Monday, October 26, 2020

The assault on Artsakh is an assault on all Armenians

Food means far more than sustenance to every culture but the link between food and identity is especially strong for Armenians. 

Scattered across the globe by the Genocide, we have adapted our menus to local ingredients but we’ve held fast to traditions that bind us to the generations that passed them down as well as to each other. 

This site is dedicated to celebrating those traditions but celebration of any sort feels impossible now while the Armenian homeland is under assault. 

Most Americans are probably only vaguely aware of the war in Artsakh, a region usually referred to by the old Soviet name Nagorno-Karabakh. That may be oddly appropriate, as the war itself is a tragic Soviet legacy. 

The small and historically Armenian region was severed from Armenia in the early 1920s by Stalin and designated as an autonomous division within Azerbaijan. That left Armenian Christians, including many Genocide survivors, surrounded by a hostile population of Turkic Muslims. 

The tenuous arrangement endured for nearly 70 years until the Soviet Union began to disintegrate in the late 1980s and Stalin’s successors loosened their grip. This led to a series of massacres of Armenians in Azerbaijan.

Like many other Soviet-occupied territories, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence when the Communist regime collapsed and voted to join newly independent Armenia. Azerbaijan, however, claimed the territory as its own.

The result was a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that  ended in a 1994 cease fire, but the end of hostilities settled nothing. Artsakh’s independence remained unrecognized by the major powers while Azerbaijan, flush with oil revenue, rebuilt and strengthened its military while waiting for an opportunity to exert control.

There have been numerous warning signs over the years, including an extended clash in 2016. Now, despite concerns about the potentially calamitous consequences of war in the Caucuses, the world has allowed Azerbaijan to attack once again.

The war has been raging for more than a month and the results are already calamitous for Armenians. Authorities estimate that 90,000 of Artsakh’s 140,000 residents have been forced from their homes since the fighting began, and more are being displaced every day.

Three attempts at a cease fire have now failed. There is little hope that the Azeris will back down while they have the advantage, and their advantage appears to be overwhelming.

Armenia itself, optimistically three million strong, is fully mobilized in defense of Artsakh. The prime minister has called on all Armenians to join the effort, and they are responding to the call.

Azerbaijan, however, has a population of about 10 million. It is fully backed by Turkey, population 80 million, which is providing weapons and logistical support and has pledged to send troops if needed. (Russia, which many Armenians see as a potential savior, has supplied weapons to both sides.)

Azeri ground forces, meanwhile, are bolstered by mercenaries from Syria and Pakistan. They are getting air support from drones supplied by Turkey and Israel. Most distressing, Azerbaijan has attacked Armenian civilians with Israeli cluster bombs, a clear violation of international law.

I know this much because incredibly brave independent journalists have been risking their lives, although much of what they are reporting has not appeared in mainstream newspapers or on television.

A good deal of what does reach us is at best incomplete or warped by politics and profit. War is, after all, always a money-making affair for someone.

We’re fortunate to have friends who keep us informed and encouraged. Among the most valued is author and journalist Lucine Kasbarian, who has done an invaluable job placing the current war in historical context while pointing out the fallacies and failings in media reports.

Her brave brother Antranig is in Stepankert, the capital of Artsakh, filing his own reports while helping journalists cut through the propaganda. 

The best hope for Armenians may lie in a successful plea for international recognition of Artsakh’s independence—really, its right to exist—and in revulsion at evidence of Azerbaijani atrocities against Artsakh’s defenders and citizens.

Armenians across the United States are making great efforts to draw the world’s attention to the truth. The best way to take part is to know that truth by staying informed. 

Here are a few links that may help.

Civilnet.am

News.am

ArmenianWeekly.com

Mirrorspectator.com

massispost.com 


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Khatoon Boodhi - Rice and Meat Patties: A Recipe from Araksi Dinkjian

Doug and I know a thing or two Dikranagerdsi recipes, but when we saw Anahid Dinkjian’s post for a Dikranagerdsi dish called Khatoon Boodhi on FB, we looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders because we’d never heard of it. 

Could it be a recipe from the land of our ancestors? We set out to find the answer.

Araksi Dinkjian's Khatoon Boodhi

This recipe pictured above was made by Anahid’s mother, Araksi who received the recipe from her husband Onnik’s mother, from Dikranagerd. 

