Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Feast of St. Sarkis, the Authentic St. Sarkis Halva Recipe, and other traditional recipes from Sonia Tashjian

The Feast of Saint Sarkis, a moveable celebration, falls on Saturday, February 16th this year. Saint Sarkis, the Warrior, is one of the most venerated Armenian saints and is considered the patron saint of love and youth.

Two main recipes are associated with this feast day, St.Sarkis Halva – a sweet treat, and Aghablit – a salty wafer or bread. Other traditional recipes include Kumba Cake, Khashil Don - a pudding, and KLONTRAK – a type of halva (These recipes are below).

Sonia Tashjian, who first shared the story of St. Sarkis with me years ago, sent word that she has finally found the ‘old’ recipe of St. Sarkis HALVA. By that she meant that the recipe she found uses mastic powder or mastic gum rather than the marshmallow fluff or crème that is often used to make St. Sarkis halva today.

NOTE: Mastic powder – or mastic gum – is used in sweets (candies and ice cream), baking (choreg), and medicine. It can generally be found in Middle Eastern stores – and - be purchased online.

#1. The authentic recipe for St. Sarkis Halva from Sonia Tashjian:

Sonia Tashjian's authentic St. Sarkis Halva
Make Syrup: Boil 1 cup of sugar with 1/3 cup of water; then add 1/2 tsp. of lemon juice & 1/2 tsp. of crushed mastic (mastic powder called ‘maztaki’ in Armenian).
Mastic Gum
Meanwhile spread 1 cup of sesame seeds & chopped walnuts on a tray. Using a spoon pour small amounts of the syrup onto the sesame seed-walnut mixture on the tray forming small mounds; allow it to sit until it is lukewarm. Finally, pour extra sesame on them. After some hours, the halva will be firm.

The following recipe for Kumba Cake comes from Sonia's grandmother - a specialty from Musa Dagh. It is served on St. Sarkis Day and is also a great Lenten treat since it contains no dairy or eggs. This cake is very flavorful due to its combination of spice and sweet, but tends to be rather dense in texture.

Sonia's Kumba Cake

#2. Kumba Cake

5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of olive oil
1 cup of boiling water
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of honey
1 cup of chopped nuts (walnut, almond, pistachio, hazelnut)
½ cup of raisins
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½  teaspoon of ground cardamom
½  teaspoon of ground nutmeg
½  teaspoon of ground mahlab
a coin, wrapped in foil

½ cup of white sesame seeds for the top

If you desire, roast the flour, until it turns to pale. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and the spices.
Add the oil & boiling water, stir until a thick dough is formed.
Add the honey, nuts & raisins.
Spread the dough in a large non-stick pan. Put the wrapped coin in it & cover with dough.
Dip your hands in water and smooth out the surface of the dough.
Sprinkle the sesame seeds on the surface.
Bake Kumba at 350° F, about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

According to Sonia, this holiday is also known as Khashili Don, because the main dish served on this day is a pudding which has been boiled. ('Don' means holiday; 'Khashil' means boil, in Armenian).

Sonia also explained that wheat has been the main ingredient for Armenians since Pagan times. So, each holiday it had been used in recipes to honor the gods. 

Sonia's Khashil Don Pudding

#3. Khashil Pudding Recipe:

Please Note: The amounts given for the pearled wheat and water are estimates.

Wheat Pudding Ingredients:
2 cups Pearled wheat (aka dzedadztsz - the same wheat that is used to make harissa/keshkeg)
Water: Start with 3 cups water and continue to add enough water to create a creamy pudding-like texture
Salt, to taste

Yogurt Mixture Ingredients:
1 egg
4 cups plain yogurt

Topping Ingredients for Garnish:
Melted butter
Fried onions

In a dry, non-stick skillet, toast the wheat until it is evenly golden. Let it cool, then grind with a coffee grinder. (In Armenian the toasted wheat is called ‘aghants’; the ground toasted wheat is ‘pokhints’.)

