Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

So you think Santa's soaking up the sun on South Beach these days just because Dec. 25th has passed?

Not as far as Armenians are concerned, and we ought to know: The original Hye Flying old timer is one of us, and this is his big day.

We call him Gaghant Baba and he's been scribbling out that famous list of his since the Western Santa was just a subordinate Clause.

As you know, Armenians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6th, but it's a strictly religious holiday. New Year's Day is the time for merriment, and New Year's Eve is when the jolly old gift-giver makes his rounds.

Of course, if you want to get really technical, Armenian New Year was originally in August -- but that's just too brutal to even think about here in Florida.

We just hope you still believe in Gaghant Baba, because we sure do. We'll be leaving out a tray of fresh-baked choreg for him before we go to bed tonight.

And I can promise you: It will all be gone by morning.

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Roejig - a Grape Juice and Walnut Delight

I recently received a comment from reader Carol on the post, “Bastegh is the only Nanny Candy worth eating…”. She's been looking for a recipe for Roejig, a grape juice and walnut roll, and asked for help from The Armenian Kitchen in finding one.

I found a ROEJIG recipe in the Treasured Armenian Recipes cookbook published by the Detroit Women’s Chapter of the AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union).

 This cookbook was originally copyrighted in 1949; my copy came from the 17th printing in 1968. It's a wonderful resource -- and it's still available. (Contact the AGBU bookstore for information by emailing

I must warn you: this recipe takes time and plenty of patience. Roll up your sleeves, and Good Luck!


3 quarts white grape juice (or other fruit juice)
3 cups flour (Gold Medal)
3 cups sugar
1 cup cornstarch
Walnuts in shells


Blend flour, sugar and cornstarch together, then add juice and mix well until smooth.

Soak walnuts in water for ½ hour, then shell. Try to get the nuts out in complete halves. Take a strong string with a big needle to string the half nuts only. The first two half nuts should come back to back in the middle of the string. Then string the rest of the nuts in the same position as each of the first two. Tie the ends of string to a stick leaving a space of 3 inches between them in order to keep the row of nuts apart and also to hang conveniently. Nuts should be facing upwards so the thickened grape juice clings on.

Cook half the amount of the grape juice until thick. Dip the strung nuts into this juice several times then hang to dry overnight. Cook the remaining juice the second day, dip the nuts several times and hang to dry overnight. Takes several days to dry well. When dry, cut any desired length and roll in powdered sugar.

Cut round slices for eating. Keep in covered jars.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

If you like wine, thank an Armenian

In an article on the outlook for Armenia's wine industry, the Web site notes that Turkey has about 1,200 native varieties of grapes -- and 250 of them have pure Armenian names.

It's one of the rare vestiges of Historical Armenia to have escaped linguistic cleansing. But the vineyards once cultivated by Armenians have  been neglected by Southeastern Turkey's heavily Kurdish population.

The article speculates that an open border between Armenia and Turkey could someday result in an effort by Armenians to restore these vineyards and revive wine-making there. Of course, the world would know the result as Turkish wine, not Armenian.

In the same article, Armenian ethnographer Suren Hobosyan states that almost none of Armenia's own 500 varieties of wild grapes have survived.

"History shows that these sorts first became victim to Islam, then to Czarist Russia, then to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the world's best sorts are descendants of Armenian grapes."

You think that's maybe a bit of ethnic boasting? Check out a book called Ancient Wine by Patrick McGovern (Princeton University Press). McGovern notes mounting evidence, including DNA, to support the long-held Noah theory of the origins of viniculture, the cultivation of grapes for wine-making.

Simply put, the lands around Mount Ararat appear to be where it all began.

"Ancient Armenian viniculture was so advanced by the eighth century B.C. that the Ararat Valley was described as the 'land of vineyards' in inscriptions of the kings of Urartu," McGovern writes. "Deep irrigation channels, still in use today, were dug through volcanic rock along the Razdan River (ancient Araxes) to water the grapevines and other crops."

In fact, McGovern argues that all agriculture as well as viniculture may be traced to the lands between the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- in other words, ancient Armenia.

So you can thank Armenians for bread as well as wine. I'll have to do a little more digging to see if we invented cheese, too. What else do you need to make a perfect meal?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas To All!

Yes, we know it's not Armenian Christmas -- but we're here in America, and it would be pretty depressing to feel left out of the joyous celebration going on all around.

Besides, it's always appropriate to pray for peace on Earth and good will among all of us who have to share the planet.

Looking back on this year, our family feels truly blessed. We wish the same for all of you, for all time.

So please forgive us if we repeat ourselves on Jan. 6: Shnorhavor Nor Dari yev Soorp Dznoont to you all, from Robyn, Doug, Mandy and Mary (Rob's Mom!)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eating well means eating "gud"

When we were kids, a bowl of roasted pumpkin seeds (what Armenians called "gud") always meant company was coming.

I could nibble through the whole bowl in no time, which is why they were usually locked away or stashed up high. Running out simply wouldn't do, as they were among the required mezzeh items that Armenians have always lavished on guests.

I can still nibble through a bowl in no time, but nowadays it's at least defensible and maybe even a smart thing for someone my age to do.

Roasted pumpkin seeds get raves from health-smart food sources. Among their good qualities are high levels of zinc, which is very much in vogue. Among the touted benefits are improved prostate and bone health in older (ahem...) men and potential cholesterol-lowering properties for everyone. Gud has even been promoted as a treatment for arthritis pain, according to the folks at Whole Foods.

Regardless of whether they're really a miracle snack, they're sure fun to eat. They're a little less fun to prepare because you have to scoop out a pumpkin, separate the seeds, dry them, soak them, boil them and roast them.
Or use my favorite method and buy them ready to eat.

If you insist on doing things the old fashioned way, try simmering the seeds in salted water for a half hour or so. Then spread them on a baking pan and roast at 350 for another half hour to 45 minues.

Just be careful not to let them burn.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cheese Kadaif

Christmas is a time filled with holiday cheer - and- holiday desserts.

Cookies are bountiful, but I’m on cookie-overload after the cookie-exchange party!

We were invited to the home of friends Bonnie and David for dinner, so I offered to bring something. Bonnie said anything would be fine, but if I just happened to be testing an Armenian recipe...
I wasn’t planning to test a recipe with Christmas shopping on my schedule, but I figured, “what the heck?"

So, this is what I made…. Cheese Kadaif (aka Kinaffeh).
I must warn you: if you're counting calories, this dessert might not be for you.

This is actually easier to make than cookies, and it’s oh, so good! The hard part, at least in certain areas, is finding the kadaif dough.

FYI: Kadaif  dough is shredded phyllo dough which is sold fresh or frozen. As long as you have access to a Middle Eastern store, you should be able to find  the dough. A box of Shredded Wheat (the large size rolled cereal) can be used in place of the commercially prepared kadaif dough, but it needs to be softened in cold milk, and placed on a towel to drain. Separate the cereal rolls and continue the recipe as given below.