Therefore, the assumption we made is that this is a Dikranagerdsi dish.

To further establish the recipe’s origin, I checked on Charles Kasbarian’s (C.K.) Armeniapedia page to see if he had it listed in the index of his ‘The Dikranagerd Mystique Armenian Cookbook (In Process)’. The name ‘Kadin Boudi’ is in the index, however, the full recipe isn’t – at least not yet. 

(A word to all: Spellings vary greatly in Armenian recipes names.)

C.K. points out the following explanation of the recipe's name:

"Also known as Khanum Boudi = Lady's Thighs.
Khatoun is lady in Arabic, and Khanum is lady in Persian.

The difference is:
Khatoun is a lady of inferior rank, and Khanum is a lady of superior rank."

Given these two sources, I feel safe in saying that this recipe is of Dikrangerdsi origin, although I'm certain other regions have similar dishes.

Our version of the Dinkjian's Khatoon Boodhi made with ground turkey. Served with yalanchi, salad, and lavash (not pictured).

Khatoon Boodhi - Rice and Meat Patties from Araksi Dinkjian

Yields 8 to 9 patties

Ingredients:

½ cup uncooked short grain rice (such as Carolina Rice), cooked according to package directions

½ lb. raw ground lamb

½ lb. raw ground beef

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped      

Seasonings measured according to your own taste – salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper, ground coriander

1 beaten egg for meat mixture

1 beaten egg for dipping

Canola oil for sautéeing and pan frying

Directions:

Cook ½ cup rice according to package directions. Once cooked, allow rice to cool completely.

Sauté chopped onions in 1 to 2 Tbsp. canola oil until soft but not brown. Allow onions to cool completely.

In a large bowl add the ground lamb and beef, the cooked and cooled rice and onions, 1 beaten egg, and the seasonings measured to your taste. Mix ingredients with your hands until well-combined.

Patties shaped and ready to dip in egg.
Form mixture into small patties of uniform size and thickness.

Coat each patty with beaten egg before cooking.

Dip the patties into beaten egg. Coat on both sides.

Place enough canola oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet. Turn burner on to medium heat. Add patties to skillet without crowding them. You might have to cook them in smaller batches, Pan fry patties until golden on both sides and meat is cooked through.

Cooked patties

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cousin Ani Ehramjian's Yalanchi - made in an Instant Pot!

Four years ago, Doug asked if I’d be interested in an Instant Pot (pressure cooker) for Christmas. My ears heard ‘Crock Pot’, to which I whole-heartedly replied, ‘Yes!’ 

On that Christmas morning, I carefully opened the package, but much to my surprise, an Instant Pot was revealed! Doug, beaming, expected me to be doing the same. Instead, I looked puzzled thinking he’d made a mistake, when, in fact, the mistake was mine. I smiled, thanked Doug, graciously accepted the gift, and placed it in a closet.

Current day:

My daughter Mandy was just here for a visit. Before she arrived we planned to prepare a few family favorites together - including yalanchi. I told her I was considering making something with my never-used Instant Pot and she was thrilled to hear that 
I finally felt comfortable enough to step out of my comfort zone. 

Allow me to explain my IP apprehension: Back in my early days in the kitchen, pressure cookers were used on the stovetop. Sometimes the pressure within the pot was so intense, it would literary blow the lid off, often creating a hole in the ceiling.

Mandy assured me that wouldn't happen in the IP, so we unpacked it, did a dry-run with the 'machine', and she guided me like a pro. (It's pretty funny that my daughter was giving me, a retired culinary teacher, a lesson in cooking!) 
With Mandy helping, I agreed to give it a try. 

Cousins Ani and Margaret

The recipe we chose to make came from Ani Ehramjian, cousin Margaret’s twenty-something-year-old daughter. I had seen on FB Ani’s photo of the yalanchi she made using an Instant Pot, and it looked delicious.
Ani's IP Yalanchi served with hummus and eech

To help with our experiment, Ani sent me her family’s recipe for ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves - the Instant Pot version’.

Mandy and I worked side-by-side, made some slight adjustments to the recipe, and were very pleased with the final outcome.
Me (L) with my 'teacher', Mandy

Many thanks to Ani for the recipe, and to Mandy for helping me overcome my anxiety about cooking with a pressure cooker!!