Cook the wheat with water, stirring frequently, until you get a creamy pudding consistency. Stir in salt according to your taste.

Meanwhile thoroughly mix an egg into about 4 cups of matsun (plain yogurt), then bring it to a gentle boil.

To Serve: Pour the pudding in a bowl, pour matsun around it & garnish with melted butter or fried onion in the middle of pudding.

#4. The final traditional recipe is KLONTRAK – a type of halva.

Sonia's Klontrak (halva)

Klontrak Recipe:

In a dry, non-stick skillet, toast 1 cup of pearled wheat until golden – stirring often. Let it cool, then grind with a coffee grinder.
Melt a few Tbsp. butter. Pour butter, some mulberry syrup (or honey), into the ground wheat. Knead it with fingers, then form small balls.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Our Super Bowl Menu included Basterma - Cheese Rolls and Manteh. What was on your menu?

It’s been almost one year since Doug and I moved to South Carolina. Since then we’ve started to visit some of the state's charming cities.

Our first stop was to our state capital, Columbia, a pretty, not-overly large city with museums, fine and casual dining, an impressive capitol building, and lots of outdoor activities. 
Next was a trip to Spartanburg where BMW has an ultra-enormous plant to build their cars - and - a small, yet impressive car museum. (Guess whose idea it was to go there!) 
Downside of Spartanburg: In my opinion, not a great foodie destination.

Our latest journey took us to Charleston on the east coast. For years we’d drive past the exit on I-95, meaning to visit, but never quite made it. Of the three cities we’ve visited so far, we like Charleston the best. There’s so much to see and do, and the dining is pretty amazing!

The day we arrived (Super Bowl Sunday), we took a stroll along King Street, known as their shopping district. There are big name stores as well as plenty of small businesses. As we wandered, we chuckled when we noticed that a few restaurants were closed due to the Super Bowl.

Luckily, our dinner destination, Leyla, was open and ready to please. It’s family owned and operated, and they put their hearts and souls into their food preparation and service.
Leyla's Basterma-Cheese Rolls; in the background - Manteh.

The hot appetizers were wonderful. Their basterma-cheese rolls take the usual cheese boreg recipe to a higher level. The menu described it as such: Thin flour dough, stuffed with combination cheese and basterma (beef proscuitto) then fried to golden perfection.
Just to make sure the filling really did contain basterma rather than ‘beef prosciutto’, I asked the owner’s wife what brand of basterma they use. Her response – Ohanyan's. I was OK with that!  
(Note to self: The next time I make cheese boregs, add some basterma!)

The manteh (remember, spelling varies) was delicious, too. (Their description: Thin flour dough boats filled with seasoned meat, fried and served with yogurt garlic sauce and garnished with cumin, paprika and roasted pine nuts.) I asked why it was fried rather than baked and was told it was due to time constraints. When they’re busy, they fry the manteh rather than bake it. Again, I couldn’t argue, as the manteh was tasty, crisp, and was served with a dip of minty yogurt.

Dinner selections were chicken shawarma and vegetables, and lule kebab with rice. 
Dessert - cheese knafe with pistachio ice cream on the side! (Sorry, no other pictures, as we gobbled everything without thinking!)

We’re definitely re-visiting Charleston, and, yes, we’ll be going to Leyla again, but not on a Monday or Tuesday, as they are closed on those days.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Lentil-Potato Patties

Whenever I prepare a recipe using lentils, I think of Lent. No, it isn’t the Lenten season yet, but it will be here before you know it.