Here’s how to make Cheese Kadaif


1 lb. package kadaif, defrosted and at room temperature
¾ lb. unsalted clarified butter*
1 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese**, or curd cheese, cut in 1/4inch slices

1. In a large bowl, separate the shreds of dough, fluffing it with your fingers.
2. Pour the melted butter over the dough, tossing to distribute butter throughout. (See first photo.)
3. Distribute half of the dough in a 8” x12” inch baking pan. Gently press down dough.
4. Arrange all of the cheese slices on top of the dough.
5. Cover cheese with the remaining dough, distributing it evenly.
6. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
7. Cut into serving pieces.
8. While still hot, pour some simple syrup*** over each piece. Let guests add more syrup, if desired.
9. Best served warm with steaming hot coffee.

* How to clarify butter: Slowly melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Let butter rest 5 minutes. Skim foam from the surface and discard. Ladle clarified (clear) butter into a bowl being careful not to scoop up any milk solids and water which have sunk to bottom of saucepan.

 **Robyn's note: I used Bel Gioioso Fresh Mozzarella. My local Publix (Hypoluxo & Lyons Rd, Lake Worth, FL) had a super deal on the cheese. Manager Eric, an Italian from Brooklyn, was selling it for $4.99 a pound instead of the usual $10.39 a pound. Who could pass up such a bargain?

***Simple Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
A drop of lemon juice

Heat sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved.
Add lemon juice.
Cool until ready to use.

By the way, Bonnie and David REALLY liked it, and so did we - if you don’t mind my saying. Hope you'll like it, too!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spice up the holidays!

The people in the test kitchen at POM Wonderful have been busy coming up with tasty recipes using pomegranate juice.
In fact, they created a dandy beverage just in time for the holidays called “Spiced POM Cider."

Here’s how to prepare this festive drink:

Spiced POM Cider

32 ounces POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate juice
8 oz. water
4 cinnamon sticks (broken in half)
6 whole cloves
1 star anise
6 green cardamom pods
6 juniper berries
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
Zest and juice from half of an orange

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a slow simmer over low heat.
2. Keep heat low and simmer for an additional 45 minutes, then turn off the heat.
3. Allow mixture to steep for at least 2 hours off the heat.
4. Strain and refrigerate.
5. Serve hot or cold; garnish with an orange slice.
6. For an alcoholic beverage, add 1 oz. apple brandy and ½ oz. Cointreau per serving.

We're making ours with Armenian brandy, of course!

For more of their recipes, visit

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dolma Deconstructed

I love stuffed vegetables. I love them even more when someone else does the stuffing.

All that mixing and scooping can be a drag after a long, hard day of blogging. Here's a shortcut that leads to the very same taste and texture with less effort.

Robyn calls it Dolma Deconstructed, because it breaks the traditional dolma recipe down into its basic components: vegetables, rice and meat.

Here's the deal...

Dolma Deconstructed (serves four)

1 cup white rice
1 pound chopped meat (lamb, beef or turkey)
1 medium onion, diced
1 handful of chopped parsley
3 medium zucchini (or veggie of your choice), peeled and cut into half-inch slices
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook the rice according to package directions.
While the rice is cooking, saute the onion and zucchini until both just start to soften. Add the parsley, stir, then remove from heat.
Brown the meat. Drain excess fat, then add seasonings to taste.
Add the diced tomato, stir, then thicken with the tomato paste
Add the zucchini and onion and season again.
Add lemon juice, or sumac.
(Optional: Add one beef bouillon cube and stir until dissolved.)

Cook on medium-high heat until the zucchini is tender (about 15 to 20 minutes)

Serve with the rice -- side-by-side, on top or any way you like. Also serve with cold yogurt. Eat it with your eyes closed and you'll swear you're eating dolma!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Good News; Bad News!

If you've been reading about our quest for quince, you know we found some - after a long and arduous search.

My local grocery store FINALLY started carrying quince, much to my delight! I saw a basketful of rather small, but healthy-looking quince, with no price. I found the produce manager - the one who thought persimmons were quince- and asked him "how much?". Of course, he didn't know, and had to check.

Upon his return, he grinned and said, "Too rich for my blood!"  "The price?" I asked. $3.29 each!

And I thought $2.99 each at The Fresh Market was over-priced!

What does quince cost in your area?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Finding quince: An Armenian culinary quest

Nobody ever said that finding quince would be easy.

Most supermarket produce managers don’t even know what they are, so how am I to find them? Instead of driving around, wasting time and gasoline, I got smart, and started calling nearby markets.

*Publix: the manager insisted I must be referring to persimmons or Asian pears. (I wasn't!)
*Winn-Dixie: had no clue what I was talking about.
*Whole Foods: told me they weren’t in season until December. I asked in October, at the beginning of quince season. For  the record: it's December now, and my local Whole Foods still doesn't have quince!
*Fresh Market: said they carried quince, but didn’t know if any were in stock- couldn‘t be bothered to check.

On an outing, Doug and I happened to be passing The Fresh Market (TFM). We stopped in even though I wasn’t sure any quince were in stock - at least I knew the store carried them.

At first glance I didn’t see any, so I asked the pleasant, young produce clerk where I could find quince. She asked me to repeat the question, which I did. She apologized meekly, admitting she didn’t know what a
quince was.

Oh My Gosh, I thought! I explained that I had phoned earlier, and was told TFM carried them, so could she please ask. While the young lady was gone, I spotted the elusive, exotic fruit. Smiling, I picked one up, caressing it - until I saw the price - $2.99 EACH!

I dug deep into my pockets and bought two beautiful quince - I had to. Where else was I going to find them?

So ,I finally had the quince. My next hurdle was to find a recipe that only used 2. After some serious searching, I located a recipe that came close.

Here it is- with some ingredient adjustments:

Candied Quince Preserves

2 quince
Juice of ½ lemon
1 1/2  cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 small cinnamon stick
Dash salt

1. Peel skin and core. Fruit is very hard so use caution!
2. Cut into ¼ inch slices.
3. Place slices in a heavy pot, covering with water and lemon juice to
prevent quince slices from browning.
4. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 10 minutes. Drain.
5. Return quince to pot, add the sugar, 1 ½ cups water, stick of
cinnamon and salt.
6. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
7. Cook for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until syrupy, and quince turns a
slightly pinkish color.**
8. Remove pot from heat. Discard cinnamon stick.
9. Store, refrigerated, in a container with tight-fitting lid. This
should keep for up to 2 months.

**For the record, my quince did not turn pink. (See photo) But, it sure tasted great!
To serve:

Top with plain, unsweetened, thick yogurt, clotted cream -or- creme fraishe
And a cup of piping hot Armenian coffee!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another Christmas Gift Idea...

About 10 years ago, I received a really neat gift from my sister, the likes I’d never seen before. It was a sampler box of infused vinegars from a company with an Armenian name - BOYAJIAN! What a great find!

