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

Ingredients:
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

Preparation:
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

Ingredients:
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

Preparation:

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)
Ingredients:
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
Directions:
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
Ingredients:
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

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

Directions:
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

Ingredients:
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**

Directions:
           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.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies by Mrs. Alice Vartanian

I must admit that I’ve never eaten a persimmon.
As I’d walk to class at Chico State (CA) back in 1969-70, I’d see numerous persimmon trees which studded front yards of homes near the campus. I was curious about the fruit hanging from those trees, but not curious-enough to taste one.
Persimmons - they look like tomatoes, but they're not!

My loss. According to Sheri Castle, writer, recipe developer,  cooking teacher, and public speaker,the silky pulp of persimmons tastes like a patchwork of fresh apricot, dried peach, guava jam, roasted pumpkin, and a speck of spice or nuts.”  Who could resist something that sounds so luscious?

New Year’s resolution is this: The next time I come across a persimmon tree or at least a persimmon in the store, I promised to myself to try one!

Fortunately, Mrs. Alice Vartanian, mother of my friend Christine Vartanian-Datian, knows about persimmons and offers us her recipe for Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies.   
Alice Vartanian
Fortunately, Mrs. Alice Vartanian, mother of my friend Christine Vartanian-Datian, knows about persimmons and offers us her recipe for Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies.   
Alice Vartanian's Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies

Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies by Mrs. Alice Vartanian
Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup persimmon pulp (from 2-3 persimmons), skins removed, pureed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves, nutmeg and ginger
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins or chopped dates
1 cup dark chocolate chips, optional

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets and set aside.

In large bowl, cream the sugar and the shortening until fluffy. Add the egg and mix to combine.

Add the flour, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, zest, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger, and mix to combine.
Add the persimmon puree, nuts, raisins (or dates), and chocolate chips, if desired. 

Drop by the rounded spoonful on baking sheet and bake until cookie top springs back when touched, for 12 to 14 minutes.

Remove cookies from oven and cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Alice Vartanian’s Notes
This recipe can easily be doubled. 
Also, once cooled, dip half the cookie in melted dark or white chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Dried cranberries, dried cherries, chopped pecans or almonds may be added to this recipe. Or use 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice to replace the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger for this recipe. Cookies may be glazed with orange or lemon glaze, if desired.

For health and nutritional information on persimmons, go to: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/persimmon-nutrition-benefits. For recipes, go to: http://www.californiagrown.org/blog/perfect-uses-for-persimmons/

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ladokoulouro: Greek-style Sesame Seed -Olive Oil Cookies

As Doug and I continue to explore Charlotte, NC and the surrounding around, we tend to seek-out Greek and Middle Eastern stores and establishments (meaning restaurants).

We stumbled upon a rather small Greek store called the Agora Greek Market on the east side of Charlotte which offers lots of goodies – spices, sweets, oils, cheeses, even family-sized packages of frozen pastitsio, moussaka, and baklava!

The cookies we bought at the Agora
We purchased a few items including a bag of Greek sesame seed-olive oil cookies called Ladokoulouro, a product of Crete. Once home, it was imperative that we sample the cookies right away. I put on a pot of coffee and opened the bag of cookies. We found them to be not too sweet – which we liked, with a gentle hint of cinnamon and cloves, and a pleasing crunch – just right for dunking into our coffee.

Since the Agora is a bit far from home and we won’t be going that way too often, I thought it wise to find a recipe for Ladokoulouro to make at home. I searched several recipes online and pieced one together that made sense to me.

Here’s the result of The Armenian Kitchen’s first attempt at making Ladokoulouro …

My version of Greek-Style Sesame Seed-Olive Oil Cookies - Ladokoulouro

Greek-Style Sesame Seed -Olive Oil Cookies
Yields about 30 cookies

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups olive oil (Note: I found this amount to be too much. Next time I’ll cut it down to about 1 cup.)
¾ cups sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice PLUS ¼ cup water to equal 1 cup liquid
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cognac, optional (I chose not to add cognac.)
4 - 5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375° degrees F.

Zest an orange before juicing; set aside until ready to use.
Wet ingredients (L); Dry ingredients (R)
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves until blended.
In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, water, orange zest, sugar,   vanilla and cognac (if using) until well- incorporated.
Whisking together the wet and dry ingredients.

Add the flour mixture a little at a time stirring with a wire whisk to combine. At this time you may add additional flour, but not more than 5 cups total.

If the mixture becomes too thick to mix with the whisk, use your hands to combine.
Folding-in the sesame seeds.
Fold-in the sesame seeds using a rubber spatula and mix until combined. (NOTE: Alternately, before baking, you could dip the shaped cookies into the sesame seeds, pressing so seeds adhere, but this will be more time-consuming.)

The dough may appear to be quite sticky to this point; don’t panic! Set it aside for 10 minutes or so. You’ll find that the dough will become quite workable.
Unbaked log-shaped cookies
Pinch-off walnut-sized balls of dough. Roll the balls into 4-inch logs and placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan. You can also create a doughnut-shaped cookie by taking the walnut-sized ball, placing it on the parchment-lined baking sheet, flattening it, and making a hole in the center with your finger. Personally, I liked the doughnut-shaped cookies better than the logs. They came out crispier - just the way I like it!
Unbaked doughnut-shaped cookies
Be sure to leave some room in between each cookie on the baking pan to allow for expansion.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the cookies become slightly browned around the edges and top.

NOTE: If baking more than one tray of cookies at a time, rotate the trays halfway through the baking time by switching the bottom tray to the upper rack and the top tray on the bottom. This will ensure even baking.

Place the cookies on wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an air-tight container.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt Soup

Doug and I witnessed a miracle this morning … our first South Carolina snowflakes!! We watched in amazement as they drifted down, disappearing before ever touching the ground.

All I could think about was whether-or-not I had enough ingredients on hand to make soup. After all, there was no way we’d be driving to the store in this weather! (Hey, we’re not used to this type of weather; please don’t judge!)

Fortunately, there was fresh broccoli and enough other ingredients to make Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt Soup. Served with a little lavash, we were all set for a very satisfying lunch.
Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt soup with Lavash (just visible in the background)

Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 heads of broccoli (approx. 8 cups), rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth may be substituted)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions:
Broccoli soup ingredients
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Add the onions and carrots; cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli and cook 3 more minutes.
Vegetables sauteing
To the pot, add broth, salt, and pepper; cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until all the vegetables are completely tender. Turn off the burner.

Using an immersion blender, regular blender or a food processor, puree the broccoli mixture. (NOTE: If using a regular blender or food processor, blend soup in batches then return soup to the pot.) If the soup looks too thick, stir in a little water.

Once pureed, and with the heat still off, whisk-in the Parmesan cheese and Greek yogurt until well blended.

Turn burner on low heat. Gently heat soup before serving.