The Armenian Kitchen’s lentil recipe repertoire is becoming rather extensive – and- we have one more to add … Lentil-Potato Patties from Christine Datian. It’s easy, tasty, and can be made into a truly Lenten dish with a few changes which I  mention below.
NOTE: To easily access our lentil recipes, simply type 'lentil' in the search bar. 
Lentil-Potato Patties from Christine Datian

Lentil-Potato Patties from Christine Datian
Serves 4-6

2 cups cooked red lentils, well drained
2 cups leftover chilled mashed potatoes
1 medium onion, grated
1 cooked carrot, chilled and mashed
2 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
**2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (or a little more)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Flour, plain bread crumbs or cornmeal for rolling

**Butter or cooking oil for frying

**Sour cream, yogurt, labneh

Garnishes: Chopped parsley, za’atar, lemon zest, sesame seeds

In a small pan, cook onions in butter or oil for a few minutes to soften; do not brown.
In a large bowl, combine and mash together the lentils and potatoes until smooth; add onions, carrots, butter, eggs, bread crumbs, parsley, lemon juice, spices, and nuts, if desired, and mix thoroughly.

Form mixture into patties, roll in flour, bread crumbs or cornmeal, and chill for 30 minutes until firm.  Fry patties in butter or oil until lightly browned on both sides.  Drain on paper towels.

NOTE: To bake instead of fry patties, roll in flour, bread crumbs or corn meal.  Place patties on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes. Carefully turn patties over and bake for an additional 12 minutes or until golden.

** Serve with sour cream, yogurt or labneh.

Garnish with a sprinkle parsley, za’atar, lemon zest, or sesame seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil.

***** Recipe changes for Lent *****

A strict Lenten diet would prohibit meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, yogurt, butter).

Here are the changes you would need to make to the above recipe to make it Lent-friendly:
~ Replace 2 Tbsp. butter with 2 Tbsp. oil
~ Replace 2 eggs with about 2-3 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
~ Fry in oil rather than butter
~ Omit sour cream, yogurt, labneh. Replace that with a tahini dressing:

Tahini Dressing:
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup tahini, ¼ cup lemon juice, and salt to taste.

**Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee newspaper, Sunset magazine, Cooking Light magazine, and at http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/

Friday, January 18, 2019

Christine Vartanian-Datian's Eggplant Vegetable Soup

Since January is designated as ‘National Soup Month’, I’m happy to share another healthy, hearty creation by Christine Datian - Eggplant Vegetable Soup.

Eggplant Vegetable Soup 

Eggplant Vegetable Soup by Christine Vartanian-Datian
Serves 4-6

1/2 medium onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 1/2 cups eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 cup fresh or canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, diced
1 cup zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2 cup yellow squash, chopped
2 stalks celery and top greens, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed
4 cups low-sodium chicken, or vegetable, or beef broth - and - 3 cups water (to taste)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 - 15 oz. can white beans or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon each crushed dried basil and oregano (fresh basil and oregano may be used)
Kosher or sea salt and black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, paprika (to taste)
1 small head escarole (or Napa cabbage or spinach), washed and roughly chopped

Garnishing Options: Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, or crumbled Feta cheese, chopped fresh basil, drizzle of olive oil

Sauté the onions and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pan; cook until the onions are translucent. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, celery, and peas; toss and continue to cook a few more minutes. Add the broth, water, tomato paste, beans, and spices; bring to a full boil and stir a few times.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 55-60 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. 

About 15 minutes before the soup is done, add the roughly chopped escarole to the soup, stir, and continue cooking.   Adjust seasonings and add more liquid, if necessary.

To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls and garnish with cheese, chopped fresh basil, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Lemon - Chicken - Spinach Soup with Mint by Christine Vartanian Datian

It’s soup season again! It's time to dig out a large pot and whip-up a soup that will warm your body and soul. 
Don’t know what to make? You’re in luck! Christine Datian has a lot of recipes from which to choose, but today’s offering is her Lemon – Chicken - Spinach Soup with Mint.

It sounded so good, I decided to make this for dinner, but discovered I didn't have the exact ingredients she mentioned. 
What did I do? I'll share my version at the end of the post.