Our fist attempt at making Yalanchi in the Instant Pot. Ours might not be as pretty as Ani's, but boy, were they good!

Stuffed Grape Leaves made in an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker from Ani Ehramjian

(Note: For non- Instant Pot users, stovetop instructions are  given below.)

Yields about 50 pieces

Ingredients:

5 cups chopped yellow onions, about 3-4 big onions
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped, about 1 cup 
1 cup short or medium grain rice
3/4 cup of olive oil (we used about 1/3 cup olive oil in all)
3 lemons, juiced
1-6 oz. can tomato paste, undiluted
1/4 cup pignolia nuts, toasted (we used ½ cup)
1/2 teaspoon allspice (we used 1 tsp.)
1/2 teaspoon dried mint (we used 2 tsp., finely crushed)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound, 2 oz jar of grape leaves, rinsed and stem ends removed
We used the Tamara brand grape leaves from Armenia.

Directions:

1. In a non-stick skillet, toast pine nuts over low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. 

2. Finely chop onions. 

3. In a large pan, sauté onions in 2-3 Tbsp of the oil over medium heat for 10 minutes until softened. 

4. With heat on low, add the rest of the ingredients – except for the grape leaves. Mix until combined, and then remove from heat. Set aside to cool completely. 
Ready to Roll!

5. Wrap filling in grape leaves: Spread open each grape leaf with the shiny side facing down and the stem end toward you. Place a spoonful of filling in the center, fold over both sides and roll from the bottom of the leaf to the tip. Wrap tightly enough so the yalnchi won’t unravel during cooking, but not so tight that expanding rice will burst through the leaf. (View our video on how to roll grape leaves.) 

6. Line Instant Pot inner liner with ripped leaves. 
Torn leaves line the bottom of the pot.

7. Put wrapped grape leaves in rows in pot, pack tightly. Do not exceed the limit line marked on the pot. 
Ready to cook!

8. Add 1 cup of water to the pot, squeeze in extra lemon juice if desired. (Special Note: Ani said do NOT place a plate on top of the stuffed leaves in the IP!) 
My Instant Pot in action.

9. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for your Instant Pot, cook for 15 minutes on normal pressure, then 15 minutes natural release. It’s that easy!

Chill until ready to serve.

To serve: Arrange yalanchi on a platter and garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Stovetop Method: If you’d rather cook these on the stovetop, line the bottom of a large pot with torn grape leaves. Put wrapped grape leaves in rows in pot, pack tightly. Add 1 cup of water to the pot, squeeze in extra lemon juice if desired. Place a heavy plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves to prevent them from floating and/or unraveling.

Cook, covered, on the stove on low heat for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until leaves are tender and rice is cooked.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Butterflied leg of lamb, grilled Armenian style

Lamb was my family's go-to meat when I was growing up, and my mother taught me the traditions of Armenian cooking that apportioned various cuts to pots, pans, broiler or oven. 

Firing up the grill was reserved for special occasions, and Sunday shish kebab was the most special of all. I realized how special it really  was when I bought our first gas grill two years ago. 

I soon learned that grilling with gas works best with the lid closed to keep the grill hot. Being unable to make skewers turn on their own through sheer willpower, Robyn and I  set out to find options that would yield kebab satisfaction without demanding constant attention.
Lamb loin chops
This led to a new appreciation of grilled lamb chops, with meaty loin chops getting our highest khorovatz scores. Now the search has led us to a grilled variation on the oldest of family favorites, leg of lamb.

In my experience, a leg of lamb was always roasted in the oven or in a stove-top pan. Everyone has a favorite twist, but there are a couple of constants in all Near and Middle-Eastern recipes: leave a generous layer of fat on the outside, and let the lamb cook long and slow—and then cook it some more.

The melting fat bastes the roast as it cooks, sealing in the juices. Result: meat nearly as white as chicken and moist as a plum.

Substituting the grill for the oven occurred to us when we came across a four-pound butterflied sirloin-half leg in our local market the other day. This may be familiar territory to many but it was new to us, so we took our time examining the meat as we discussed our options.

I wanted to try a dry rub and low heat, like American barbecue. After all, we are in South Carolina, y'all. But the meat was exceptionally lean and well-trimmed—reasons for applause from most cooks perhaps but that  argued against the traditional slow breakdown approach.