Now that the shopping count-down has begun, the stress of trying to find the perfect gift is at it’s peak. Worry not; that’s what computers are for!
Boyajian, Inc.  was started in New England in 1978 by John Boyajian who was looking for a way to support himself through graduate school. He began by exporting live lobsters to Europe, then by distributing Petrossian caviar to hotels in the U.S. The infused oils and vinegars idea came later.

Boyajian, Inc. has a unique variety of oils which are infused with fresh herbs and spices such as habanero, basil, rosemary, lemon pepper, roasted chili. They have an Asian oil collection, as well - wasabi, Asian chili, spicy sesame- to name a few.

There are vinegars, vinaigrettes, dipping oils, citrus oils, and flavorings galore - and smoked salmon, too. Sorry, no more caviar, and raspberry-infused items are temporarily unavailable.
If you don’t see exactly what you want, Boyajian, Inc. will create a custom blend just for you! What more could you ask for?

Ready to order? Go to, or call 1-800-965-0665.

In case you missed Sunday's (Dec. 6th) post, check it out for MORE gift ideas! Only 14 shopping days left!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

St. David Food Fest: Good food, good time

The 3-day food festival at St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton, Florida is over for another year. If you didn’t get there, you missed a good time, although it wasn’t as crowded as I expected.

Perhaps the dreadful weather forecast kept people away. My husband, mother & I went on Saturday afternoon since the weather wasn’t as bad as predicted.

As we entered the Church lobby, we were greeted by long-time friend Ara Kazarian, who was manning the jewelry booth of Melanie Mikaelian. She makes such beautiful things! Once inside, you were drawn by the sight of table-after-table of “to-go” foods.

Other tables displayed handbags, clothing, accessories, bric-a-brac, and of course, Armenian items - books, cookbooks, music CD’s, shirts, hats, religious items - all for sale at popular prices. OK, now the food part. They served shish kebab made with filet mignon (pretty fancy, right?), huge lamb shanks, grilled chicken breast, and gyro platters.All came with rice pilaf, pita bread, and a salad.

Ala carte items included spinach & cheese boregs, yalanchi, assorted desserts - paklava, boorma, and rice pudding to name a few. They served soda, beer, American coffee, and a yogurt drink. If you wanted Armenian coffee, there was a separate set-up, so you could have your fortune told as well. (That’s always a big hit!)

Armenian music was playing softly in the background, while people ate and chatted. Naturally, as soon as I stepped out of the hall for a few minutes, the teenage girls did an Armenian dance routine to the music. Oh well, I missed it!

Sunday, after church - the last leg of the festival.

Local residents tried walking into the festival before church was over - a BIG no-no! The improved weather drew a larger crowd than the afternoon before which made for a nice finale.

A drawback to coming to the festival on the last day is that they always run out of the one thing you really want; for me it was the yalanchi. ALL GONE! What a disappointment! On the other hand, one of the perks of being there at the end, is that they drastically reduce the price of all kinds of things. So, we walked out with an arm-load of goodies.

Well, folks, if you didn’t get to any of the Armenian Food Festivals around the country this year, start looking for them as they start popping-up again. Different regions have them at different times of the year, so there might be one coming up in your area soon.

To get your appetite working in the meantime, here's a brief video taste of St. David's festival.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas is Armenian cookie time!

OK, really -- anytime is Armenian cookie time. But...

When I think of a Thanksgiving dessert, PIE automatically comes to mind. Mention Christmas, and all I can think of is ……COOKIES!

Every year for the past 10 or so years, my dear friend, Diana Saker and her neighbors, have hosted a cookie - ornament exchange extravaganza several weeks before Christmas. The neighbors, who all live on the same block, rotate hosting the big event thus cutting down on the stress and anxiety associated with this time of year.

The party is a BLAST! It’s become a Coral Springs, Florida phenomenon.

Women of all ages attend, dressed in traditional holiday colors of red and green. Each comes with one, gloriously wrapped, ornament which is immediately placed in a designated location, and 4 dozen of their favorite Christmas cookies.

One dozen of each batch of cookies is set out for sampling, along with a lavish buffet; the other 3 dozen are
placed on a special “cookie table” for mixing and matching at the end of the festivities. Every guest knows to bring a Tupperware container with a tight-fitting lid to take home the rewards of this sweet event. The host provides newcomers, and those who have simply forgotten, with a suitable container for packaging their take-home treats.

The ornament exchange is a humdinger, too. Each guest picks a random number from a bowl. No one ever wants to be #1. The higher your number,the better your chances are for taking home the most sought-after
ornament. Selecting a high number allows you to examine the ornaments that have already been chosen and unwrapped.

If you like someone else's ornament, you have the option of “stealing” theirs, or selecting one of the remaining wrapped ones. It’s really amusing to see women snatch a coveted ornament from someone else, causing the other person great disappointment. Fear not, the disappointed person has the opportunity to select again from the available packages - or - steal from yet another guest!

NOTE: This part of the party can last a while, depending on the number in attendance, and can get down-right-dirty …. in a fun way, of course!

Before I tell you what cookie recipe I’m making, I would love to know what you would make if invited to a cookie exchange gathering. If you’d like to have your cookie recipe posted, please send it to

The cookie recipe I’m making isn’t fancy - no sprinkles or exotic ingredients. It’s a very traditional Armenian cookie that goes really well with coffee, tea or even hot cocoa. Dunking is highly recommended!

Armenian Cookies

3 Tbsp. butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
4 ½ to 5 cups flour (perhaps a little more)
2 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
2 heaping Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup warm milk

1. Using an electric hand or stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar, until blended.
2. Add eggs, vanilla, baking powder, salt, and milk. Mix until blended.
3. Add flour, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition until a dough forms. At this point, gently work dough with your hands on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too sticky, you might need to add a little more flour.
4. Pinch off about a walnut-size piece of dough and roll it into a 6 inch rope. Shape into a circle (doughnut-shape) with lightly floured hands by pressing rope ends together. Continue this process until all dough is used.
5. Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet.
6. Place baking sheet on bottom rack in the oven. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Cool completely on a wire rack.
8. Store in an air-tight container.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Need Christmas Gift Ideas?

I happened to mention to one of my new friends, Margie (she’s the
lady who asked for the Bishi recipe) that my husband and one of his colleagues, Leila Alson, wrote a booklet called Say It Again, a say-it-yourself guide to the most commonly “mispronunciated” words.

(Get it? It’s supposed to be “mispronounced” words!)

It’s for anyone who just wants to sound intelligent, no matter the occasion -- especially anyone who has to speak in public.

Much to my surprise, she ordered 3 right on the spot! (Thank you, Margie!)

So, if any of you are interested, click on our connection below (keep on scrolling down to find it) and order yours today at Amazon's discounted price of $9.32!

If you look closely at the bottom of this page, there are some other gift ideas for you, too - books, CD’s, etc.

Make life easy; do your shopping with the click of your mouse! Only 19 shopping days left and counting!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Hi All,

I received an e-mail from George S. Yacoubian, Jr., J.D., Ph.D., volunteer President of the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR), Inc. (

He and his wife started this organization after adopting their daughter from Armenia in 2006. Their mission is to provide humanitarian relief to the orphanages in Armenia.