Happy cooking!
The Armenian Kitchen's version of Christine's Lemon- Chicken- Spinach Soup with Mint

Lemon - Chicken - Spinach Soup with Mint by Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 4-6

8 cups low sodium chicken broth or turkey broth (more to taste)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon each paprika, lemon pepper, and ground sage
Pinch each of oregano and thyme
Juice of one large lemon and zest
2 cups wide egg noodles
1 cup fresh spinach (torn to about half-dollar size)
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups cooked, skinless chicken breast, shredded
Garnishes: Fresh chopped mint, Lemon slices
Olive oil


In a large soup pot, bring the chicken or turkey broth to a full boil; add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, fresh mint, spices, the juice of one lemon and the zest, and stir a few times until the soup boils again.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.

Add the egg noodles, spinach, parsley, and shredded chicken about 10-12 minutes before serving; stir now and then to prevent the noodles from sticking. Test the noodles to make sure they’re done - and - serve. 

Garnish soup with chopped fresh mint, thin slices of lemon, or a drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

The Armenian Kitchen's version:

I had to substitute a few ingredients based on what was on hand. I used frozen, chopped spinach instead of fresh; thin, short noodles instead of wide; shredded, cooked turkey instead of chicken, and dried mint instead of fresh.

For the preparation, I first sauteed the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in a little olive oil, over medium heat, until the vegetables were tender. Then, added the broth, seasonings, lemon juice, zest, and frozen chopped spinach. I brought the broth to a boil, added the noodles and cooked, stirring now and then,  for about about 7- 9 minutes until the noodles softened.
At that point I added the parsley and shredded, cooked turkey and cooked until the turkey was heated through.

My soup was garnished with thin, round lemon slices as seen in the photo above.
I'm happy to report, Doug gave it two thumb's-up, so Thank You, Christine!

*Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee, Sunset and Cooking Light Magazines, and at  <http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/> http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/
*For Christine’s recipes that have been published in Sunset and Cooking Light Magazines, go to: < <http://www.myrecipes.com/search/site/Datian> http://www.myrecipes.com/search/site/Datian>

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Kufteh, an Armenian Favorite!

There’s been a lot of buzz about kufteh lately on several Armenian cooking Face Book sites. People are asking: What ingredients are used? Which shape is the best – meatball-shape, football-shape or flying saucer-shape? Is it better to bake, fry it, or boil kufteh? Is it best served with or without madzoon (yogurt)?

The answers will vary based on the region one’s Armenian ancestors came from.

In my family, we have two schools of thought. My mother’s family, from Musa Dagh (Musa Ler), made football shaped kufteh, with extremely thin shells, stuffed to the max with a delicious filling. My father’s side of the family, from Dikranagerd, made flying saucer shaped kuftehs – flat on the bottom, rounded on the top, with an equally tasty filling. 
This is a photo of Kibbeh from Wikepedia, but it gives you the idea of the Musa Ler football-shaped Kufteh.

Our Musa Ler kuftehs were usually brushed with olive oil and baked which produced a lovely golden color and a little crunch from the shell. The center was moist and flavorful. This was served as an entrée with a dollop of madzoon, and a side salad, or served floating in a madzoon-based soup. Sometimes we just ate them hot-out-of-the oven – without accompaniment! 
(Sadly, I never mastered making this style of kufteh. My grandmother tried in vain to teach me how to make the thin, football-shaped shell. "Your hands are too hot", she'd say in broken English. Even dipping my hands in very cold water didn't do the trick for me.)
Dikranagerdtsi-style Kufteh
Our Dikranagerdtsi kuftehs were boiled, heaped on a large serving plate and served with madzoon. The exterior was soft and the center oozed a buttery-meaty filling with every bite. We also have a heart-healthy version of the Dikranagerdtsi-style kufteh. Click here for the recipe and video.

There’s no getting around the fact that preparing kufteh is very time consuming. If you love this dish, but don’t have the time, or an army of helpers, don’t despair. I will share two other ways to get the kufteh taste without the traditional shape or hard work.