Instead, we decided to treat the leg like flat-sided shish kebab. A marinade of Armenian brandy and onions would provide the tenderizing, with a slather of olive oil to seal in the juices. 

Lamb marinating

You may remember - as we do - the old timers who insisted there was no need for measures or recipes because they cooked by eye. Well, when it came time to actually cook our lamb I was more or less cooking with eyes shut. I guessed at full heat (about 500+ degrees) and about eight minutes a side, turned once.

Somehow, it worked. 
Lamb rests before slicing.

My completely objective taste panel, consisting of my wife and daughter, assure me the marinade did its job in delivering authentic khorovatz flavor while tenderizing the meat. My preference might have been to cook it a tad longer but maybe I'm just an old shish-in-the-mud.

In fact, the sliced lamb offered enough color variety of pinks, not-so-pinks and charred bits to cover the doneness-range nicely.
Rice pilaf, salad, and sauteed onions round-out the meal. And lavash, of course (not pictured).
Our Recipe:
Butterflied leg of lamb Armenian style

Ingredients:
1 four-pound sirloin leg half, de-boned and butterflied
1 cup Armenian brandy
1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarse chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground coriander seeds, Aleppo pepper, and salt, measured according to your taste

Directions
  • Open the lamb on a flat surface and trim any silver skin.
  • Place trimmed meat in a large casserole dish. Add brandy, onions and seasonings - except salt.
  • Coat meat well, cover and let marinate overnight. Turn once either before bed or in the morning.
  • Before you cook the lamb, remove the onions from the marinade and saute thoroughly to serve over the lamb.
  • Turn on the grill and wait until it's fully heated. Add salt to both sides of lamb  before placing it on the grill.
  • Place lamb on the grill and closing the cover. grill for 8 minnutes; turn meat. Cook another eight minutes. 
  • Remove lamb from heat and place on a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

Serving suggestion: serve with rice pilaf or bulgur pilaf, roasted bell peppers, salad, and lavash. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Lamb Shank Gouvedge

Patience is vital when making Gouvedge – at least the way we make it. It takes time to prep and time to cook. So, if it’s Gouvedge you wish to serve this autumn and winter season, start planning now. 

We started planning weeks ago by ordering lamb shanks from our local source – Fox Trot Farm.

Now that it’s cooled-down a bit we forged ahead with our plan to make this heart-warming, tummy-satisfying dish - and - we're glad we did! 

Gouvedge ready to serve with plain yogurt and crusty bread!

Lamb Shank Gouvedge
Serves 6

Ingredients:

4 meaty lamb shanks, trimmed of fat
Lamb broth (See Day 1 preparation for details)
1-6 oz. can tomato paste
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes with the liquid, optional
1 lb. fresh green beans, end trimmed, cut into 2” pieces
1 large or 2 medium zucchini, cut into large chunks
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut into cubes
1 lb. okra, optional (If okra is large, cut it into smaller pieces)
2 medium red or orange peppers, seeds removed, and cut into chunks
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
A small bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, washed
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Note: Measure all - or some - of the following seasonings according to your taste: Dried oregano, salt, black pepper, paprika, Aleppo pepper, dash of cayenne pepper, ground coriander seeds, allspice, etc.

Day One Preparation:

Place the trimmed lamb shanks in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, skimming any residue from the surface during the cooking process. Reduce temperature to medium-low; place a cover, tilted, on the pot. Cook for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender enough to easily be removed from the bones. Periodically check the water level; do not let it all evaporate. Add more as needed. You should end up with at least 3 cups of broth.

While the lamb cooks, cut all of the vegetables as noted above.

Gouvedge ingredients lined up and (almost) ready to use.

Remove shanks from the liquid; place in a container, cover and refrigerate. 
Strain the liquid from the pot; discard any unwanted particles. Place strained broth in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Cooked, cooled lamb shanks and chilled broth with layer of fat on top.

Special Note: Check the ends of the bones for what Dikranagerdsis call ,'dzoodz', or bone marrow. Scoop it from the open end of the bone and eat it up!


Bone marrow from lamb shank

Day Two Preparation:

Remove meat from the bones and cut lamb into bite-sized pieces. Place meat in a bowl.
Remove and discard the layer of fat from the surface of the chilled, gelatinous lamb broth.

