 10-hours by train from Hudson, NY – many stops along the way, plus a 2-hour delay at the border.  We chose to stay at the Best Western Ville - Marie Hotel and Suites, located near McGill University, museums, loads of restaurants and things to do.

Most travelers visit Montreal to experience French dining, language, visitor highlights such at Notre Dame, and the decidedly French ambiance of Old Montreal. We did all of that with the 2-day Hop-on/Hop-off tour, but were also intrigued by the fact that there were so many Middle Eastern establishments in the area.

Our hotel offered an on-site Lebanese restaurant, Zawedeh. The staff was great, and the food was pretty good. Our favorite dinner was the Shish Taouk (chicken kebab) served with toum, a fluffy garlic sauce or puree. (See recipe below.) There’s also Café Castel on the premises which caters to students with specialty coffee, sandwiches and sweet treats. We were told the café also serves lahmajoun – in season. (Funny, we didn’t realize there was a ‘season’ for lahmajoun!) 

Needless to say, many of the hotel staff are Lebanese, but we did find one Armenian, Garo, manning the front desk on the late shift. We were treated very well by all.

Elie, one of our dining room servers (and trained chef), Mary - also dining room staff, Brahim and Mike, both at the concierge desk, tipped us off to many sights including an amazing Middle Eastern market, Adonis, and to a couple of good lahmajoun spots – all an easy walk from our hotel.

Our visit to Adonis was an eye-opener! The store is huge and stocked with cases filled with the most incredible prepared foods – kibbe (kufte); meat, spinach, and cheese turnovers –(boregs); mini, medium, and large-sized lahmajoun – regular or spicy; an array of olives, cheeses, nuts, labne, - and the desserts – Holy Cow!


Kibbe and boreg display at Adonis.

Adonis' olive bar.

Desserts to die for at Adonis!

Our lunch from Adonis

We bought a package of mini lahmajoun, ready-to-eat stuffed vine leaves (yalanchi), and a few kibbe to have for lunch. An assortment of cookies – mamoul, kourabia, and bird’s nests – were enjoyed for several days with our afternoon tea or coffee.
Having a refrigerator and microwave in our mini-suite made dining-in possible and comfortable.


Another outing brought us to Arouch, an Armenian-owned ‘fast-food’ lahmajoun eatery. 
The menu signage at Arouch
Our lunch of lahmajoun and ayran.
The wall behind the counter bears a large sign depicting the menu options. Customers may purchase single items or, in the case of lahmajoun (regular or spicy), a half-dozen or whole dozen to-go - and - the staff will happily heat your choice for dining in. The lahmajoun was fresh and mighty tasty, and Ayran (a yogurt drink) helped wash it down. 

Would we return to Montreal?  You bet. And we'd choose the Best Western Ville-Marie again - during their café's lahmajoun season!

Toum, a Lebanese dipping sauce

Yield: 6 servings
Toum, a fluffy garlic dipping sauce (Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com)
Ingredients:
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or as needed (Canola, vegetable or peanut oil are best to use)
1 pinch salt
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
Directions:
Crush garlic in a mortar and pestle with a generous pinch of salt. Mix in oil a teaspoon at a time until the mixture will absorb no more oil. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve at room temperature as a dip with Shish Taouk (chicken kebab), Lebanese breads, hummus or Tabbouleh.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Chef Serge Madikians' SEREVAN restaurant, Amenia, NY

Before we left Florida for upstate NY in August, Doug did an online search for Armenian restaurants in our travel route. He came across the SEREVAN restaurant in a small town named A-M-E-N-I-A. (I understand the restaurant's name is an adaptation of Lake Sevan located in Armenia.) I thought the town's name might have been a typographical error, but it is in fact, Amenia.
Chef Serge Madikians (center) took time to speak with us before preparing our unforgettable meal.
The chef-owner is Serge Madikians, an Armenian born in Iran and educated in the US. He is a smart, personable, skilled and talented chef, gardener, as well as a pilot. When the server states 'the evening's fresh catch was flown in by the chef himself', he means it - literally! 
Chef Serge greets his guests with a warm smile and open arms. You can tell many of the diners are longstanding regulars who truly enjoy his food, company, and homey atmosphere.

We chose to dine at Serevan to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and Mandy and Ron's 1st anniversary - a wise decision.
Basturma with labne-mint sauce; oysters with pomegranate mignonette.
Shirazi salad studded with Armenian string cheese.
We started our meal with cocktails - local wine, sour cherry cosmo, and arak. Appetizers included basturma with a labne-mint sauce and pita on the side, fresh oysters with a pomegranate mignonette, (I personally don't eat raw shellfish, but those in our family who do, loved it!), Shirazi salad, complimentary rosemary bread and baguettes accompanied with a bowl of assorted olives.
Sweet, perfectly seared, Cape Cod scallops.
Melt-in-your-mouth Hanger steak.
Local, free-range, tender as can be - chicken.

Perfectly prepared Corvina over a mix of colorful tomatoes and corn in a savory broth.
We dined on Cape Cod scallops, a most-tender portion of hanger steak, free-range chicken, and perfectly cooked Corvina - a firm, mild white fish, all served with a chef-inspired side dish.

Believe it or not, we did save room for dessert. (Sorry, no pictures - we ate them before we realized we hadn't taken any photos!) We shared 3 of the dessert options - creme fraiche cheese cake topped with slices of fresh apricot and a scoop of apricot sorbet on the side; traditional paklava with walnut sorbet, and the dessert of the day - apricot and plum crumble with a dollop of whipped cream. We sipped Armenian coffee to off-set the sweetness of the desserts.

This is a dining experience we'll long remember! 

Would we return? 
In a heartbeat - for amazing food in a friendly, relaxing environment, but most of all, for Chef Serge!