As a fundraising project for next year, SOAR would like to put together an Armenian cookbook. There is already a recipe link on their website for you to view.

Mr. Yacoubian has asked if my readers, and I would be interested in contributing any of our favorite recipes for this worthy cause.

They are collecting recipes between now and the end of this year. There are no recipe restrictions; just send in what you’d like, BUT, Armenian recipes are preferred.

Your recipes can be e-mailed directly to Mr. Yacoubian at:


Faxed to: 267-385-5814


Mailed to: SOAR
PO Box 537
Berwyn, PA 19312

Time is of the essence. I, for one, am game. Please say you are, too!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Food Festival Reminder!

Don't forget.....

WHAT: Food Festival
WHERE: St. David Armenian Church, Yamato Rd., Boca Raton, Florida
WHEN: Friday night
             Sunday (after church services)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Armenian Christmas Cookie Recipe

As I was flipping through the pages of an old Kalajian-family cookbook, a yellowed, slightly tattered piece of paper dropped to the floor.

When I picked it up, I realized it was a newspaper clipping - obviously from an Armenian-American newspaper. Don’t know which one, or when it was printed.

Apparently my mother-in-law saved this for a long time. She might have made the recipe, but I don’t know for sure. It certainly sounded good!

The recipe, which was submitted to the paper by Ms. Irene Guregian, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, is called “Apricot Crescent Cookies” (Dziranamahig).

Doug discovered that Ms. Guregian still resides in Chelmsford, and with the click of his mouse was able to find her phone number. I called, and had a nice conversation with her daughter Karen. Unfortunately Ms.
Guregian isn’t well, and did not recall which paper printed her recipe, but did remember that she created the recipe herself, and Karen confirmed that they are, indeed, delicious.

With Christmas just a few weeks away, I figured I'd better get a head-start on trying out this recipe. I altered it a bit, as noted below, and decided that these Apricot Crescent cookies really are delicious!

Apricot Crescent Cookies

2 cups sifted flour
½ lb. butter or margarine
1 egg yolk
¾ cup sour cream
¾ cup chopped walnuts ( pecans work well in this, too)
One jar apricot preserves

Cut butter into flour, using fingertips. Add yolk and sour cream. Mix well. Dough should be sticky. Shape into ball and sprinkle with flour.
Wrap in waxed paper and chill several hours. Divide dough into 3 parts.
Roll each section out to a large circle like a pie shell. Cut, as you would a pie wedge, into 12 sections or less. Mix nuts into apricot preserves.
Place heaping teaspoon into large section and start rolling toward small point to make crescent-shape (using fingers) as you place on (ungreased) cookie sheet. Bake in 350° oven 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

Yield: approximately 3 dozen.

For the record: The procedure I used to make this varied a bit. Here are the changes I made:
1. I used a pastry blender instead of my fingers.
2. After making the dough, I separated it into 3 equal balls, wrapped them individually, then refrigerated as directed. I kept the other balls of dough in the refrigerator until I was ready to use them.
3. After rolling each ball into a 12 inch circle, I spread 1/3 of a 10-ounce jar of apricot preserves on the surface of the dough.
4. Then I sprinkled about 2 or 3 Tbsp. of chopped pecans over the apricot.
5. I used a pizza wheel to cut the dough into 12 wedges. The wheel made this so easy! After that I prepared the recipe  as directed.
6. Be sure to cool the cookies on a wire rack. Store in a container with a tight fitting lid.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

St. David Armenian Church Food Festival: December 4th-6th

It’s December and Armenian Church Food Festivals are still in full-swing.

St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton, FL is having a 3-day Food Festival beginning this Friday night, Dec. 4th, and running through Sunday, Dec. 6th.

This is a VERY big deal! It’s not only a major fund-raiser for the church, but it marks the arrival of our winter parishioners, and the kick-off of numerous church-related events which will occur through Easter.

The Food Festival is so BIG that the cooking volunteers need this entire week to finish preparing the massive amount of food needed to accommodate the expected crowds. No senior cards today; sorry folks!

In addition to the Armenians, the non-Armenian community looks forward to this event as well. In fact, they’re some of our best customers! Seems they can’t get enough of our exotic flavors. Oh, and there’s take-out food, too. So, if you’re too busy to sit and eat, it’s not a problem!

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in for a while, and see "eench gah che gah". Who knows, you might even see ....... ME!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Does Armenian food go better with Pepsi?

Check out the home page of The American Turkish Society and you can't help being drawn to the instantly familiar Coca-Cola logo trumpeting the group's Annual Gala Dinner on May 28.

(Of course, the date is also Armenian Independence Day -- but let's assume that's mere coincidence.)

The soft drink giant's promotion of the event -- and the organization -- is no surprise: Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the The Coca-Cola Company, is a member of the American Turkish Society's board of directors and one of this year's major honorees.

Not familiar with the American Turkish Society? It bills itself as "America’s oldest not-for-profit organization seeking to enhance economic, political, and cultural ties between Turkey and the United States."

In doing so, the group honors prominent Turkish-Americans like Mr. Kent, promotes Turkish business in the U.S. and encourages American companies and executives who do business in Turkey. Among the honorees in recent years, for example, was William Clay Ford of the Ford Motor Company, which has been a partner in a Turkish assembly operation since the 1960s.

This all seems harmless enough. However, the American Turkish Society also has opposed American recognition of The Armenian Genocide on grounds that it would harm U.S.-Turkish relations. The group's position echoes the insulting talking points of the Turkish government, referring to the "deeply painful period in history for both Turks and Armenians."

Mr. Kent is, by all accounts, a very impressive man whose business achievements are worthy of note. According to his company bio, he holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from Hull University, England, and a master of science degree in administrative sciences from London City University.

He joined Coke in 1978 and has risen through a variety of jobs since, including General Manager of Coca-Cola Turkey and Central Asia. He became chairman of the board of directors earlier this year.

I haven't done an exhaustive study, but a quick search of news archives turned up nothing controversial regarding Armenians in Mr. Kent's public statements. But to me, Coca-Cola's support for an organization that promotes Genocide denial speaks volumes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Friendly Christmas Reminder...

Time is running out!

Thanksgiving is officially behind us. Christmas is less than a month away, and New Year, and Armenian Christmas are close behind.

It’s time, dear friends, to share your family’s favorite holiday recipe(s) and tradition(s) (with photos, if possible) between now and January 6th.
So dig through your recipe files and photo albums, and send your favorites to:


Friday, November 27, 2009

Can the French really love Armenian frogs?

I've half-jokingly noted that Armenians aren't traditionally big beef eaters because cows can't walk up a mountain without falling over.

But it's quite true that present-day Armenia doesn't have an excess of flat land suitable for grazing, much less farming on a scale that Americans take for granted.

What Armenia does have is some very clever Armenians who are betting on aquaculture over agriculture.