Congealed lamb broth

Using a large pot, sauté the onions and peppers in a few Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper as it cooks. 
Add the congealed broth.
Sautéed peppers, onions, garlic, and lamb broth

Add the tomato paste, stirring gently until paste is blended with the broth. Add lamb pieces.
To
Tomato paste and lamb pieces added

Add the prepared vegetables. Season with salt, pepper, and any combination of herbs and spices as listed, to suit your taste.

Vegetables, herbs and spices added

Cook, covered, on low heat, for about 45 min. to 1 hour. Stir occasionally, making sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated. Add water, if necessary.
Gouvedge ready to bake

Preheat the oven to 350°- 375° F (ovens vary). Lightly oil a 9” x 13” casserole dish. Evenly spread the lamb-vegetable mixture. Cover pan with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake an additional 45 minutes or until top begins to brown.

While gouvedge is baking, make rice or bulgur pilaf to serve as a side dish. A side of plain yogurt is always a welcome addition, too.

Crusty bread is required for dipping!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

‘Zoom Cooking’ with my Daughter and Chef Serge Madikians: Tabouleh and Ja’Jik, Serevan-Style!

For my birthday this year, my daughter Mandy and son-in-law Ron, presented me with a special gift – a ZOOM cooking class with Chef Serge Madikians, chef-owner of Serevan restaurant in Amenia, NY.

Since being together was out of the question, they felt this was the next best thing - cooking together, albeit, long distance.

Chef Serge and my family have met twice before, both times at his establishment – first, when Doug and I celebrated our 40th anniversary, and then last summer for my birthday.

Doug, Chef Serge, and me, August, 2017 (for our 40th Anniversary) at Serevan Restaurant, Amenia, NY

Dining at Serevan is like being in a close friend’s home – everyone is greeted-and-treated warmly. His meal preparations are utterly sublime and made with love. I appreciate how Serge incorporates fresh, local ingredients, and how he gives many of his dishes that special Armenian touch.

(Note: During the pandemic, Serevan is only offering take-out service and outdoor patio dining, weather permitting.)

When Mandy saw that Serge was offering cooking classes via Zoom, she signed us up right away. The recipes he demonstrated were 2 of his family’s favorites - Tabouleh and Ja’jik. Copies of these recipes, which you'll find below, were made available to participants in advance to make preparation quick and easy on the day of the class. 

A screen shot before class began with Chef Serge

Before and during the class Mandy and I texted each other and shared photos of what we were doing in our separate kitchens. It was such a lot of fun!

Chef Serge in action

As the class began, Serge gave the participants background information about the recipes, explained each ingredient, the tools needed, along with kitchen safety and knife skill tips – all while being professional, entertaining, and charming.

Thanks Serge, Mandy, and Ron for making this long-distance birthday extra-special!

On a separate note, in case you don’t already know about ‘The Immigrant Cookbook’, Serge is one of the contributing chefs! It can be ordered using the Amazon link below.


Disclaimer: If you order the book through this Amazon linkThe Armenian Kitchen will receive a small commission. 


Here are Chef Serge's delicious, light and refreshing recipes for Tabouleh and Ja'jik:

My version of Serevan's Tabouleh
Serevan’s Tabouleh

Serves 6

Ingredients:

**½ lb. #1(fine) bulgur (about 1 ½ cups)

1 lb. Roma, Beefsteak or other juicy tomatoes, washed and diced to ¼-inch

¼ lb. Persian, Kirby, or European cucumbers, washed and diced to ¼-inch

7 oz. red onion (about 1 medium), diced to ¼-inch

¼ cup well-packed fresh, flat-leaf parsley and fine stems

¼ cup well-packed fresh cilantro and fine stems

¼ cup well-packed fresh mint leaves and fine stems

2 Tbsp. chives, finely cut

¼ cup light olive oil

3 Tbsp. Kosher salt or more to taste, divided

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, optional

2-3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste

Dash cayenne, optional

Juice of 1 lime, optional

** Note: If you don’t have #1 (fine) bulgur, pulse the larger size bulgur in a food processor a few times to achieve a finer grind.

Directions:

Place the bulgur in a large enough bowl to hold at least triple its size, and with enough room for mixing the salad comfortably.

Place the diced tomatoes and all of their juices on top of the bulgur. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. of Kosher salt on top of the tomatoes. Do not mix.