#1. Kufteh Deconstructed (This is REALLY easy!)
Serves 4 to 6

Prepare your favorite bulgur pilaf recipe, or, use oursWhile it’s cooking make the filling.
Kufteh Meechoog (Filling)
Kufteh Meechoog (Filling)
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lb. ground lamb, beef, or turkey
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped
ground coriander, allspice, black pepper, paprika to taste
1/4 cup to 1/3 cup pine nuts
1. In a skillet, melt the butter, then add olive oil to heat. Add chopped onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft - about 10 to 15 minutes.
2. In a separate skillet, cook the ground meat until it is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add meat to the skillet with the onions. Stir in the remaining seasonings, parsley, and pine nuts. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
To serve: Place bulgur pilaf in the center of the plate (or bowl), top with meechoog, and a dollop of madzoon, if desired. A tomato-cucumber salad makes a perfect accompaniment.

Sini Kufteh

#2. Sini Kufteh (Oven-baked kufteh)
Yield: 8+/- pieces - depending on size

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

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.

Filling (Meechoog) Ingredients:
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 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 the sini kufteh
Side view of sini kufteh layers

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.
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.
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.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Two Traditional Armenian Recipes to ring-in the New Year

To get you into the spirit of a new year, I felt it appropriate to re-post two traditional Armenian recipes: Anoush Abour (literally meaning 'sweet soup') and Daree Hats ('year bread').
Savor the arrival of the New Year and Armenian Christmas with your loved ones with these sweet, fruity, nutty delicacies.

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!
Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont!

Anoush Abour
#1. Anoush Abour by Joy Callan
1 cup gorgod (skinless whole wheat – sold in Middle eastern stores)
3 ½ quarts water
1 cup sugar
1 cup California apricots, finely chopped
1 cup raisins (currants or yellow raisins)
½ cup pistachios
1/3 cup pine nuts

¼ cup finely chopped filberts (hazelnuts)
½ cup slivered almonds
½ toasted pecans or walnuts
Ground cinnamon, to taste
Pomegranate seeds

1. In a 6-quart pot, combine wheat and water. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Cover and let rest overnight.

2. Remove cover. Return to simmer. Simmer gorgod until water begins to thicken. The lower the simmer, the “whiter” the pudding will remain. After about 1 ½ to 2 hours of simmering, add the sugar and continue to simmer. The pudding will begin to take on a thicker consistency.

3. While wheat is simmering, combine fruit, pistachios and pine nuts in a small saucepan with water. Bring to a gentle simmer and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Thoroughly drain. Add to pudding when pudding is cooled so that fruit will not bleed color into pudding.

4. Pour into serving bowl. Garnish with filberts, slivered almonds, pecans or walnuts and cinnamon.

5. Pomegranate seeds could either be incorporated into pudding uncooked or served separately as a garnish.

#2. The Daree Hats (pronounced ‘da-ree hots’) recipe is from my friend in Yerevan, Sonia Tashjian. In addition to the recipe, Sonia provided some background information so you can appreciate its meaning.

Sonia's Daree Hats from the Sassoun region in Western Armenia

Daree Hats 

From Sonia:
            "Daree Hats is an Armenian traditional bread prepared for the New Year and is served on New Year's Eve. When the family gathers around the holiday table, the grandmother cuts the bread and serves it to the members of the family. The family member who receives the portion of bread with the coin, is granted good luck and fertility during the coming year.
            The tradition of Daree Hats (other names are Dari, Grgene, Kloj, etc...) began centuries ago. In the springtime, the first man prepared the bread using the last of the dried fruits and decorated the bread with seeds. The bread was dedicated to his gods in the hope of a fertile crop for the coming year."

Daree Hats, an Armenian New Year Bread Recipe

5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (if desired)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot water
1 cup chopped dried fruit and raisins
1 cup chopped nuts
½ cup linseed or sesame seeds
** a coin**

           Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and cinnamon (if using). Add the oil and hot water;  mix well.
           Add the dried fruit, raisins, and chopped nuts. Mix, then place in a non-stick round pan.
           Wrap the coin with foil, then insert it into the dough. Rub water on the surface of the dough and sprinkle linseed or sesame seeds on top.
           Preheat the oven at medium temperature (approx. 350° F) and bake 40-45 minutes.