The Web site Eurasianetorg reports that Armenia is exporting a "growing volume of farmed frogs, crawfish and eels to the European Union and Ukraine."

The effort may be just paying off, but the experiment has been going on for a while. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, commercial fish farming in Armenia started in the 1950s in the Lake Sevan area and has been growing since. Trout, sturgeon and carp are popular products.

Crawfish, eel and frogs have joined the menu because they fetch premium export prices.

The Armenian aqua-farms must be churning out some good stuff: So far this year, Armenia has shipped at least five tons of frozen frogs to France, which is pretty fussy about such things.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to ALL

We, at The Armenian Kitchen, extend our Happy Thanksgiving Wishes to our readers, followers and their families.

Thank you all for becoming part of our lives.

Robyn and Douglas Kalajian

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eggplant -or in my case- Zucchini relish

I don’t use eggplant in my home recipes. As I've noted, my husband is allergic to it.

So I always substitute zucchini for the eggplant.

But, eggplant is a wonderful vegetable in that it absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with, such as the recipe I’m about to share.

Eggplant Relish

1 eggplant,( or 2 medium zucchini) peeled, and cut into ½ inch circles
2 peppers (green, red, yellow, orange - it’s up to you)
2 onions
2 cloves garlic & 2 wooden toothpicks
1 - 4 oz can tomato sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Fry eggplant (or zucchini) in ½ inch of cooking oil. Drain on paper towel. Cut eggplant into 1 inch pieces and set aside.
2. Spear each clove of garlic with a toothpick. Set aside.
3. Cut peppers and onions into 1 inch pieces. Place in skillet and sauté with garlic cloves until soft. Remove garlic cloves- it‘s easy to do, just grab the toothpicks! Drain excess oil.
4. Add the eggplant (or zucchini), and tomato sauce in the skillet with the peppers and onions; cook for another 10 to 15 minutes- or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in juice of one lemon.
6. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
7. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ara Kassabian's Armenian Stuffing

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Are you ready?

One of the many recipes I’ll be making is the Armenian Stuffing recipe mentioned here.

One of my readers, Ara Kassabian, was kind enough to share his family’s version of Armenian stuffing. It sounds most delicious with the combination of spices, nuts, meat, and rice.

Ara says:
Similar recipe: When you buy the chicken, make sure it comes with the giblets, liver, etc. Also take a little bit of lamb or beef. Cut everything into small dice (about 1/2 inch) and season with salt, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and clove ("baharat").

Heat butter in a small frying pan and fry some slivered almonds, pine nuts, boiled chestnuts, peeled pistachios... Remove the nuts and add the meat. After it is browned, add water and cook.

Make the rice separately, again adding the baharat. Mix the two and stuff the chicken.

In "ghoozoo ichi," you do the same thing but keep the meat in large, flat slices. I think you can also add dried apricots, raisins, a little sugar. The mixture then goes on top of the rice. Alternatively, you take a whole suckling lamb and stuff with the rice/nut mixture. When the lamb is cooked (I guess in the oven or on a barbecue), you just put it on a large platter with the stuffing artistically pouring out of the cavity.

Thank you for sharing, Ara.

We, at The Armenian Kitchen, wish you ALL a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


This item was just sent in from Audrey in NY.

Today's blog follows this announcement...........................................................


FROM 1:00PM TO 6:00PM

580 W 187TH STREET
(212) 927-4020


How Much Do You Know About Rice?

Armenians love rice. Who doesn't, really?

A staple for more than half the world's population, rice is a marvelously adaptable grain. It can be ground into flour, starch, meal and flakes.

We're particularly fond of rice in the form of...well, rice. It can fill a belly all by itself, stretch a bowl of hearty stew into a family meal or (best of all) soak up all the richness and flavor of gravies and meats.

In other words, it's a perfect Armenian side dish.

Historically, Armenians had to import much of their rice because it's not much of a mountain crop. Rice is actually the seed of grass-like plants that grow in water, so it's better suited to flat, marshy lands.

Henry C. Barkley, English author of the 1891 book A Ride through Asia Minor and Armenia, wrote about an ambitious plan to grow rice in the province of Bursa by damming streams to create a flooded plain a few miles outside town.

The plan worked so well that it held "the prospect of becoming one of the richest spots in Turkey."

Unfortunately, Barkley writes, its success was its downfall. "The jealousy of the Turks was aroused so they reported to Constantinople that the rice fields produced fever..."

The flooding had indeed left stagnant water that could have been cleared up without destroying the rice fields, but the Ottoman government put an end to the enterprise.

Barkely noted "the Turk can bear with the fever...but he cannot bear the successful Christian..."

Today we buy our rice in the grocery store, choosing from a sometimes bewildering variety. White and brown are just the beginning. There are also three distinct categories based on grain types: short, medium and long-grain.

Some readers have asked which is best for making pilaf. That is really a matter of personal preference.

My maternal grandmother used Carolina long grain rice which has a soft, light texture. My mom uses Uncle Ben’s converted, parboiled long grain rice which allows the grains to remain separate, yet fluffy.

We like Basmati -- or its American cousin, Texmati.

Whatever you choose, be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for cooking. Some say to boil the water first, then add the rice and simmer; others say to add the rice to the water, bring to a boil then simmer.

But please don’t use instant rice for any of the long-cooking Armenian recipes such as dolma or yalanchi. The filling will be nothing but mush.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Holiday Season is Here!

You can tell that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Here in South Florida, it’s not the weather that gives it away because it’s still 80-plus degrees outside.

You can tell the season is here with the arrival of numerous auto transport carriers which are delivering car-after-car for our “Snow Bird” residents, my mother included.

Stores began displaying Christmas decorations before Halloween -- talk about rushing things! I suppose it’s a good idea to plan ahead, but... Really!

What are YOUR plans? Have any of you finalized your Thanksgiving guest list and menu?

We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving for the last 30 years with our dear friends Barbara, Kevin, Joe and Caitlin Hall, along with whichever friends or family members happen to be visiting Florida at the time. Mom and Auntie Arpie top the list, of course. By the way, that's Caitlin in the photo.

Our guest list has grown to include Cailtlin’s husband, Richard and their, son, Dylan, plus two other special friends who have become an extension of our family - Leila Alson and her husband Sheldon Teller.

The more the merrier, we say. Sadly, our daughter, Mandy hasn’t been here for Thanksgiving since she began working in New York City, but we are blessed to have her with us for Christmas.

Our Thanksgiving meal is a collaborative effort. Since we are the hosts, Doug makes the turkey and delicious homemade gravy. We usually have another protein which varies from year to year - sometimes it’s ham, or even kufta!

I make the Armenian stuffing- and American-style too, fresh cranberry sauce, plus apricot pie and pumpkin pie. Barbara makes the best mashed potatoes, and green bean almandine; Caitlin makes homemade vanilla ice cream (so yummy!); Aunt Arpie makes cheese boregs or her famous midia dolma; Leila brings deliciously caramelized fresh- from- the- farm roasted vegetables. Oh, and don’t forget the freshly baked loaves of bread!