Place the diced cucumbers and their liquid on top of the tomatoes; add another Tbsp. of the salt. Do not mix.

Add the diced onions to the bowl and sprinkle ½ Tbsp. of the salt. Pour the lemon juice, vinegar, lime juice, and cayenne, if using. Do not mix.

Put the bowl aside for 15 minutes without mixing.

After 15 minutes, add the herbs and olive oil and mix well.

Put the bowl aside for at least 10 minutes, or up to 30 minutes, so the bulgur can soften as it soaks up the juices and oil.

After the bulgur has softened, taste to see if any seasonings need adjusting. 

My preparation of Serevan's Ja'jik

Serevan’s Ja’jik (Armenian-Style Chilled Yogurt Soup)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 lbs. cucumbers, peeled and deseeded (about 15 Persian, 15 small Kirby or 3 long European cucumbers)

4 cups plain whole milk yogurt or labneh (Note: Labneh will need to be diluted with milk or water to achieve soup consistency.)

¼ cup water

2 Tbsp. salt

2 cloves garlic

1 bulb shallot

¼ cup well-packed fresh cilantro leaves

¼ cup well-packed fresh mint leaves

¼ cup well-packed fresh dill

½ cup light olive oil

2 Tbsp. Kosher salt or more to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

Dash cayenne, optional

Juice of 1 lime, optional

Directions:

Finely dice 1/3 of the peeled, deseeded cucumbers and store them in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Coarsely chop the remaining prepped cucumbers and set aside until ready to use.

Use the chiffonade method to cut all of the herbs. Set aside until ready to use.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/articles/how-to-chiffonade-herbs-a-step-by-step-guide

Place half of the coarsely chopped cucumbers in a blender with ¼ cup water; blend well. With the blender running, add the remaining coarsely chopped cucumbers, shallots and garlic along with 1 ½ Tbsp. of the Kosher salt. Blend the mixture for at least 30-40 seconds, or until everything is well-blended.

Add the yogurt to a bowl large enough to hold double or triple its size. Add the puréed cucumber mixture. Using a whisk, blend well.

As you whisk, slowly drizzle in most of the olive oil and continue mixing until the oil is absorbed.

Take the diced cucumbers from the refrigerator and place in a separate bowl. To it, add the remaining 1 ½ Tbsp. salt, most of the herbs, lemon juice, and lime juice, if using. Toss well so everything is coated with the salt and juice.

Add the cucumber-herb mixture to the yogurt and puréed cucumber; mix well. Check for seasonings and adjust, if necessary.

To serve: Place ja’jik in individual bowls, add an ice cube, if desired. Garnish with some of the remaining herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

We eat Armenian food all the time but we'll never forget eating in Armenia

Five years have zipped by since we visited Armenia and reveled in every conceivable style of Armenian food, feasting our way from soup to nuts with a delicious detour for basturma pizza. 

Every day began at our hotel with a buffet  of fresh fruit, cheeses, breads and meats. That's plural in spades, expressing variety as well as bounty. 

Just as our breakfast table reflected the diversity of Armenia's produce and dairy, Yerevan's restaurants reflect the diversity of Armenian cuisine. 

There were plenty of choices familiar to visitors like us with roots in Western Armenia (dolma, kufte, kebabs), and plenty of less-familiar treats (spas, khinkali, pelmeni) that are everyday fare in Haiastan. 

It was quite wonderful except for the occasional miscue you'd find in any city. The favorable exchange rate was an added treat: the bill for an evening-long banquet for five arrived with many zeroes that translated to about $50 U.S.

We flew home stuffed but certain we’d return for a second 
course before long. As we should have known, nothing about Armenians is ever certain. 
Puffy bread at Anteb
Puffy bread
at Anteb

First we got diverted by other travel over the next year or two. Then we put all excursions on hold after our exasperation with hurricanes prompted us to move from coastal Florida to inland South Carolina.

We were just getting settled when the people of Armenia startled the world by swiftly executing their glorious “velvet” revolution. We cheered their triumph but decided we’d wait to be certain the new order would remain orderly before we booked our next flight to Yerevan.

Unfortunately, we’ve since been deterred by events that have delivered continuing sadness to a people who’ve experienced more than their share. 

Madzoonov
Kufte

(Yogurt soup)
Turmoil in the Middle East has ushered in waves of refugees displaced from historic Armenian communities in Syria and Lebanon, while tiny Armenia’s economy and health care systems were already reeling from the COVID 19 crisis.