However you celebrate, remember to give thanks, each step of the way.

We, at, wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bishi or Zing-a-Ling, the Armenian Zeppoli (or Pancake)

Margie's Bishi
Margie, a reader from PA., had a special request for me - to help find a recipe her grandmother used to make. The recipe, bishi, is deep-fried dough -- lighter than donuts, more like a crueller sprinkled with sugar.

When I consulted Doug, we decided it sounded a lot like the Zing-a-Ling recipe his mother and my grandmother used to make. Great, I thought, but I didn’t have the recipe. He suggested asking cousin Alice Bakalian.

Within a few hours of my e-mail, Alice responded in disbelief. She said she was given the Zing-a-Ling recipe in 1987 from her husband’s cousin Rosie but never made it until one week before my request,  when Rosie
paid her a visit.

She was shocked at the timing of my request. What a coincidence! Alice immediately mailed me a copy of the recipe.

In the meantime, I was curious to see if anyone out in computer-land had a recipe for bishi - or zing-a-ling. The answer……of course! I found a recipe for Bishi, the “Armenian Zeppoli” at sent in
by a person named Manoushag. It was her grandmother’s recipe using yeast, flour, eggs, etc.

Margie with her finished product
I sent Margie this website/recipe information. Much to her delight, it was exactly what she was looking for! The recipe from cousin Alice was very similar.

Margie sent me photos of her attempt to make the bishi, which I promised I’d share with all of you. Thanks Margie for your inquiry and gracious participation!

Here's a slight variation of the recipe from cousin Alice Bakalian:

Bishi, from
Bishi or  Zing-a-ling 
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
¾ cup water
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 cup flour
Dissolve yeast and sugar in ¾ cup water.
Mix flour, baking powder, and eggs in a bowl. Stir in yeast mixture until blended.  Let stand 20 minutes to allow mixture to thicken and rise.
Heat vegetable oil, such as Mazola, in a deep fryer to 375°F.
Test with a small amount of dough. Drop dough in hot oil, one tablespoon at a time. Fry until golden brown all around.
After frying, drain on paper towels, then dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Armenian coffee: A soorj of delight. (With VIDEO!)

Like so many adult indulgences, Armenian coffee is an acquired taste -- and I'm glad I finally acquired it, although it's only an occasional treat now because I managed to consume about four lifetimes' worth of caffeine during my years in the newspaper business.

Sadly, I squandered my ration by guzzling mug after mug of weak and tasteless American coffee made in machines where the water and coffee grounds pass by each other like strangers on fast-moving trains, never even getting friendly much less intimate.

Properly made, Armenian coffee demands a bit more time and all of your attention. The result is definitely worthwhile.

Truth in brewing: Everyone I knew as a kid, including my father, called it Turkish coffee. There's no point arguing about whether Armenians or Turks invented it because we'd both lose. Coffee was most likely brought to the Near East by the Arabs, who carried the beans from North Africa.

The common element in coffee from Greece to the Middle East is that the beans are ground so finely that they turn nearly to powder. If you can't find the proper grind in a Middle Eastern store, you need to grind your own with a device that can produce the right consistency.

Note: Do not substitute espresso. It won't taste right.

Armenian Coffee (Soorj)

You'll need an Armenian coffee pot (available in Middle Eastern stores) or a small saucepan, and Armenian coffee cups (or demitasse cups)


Coffee, ground super fine
Sugar (optional)
Cardamom (optional)


Set the empty cups on a serving tray near the stove and place one cardamom pod or seed in each.
Pour one cup of cold water in the pot for each cup of coffee.
Add one generous teaspoon of coffee for each cup of water and stir thoroughly. (I like to add an extra spoon of coffee, but adjust to your taste.)
Add one level teaspoon of sugar for each cup of water and stir again.
Turn the heat on high.

Keep an eye on the pot. In this case, a watched pot definitely WILL boil -- but an unwatched pot will boil over. Either way, you've ruined the coffee.

Critical point: The coffee mixture will begin to foam when it heats. As it's about to boil, the foam will start to rise to the top of the pot. Take the pot off the heat. DO NOT let the coffee boil.

Stir the coffee and place it back on the heat. Repeat at least once more.

When the foam rises a third time, the coffee's ready.

Pour a little coffee into each cup and continue until they're all full. (Don't fill one cup at a time or there may not be enough foam to go around.) Leave enough room at the top to add some of the foam. If the foam has dissipated before you're done, put the coffee back on the heat JUST until it foams again.

Never add milk when serving -- but, for a rich variation, substitute cold milk for cold water for all or part of the recipe.

Don't be alarmed if the bottom of your cup has a thick, muddy coating. That's normal. When you're done with the drinkable part, try turning the cup upside down (in a saucer, of course) and let the sludge coat the sides.

In the Old Country, the wise old women could tell fortunes by "reading" the resulting patterns. If your fortune says you're entitled to another cup, just heat the remaining coffee.

See how it's done by clicking here for our video.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to make Red Pepper Paste - the LONG Version

In a posting from April 22, I wrote about the “secret ingredient” in so many of my grandmother’s recipes - Red Pepper Paste. The original method of preparation is time-consuming - and messy, so I offered a simpler, neater version of the recipe.

An anonymous reader of the Armenian Kitchen requested the original, lengthy version of how to make red pepper paste, so here it is, and don’t say I didn’t warn you! Please note: it’s best to make this in late September when red peppers are at their peak (depending on where you live, of course) and prices are low. Also note that the amounts given for salt and cayenne pepper are vague, because Nanny never measured; she could tell by taste when things were just right.

Red Pepper Paste - the way Nanny made it

1 bushel red bell peppers
Cayenne pepper, to taste -or- optional, if you don’t want the heat
Salt, to taste


Initial Preparation:
1. Wash peppers. Remove seeds and white membrane. Rough cut peppers to fit into a hand grinder or food processor. You’ll need a large pan to collect the ground-up pepper “mash”.
2. Add salt, tasting as you go, so as not to overdo it.
3. Stir in cayenne pepper to taste, if using. Be very careful; this stuff is HOT! The pepper mash should have a little “kick” to it, but it shouldn‘t make you cry.

Cooking: You might need to cook in batches, depending on the amount of red pepper mash you end up with.
1. Place mash in a large pot and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the amount reduces. Be very careful not to burn the mash during this process, which will take a very long time - hours, in fact.
2. When the mash resembles the thickness of ketchup, remove it from the heat, and transfer it to large, flat cookie sheets with 1-inch sides. Spread the mash evenly.
3. Take the cookie sheets outside and allow to dry in the sun for 2 to 3 days.
SPECIAL NOTE: Nanny monitored this process diligently, making sure no insects or other outdoor debris came in contact with the pepper mash. She always brought the trays inside if there was a hint of moisture in the air, and after dark. Also note: if making this in hot, dry weather, the drying process shouldn’t take as long.

Becoming a Paste: When the mash is dried, it takes on the form of a thick paste.

1. Place red pepper paste in sterile jars. Leave the jars open a few more days in the sun.
2. Before sealing the jars, pour some olive oil to cover the surface. Seal jar tightly with lid.
3. Refrigerate after opening, or freeze.

How to freeze red pepper paste: The trick is to use plastic ice cube trays. Place about a tablespoonful of paste in each ice cube compartment. Cover with heavy freezer wrap or place in freezer plastic bags, and place trays in freezer. When ready to use, remove the number of red pepper paste cubes you need & defrost in the refrigerator. Keep the other “cubes” frozen until needed.

What to use red pepper paste in: Sarma Gurgood- Nanny's version of Tabbouleh, potato salad, soup, stew, Banerov Hatz, bulgur recipes, dips, spreads - or whatever recipe your heart desires!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armenians in Charlotte, North Carolina

On our recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, Doug and I were excited to see the blazing autumn colors as we drove past the trees and rolling hills.

The last time we saw any trees so vibrant was the fall of 1978 - just as we were making our move to South Florida.

We didn’t go to Charlotte just for the scenery; we were on a mission, of sorts. We’re trying to decide if the Upper South is a good fit for us.

One big consideration for me is that there must be an Armenian community, and I already know that one exists in Charlotte.

How do I know? Diane Gulkasian Tudor, a girl I knew from Sunday School in New Jersey, is the chair of the Parish Council at St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Charlotte. Since I also know Diane’s mother, Florence, and sister Joan, I contacted Diane to tell her of our visit.

We tried to coordinate our trip with a church event, so we could get a feel for their Armenian community.

As luck would have it, there was a fundraising dinner at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The purpose of the event was to raise money for the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), which “offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination."

For the buffet-style dinner, the Orthodox churches in the area provided an array of ethnic foods -- Armenian, Greek, Serbian, Ethiopian, Coptic -- after which was entertainment by Greek and Serbian dance groups. The dinner menu was as varied as it was delicious: avgolemono soup, sarma topped with pomegranate seeds, white bean salad, a fava bean dish that was to-die-for, rice with nuts, roast pork, fish, spicy chicken, baked chicken - too many items to mention - except dessert- an assortment of mini paklavas, homemade brownies, cakes, fruit; OK, I'll stop here since I'm running out of room.

Doug and I sat at the “Armenian” table where we had a chance to chat about life in North Carolina. I have to say, everyone was gracious, and had a true love of Charlotte’s way of life.

We only got a tiny taste of what it would be like as an Armenian in North Carolina, but what we experienced, we liked.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quince: The confoundingly delicious Armenian fruit

Have you ever taken a bite out of a quince? You'd remember if you did.

Like olives, quince is not edible when first picked. It looks like a yellow pear and smells deliriously sweet, but the fruit inside is a tongue-puckering nightmare that instantly sucks up every last trace of saliva.

Cooked quince, however, has been savored throughout Asia and the Mediterranean region for more than 4,000 years. Armenians have a particular fondness for quince that's candied, jellied or cooked in stew to lend its sweetness to meat.

It's a treat that most Americans will never taste, as quince isn't stocked in most grocery stores here. Case in point: I went to my local supermarket and asked the produce manager where I could find the quince. He thought for a moment, walked with me to a display, and handed me a persimmon! Not even close! I suggested he research his produce some more. You really have to search for it, and most people don't know enough to bother.

Doug remembers his father's delight at discovering a quince tree in a friendly neighbor's yard. The neighbor had no use for the fruit, so bushels of it were cheerfully passed over the fence to find their way into pot after pot on his Mom's stove.

The Romans used the fruit and flowers of the quince for perfume and honey. The quince symbolized love, and was given as a sign of commitment to that special person.

It has a yellowish skin and hard, off-white interior. Its peak season is October to December. Because quince is high in pectin, it’s great as jelly, jam or preserves. Peel it before using it in any sweet or savory dish, and never-ever try to eat it raw!

Here’s a recipe from The Assyrian Cookbook, created by the women of the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, Paramus, N.J.

NOTE: Because we haven't been able to find any quince this season, this recipe has not been tested in The Armenian Kitchen - yet.

HYVAH - Quince Stew
Yield: 4 to 5 servings

2 lbs. lamb, trimmed and cubed
3 lbs. quince, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp salt

1. Cover lamb with water. Bring to a boil, removing foam as it rises to surface.
2. Cover and cook until tender, about 1 hour.
3. Brown quince in butter.
4. Add quince and remaining ingredients to meat. Cover and simmer until tender.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A friendly reminder...

We’re asking you, Dear Readers, to share your family’s favorite holiday recipe(s) and tradition(s) (with photos, if possible) between now and Armenian Christmas. So dig through your recipe files and photo albums, and send your favorites to:


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chef George Duran - aka George Kevork Guldalian

I’ve been trying to reach George Duran for the last couple of months.

With each e-mail I send, I get an instant reply stating that he’ll get back to me as soon as he’s done frying his Twinkies. I guess it takes a long time to fry Twinkies, because I haven’t heard from him yet.
NOTE: In case you don't know, Twinkies are golden, spongy snack cakes filled with cream. These were Doug's favorite American snack treat; I preferred Hostess Chocolate cream-filled cupcakes!)

I have to exercise patience because George has had quite a busy schedule. He was recently on an Alaskan cruise as the celebrity chef, toured the country doing Latin cooking demonstrations at various Macy’s Department stores, and lately has been seen on TV in an amusing commercial for Hunt's canned tomatoes. If you happen to be in New York City's Times Square, you'll see a bigger-than-life billboard of George and the Hunt's tomato promo. Pretty impressive!

If you don’t know who George Duran is, then you don’t watch the Food Network. I first heard of him when he had a show on that channel called “Ham on the Street." Duran is not only a chef, he's one with a sense of humor.

About a year ago, I read an article in the Armenian Reporter written by Lola Koundakjian that revealed Duran’s true identity. George Duran is an Armenian from Caracas, Venezuela -- real name George Kevork Guldalian.
Imagine that... an Armenian chef on the Food Network! Way to go George! He attended NYU (New York University) to study communication (TV, radio, etc.) and later turned his sights to becoming a chef, getting his training in France.

Fortunately, he speaks French (and Spanish and English), got his training there, ended up on a French cable TV cooking show, and won some awards for it. Back in the US, Duran wound up with his own show on the Food Network. Not bad for a kid from Caracas.

Why am I interested in getting in touch with George? Well, first of all, he’s Armenian. Second, we both have a passion for food. And third, I am curious to know if he or anyone in his family knows my relatives who live in Caracas - their family names are: Kelesarian, Berejiklian, and Bekirian.

Armenian families tend to know who’s who no matter where in the world they are, and who knows, we might be related, too!

In any case, we're proud of you , George. Keep up the good work!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding the Middle East in The South

We just got back from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we had a great time with new friends as well as old.

Our imaginations were stirred by the charming homes and luxuriant landscape. We wondered: Would this be the right place to settle down in our semi-retired years?