Now Azerbaijan has unleashed cross-border artillery and drone attacks while threatening to launch missiles at Armenia’s nuclear power plant. 

All we can do at this distance is offer compassion and support in every way except the one we’d like most. 

Lamb
at Dolmama

Even when the virus veil lifts for most folks, I’m not sure how eager we’ll be to spend more than half a day airborne in an aluminum cocoon breathing recycled air.

Regardless of when or even whether we return, we have great memories and lots of photos that we’re happy to share. And of course, we’ve had a bit of practice making Armenian food at home, as well as making any food we eat Armenian. 

Basturma pizza,
Yerevan
In fact, Robyn’s making pizza for dinner tonight. I don't know what other toppings she has in store, but I'm certain there will be plenty of basturma.

Post script: When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. We've just finished dinner, and there was no basturma on my pizza. 

Soujuk pizza,
our house

I had to settle for Armenian sausage (soujuk). How could I possibly complain?


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Fresh from the Farm: American-raised Lamb for Armenian Lamb Recipes

Doug and I just got back from Fox Trot Farm in Lancaster, SC,  less than 30 miles from our home. We toured the farm a little over a year ago and fell in love with the place. What’s extra-special about this farm is that sheep (and other animals) are raised here, and when the time is right, the sheep are, well, you know.

When we first visited Fox Trot Farm in 2019, we were warmly greeted by owners Debbie and Bob Burgess. I wrote and posted a story about it. In it, Debbie shared her delicious recipe for lamb shanks. 

Much to our disappointment, lamb wasn’t available for purchase that day.

So, earlier this week, when Debbie posted on the farm's FB page that lamb was packaged and ready for purchase, I immediately placed an order for 4 lamb shanks and 2 lbs. of ground lamb, and made our appointment for a safely-distanced pick-up.

Our lamb shanks and ground lamb purchase from Fox Trot Farm

Doug and I have made lamb shanks before and posted the recipe on our website- our recipe even showed up in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator

When we're ready to cook the shanks, we’ll feel good knowing that we're using American lamb raised by people we know! 

Not many people are fortunate enough to have a farm like this - practically at their doorstep!

What will we make with the ground lamb? Losh Kebab, Kufteh, Lule Kebab ... the sky's the limit!

Armenian Lamb Shanks
Our recipe for Armenian Lamb Shanks

Ingredients:

4 meaty lamb shanks, trim off fat

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

3 bay leaves

3 to 4 cups homemade lamb broth (water or low-sodium beef broth may be used)

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Day 1: Parboil shanks in a large pot of lightly salted water for about 2 hours. The water should almost cover the shanks. By doing this, the cooking time is cut down on serving day, and you’ll end up with a large bowl of lamb broth for future recipes – soup, lamb and string bean stew, or whatever you are inspired to prepare.

Note: Cool the broth and place it in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim off any fat that rises to the top and discard. Use some of the broth to prepare the shanks; the remaining broth can be stored in containers and placed in the freezer for future recipes.

Day 2 – Serving Day:

Sauté the onions, carrots, celery and garlic in olive oil in a pot large enough to hold the shanks, vegetables and broth. Add the shanks, bay leaves, broth and seasonings to taste.

Place a cover on the pot in a tilted position; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer shanks for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Check periodically to ensure there is still enough liquid to prevent burning. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Remove bay leaves. Once done, the tender, falling-off-the-bone lamb, can be served in individual bowls over a bed of buttered noodles with plenty of vegetables and cooking liquid from the pot. Armenian rice or bulgur pilaf would be an ideal accompaniment in place of the noodles.

Crusty bread or garlic bread (for dipping into the juices) and a tossed green salad make for a very satisfying and traditional lamb shank dinner.

Recipe option: Instead of using lamb broth, add 1/2 to 1 cup red wine depending on the number of lamb shanks. Then add a 15 oz. can of diced or crushed tomatoes with liquid (and additional liquid, if necessary) and dried herbs, such as oregano and thyme, depending on the amount of meat. Continue to cook as mentioned above for day 2.

What to do with Leftover Meat from the Shanks:

Larger leftover meat pieces may be shredded and added to a string bean stew, while smaller bits of leftovers may be turned into a breakfast hash with an egg on top.