Obviously, there are many factors to consider before making any move. As usual, Robyn boiled everything down to one essential question: Is there any place to buy Armenian ingredients?

We assumed so, as we know there is a large Armenian community. But we had to find out for ourselves. A trip to each of the local grocery chains satisfied part of the question. Not only did we find American lamb, we were stunned to see a bin full of fine, ripe quince -- something we've failed to turn up so far this season here in South Florida.

This still left a long list of less-common items in question. The answer came from an unexpected source when a sticky toilet handle prompted us to call the hotel's front desk on our first night in town.

A fellow named John showed up quickly to fix the problem. As I thanked him, he looked me in the eye and asked, "Are you from the Middle East?"

The question caught me off guard and I replied, "No, I'm from Florida." Then I realized he was really wondering about my ethnicity and added, "We're Armenian."

John beamed.

"I'm from Egypt," he said. "We're Coptics."

The Armenian and Coptic churches share an ancient kinship, and it was interesting to discover that both communities in Charlotte are large enough to support parishes. But it was our culinary commonalities that interested Robyn.

"Where do you buy groceries?" she asked.

John reached in his pocket and pulled out a receipt.

"I just bought bulgur," he said, handing me the paper so I could copy down the name and address of the store.

Friendly people are certainly one of Charlotte's major assets -- and John from Egypt ranks near the top.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Zatar, Za’atar, Zahtar

What is this, you ask?

Zatar is a spice blend, commonly used in Middle Eastern or North African cuisine. It is used on meats, and vegetables, or can be blended with olive oil to use as a spread on pita bread, or as a dip.

Commercially prepared Zatar can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores- or try making the mixture yourself.

Zatar Mix:

1 cup ground sumac**
2 cups roasted, ground sesame seeds
½ cup ground thyme
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. dried marjoram
2 Tbsp. dried leaf savory - or ground savory ***
Salt to taste, optional
Mix all ingredients -except the salt- together.
Store in a tightly covered container.

**Sumac: a fruity-tart spice, sold ground, powdered or in the whole dried berry form. The powdered form usually has salt in it. It complements fish, meats, and vegetables, and is sold in Middle Eastern stores.

***Savory: comes in 2 types. Summer and winter. Summer savory is milder in taste than the winter variety, but both are pretty strong in taste, so use sparingly. It’s flavor is a cross between thyme and mint. Savory is used in soups, stews, on meat, fish, and bean dishes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Okra is NOT an Armenian talk show host

I'm not a fan of okra (bamya).

I can’t help it! It’s not that it tastes bad; it’s the texture I object to. Have you ever seen fresh okra? Touched it?

It’s not a bad looking vegetable, but it has a somewhat fuzzy exterior. The words “fuzzy” and “vegetable” should never be used in the same sentence, if you get what I mean.

It’s taste is actually mild - inoffensive, in fact. What REALLY turns me off is the slimy goo okra produces when cooked for a long time. This “goo” is actually a viscous substance that serves as a thickening agent.

Being a culinary person I know this, but somehow my tongue just can’t get past that texture. It’s really a shame, too, because Doug really loves okra. On a rare occasion, he’ll make himself okra cooked with tomatoes, onions, and spices.

I’ll have to admit, the recipe always smells great, but I just can‘t bring myself to eat it. If okra is cooked until it has a bit of crunch left in it, I might give it a try. In fact, I’ve eaten pickled okra and was perfectly fine with that - it had more of a firm cucumber pickle crispness - no goo.

Armenians are particularly fond of okra and use it in many recipes including gouvaj and geragours. Young okra, 3 to 4 inches long, will be tender. Larger okra will be more fibrous and chewy.

My friend, Hasmig Eskandarian, thought of me when she came across an article about okra (bamya) because she knows how I feel about it. Unlike me, the article’s author, Betty Apigian-Kessel, was able to “conquer her fear” of bamya. Click on this link to read her story, and try her recipe.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bastegh is the only "Nanny Candy" worth eating -- if you can make it right!

Have you ever heard of "Nanny Candy?"

If you’re Armenian, and you have or had a grandmother, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

My grandmother, Yeranuhe Nanny, always had candy in her house - but not American candy like Hershey’s Kisses or Snicker’s bars.

Her favorites were candy-coated dried chick peas, and pastel-colored, sugar covered almonds that were so hard you were afraid you’d break a tooth. Then there was the glass bowl on her coffee table filled with sugary, multi-colored hard candies that would invariably clump together from the humidity, making it impossible to separate.

Occasionally, as we’d be driving home from church, Nanny would rummage through her purse, pull out a crumpled but clean tissue, and offer us kids some of her “special” traveling candy. She’d carefully unwrap the tissue to display the selection, expecting us to joyfully pick a favorite.

Much to our dismay, we’d find that each piece was covered in tissue lint. She never quite understood why we rejected her sweet treat offer.

There’s only one candy that Nanny had that we didn't reject. Bastegh, or Fruit Leather. Hers was a homemade delight. She didn’t make it often, but when she did, it didn’t last long because it tasted so good! Nanny used the grapes from her backyard vine and extracted the juice- a messy and tedious procedure. To make things simpler, the modern-day cook is wise to use bottled grape juice.

Here’s how to make Bastegh:

3 cups of purple grape juice
granulated sugar to taste (1/4 cup - more or less)
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
Cornstarch, for later use

1. In a large pot, combine the juice and sugar. Heat gently until the sugar begins to dissolve.
2. Slowly whisk in the sifted flour. Be sure the flour is well-blended to prevent lumping. If lumps appear, carefully pour grape mixture through a strainer, discarding any lumps. Return grape mixture to pot.
3. Bring mixture to a gentle boil, stirring constantly.
4. When the mixture begins to thicken, remove pot from the heat. Allow to cool to lukewarm.
5. Place parchment paper on 2 baking sheets. Dividing the mixture in half, spread it to a thickness of 1/8 inch using an off-set spatula, or the back of a large spoon. Allow about an inch or more of the edge parchment paper to show or else you’ll have trouble hanging it to dry or peeling the paper away from the fruit leather later on. (Special note: this is a messy procedure, so spread extra parchment paper around the table to collect any drips.)
6. Allow to set for 24 hours.
7. Hang the fruit sheet(s) on a line to dry - about a day or two. If drying indoors, place parchment or newspaper on the floor - just in case!
8. When the fruit sheet is dry, carefully peel away the parchment paper and discard.
9. Sprinkle cornstarch on the fruit leather to prevent it from sticking.

To serve:
Cut fruit leather into strips or squares. Wrap the leather around a piece of walnut - or any other kind of nut, and enjoy! Eating it plain is great, too.
To store:
Place pieces in a plastic bag, or cover tightly in plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator.

Don’t like grape juice? This recipe can be made with apple juice, too.

WARNING: Don't try to make bastegh when it's hot and humid. Trust me, I know. After the bastegh set for 24 hours, I hung the sheets of grape-covered parchment paper, as directed.
Within 20 minutes I noticed purple globs on the tile floor- not a pretty sight! (See above photo for "what not to do".)