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".)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bolsetsi Kufteh...or is it?

In the Southern U.S., a recipe called "Porcupine Meatballs" combines ground beef with chopped onion, rice, seasonings. The mixture is formed into balls, then cooked in a tomato-based sauce.

Why the name porcupine? The cooked rice sticks out of the meatballs, somewhat resembling the quills that protrude from a porcupine.

Aside from the above tidbit, the recipe sounds suspiciously similar to an Armenian recipe my mother-in-law gave me. She called it Bolsetsi Kufteh -- in other words, kufteh (Armenian meatballs) as made in Bolis, the Armenian name for Istanbul.

Neither of us can vouch for the origin of the recipe. Doug's Mom wasn't Bolsetsi, nor was anyone else in either of our families.

But we can assure you that this is one hearty, satisfying dish that combines the tang of Armenian lemon-chicken soup with the tummy-filling goodness of meat and rice.

Do any of you recognize this dish by another name? If so, please let us know!

Bolsetsi Kufteh

Meatball Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef, lamb or turkey
1 egg
½ small onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup uncooked long grain rice
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash water
2 quarts of water
3 beef bouillon cubes (or salt and pepper to taste)

1. Mix together the meat, egg, onion, rice, salt, pepper & dash of water.
2. Shape into about 12 - 15 meatballs. Coat in flour.
3. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil; add bouillon cubes.
4. Carefully add meatballs to water. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Here's the part of our recipe that makes it different from the southern version. The southern recipe generally use a tomato-based sauce; the Armenian sauce uses egg yolks and lemon juice, no tomatoes.

Sauce Ingredients:
2 egg yolks
Juice of one lemon, or to taste

Sauce Directions:
Prepare sauce just before serving.
1. In a small bowl, mix together the egg yolks and lemon juice.
2. Add a few tablespoons of the hot cooking broth to the egg-lemon mixture, stirring constantly.
This procedure, called tempering, helps prevent the eggs from scrambling.
3. Slowly stir the tempered egg mixture into the broth - the color of the broth will change instantly.
4. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately in soup bowls with lots of crusty bread for dipping.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Share your Christmas recipes -- please!

Holiday feast at the Kalajian home
Nothing stirs up great memories like the taste of familiar food. And no memories are more joyous than those of holidays 'round the table with friends and family.

Robyn and I have a treasured menu of favorite foods that are holiday essentials that take us back to our youth. Some are simple and require nothing more than a trip to our favorite Middle Eastern store: an abundance of pistachios, basturma and dried fruits. These were always ready for surprise company.

Some take a bit of work, but it's worthwhile -- especially the desserts. Apricot pie is a sentimental favorite here, made with a recipe passed down from my mother's father. Of course, there's also paklava and Armenian cake.

We're guessing you have your own favorites that make the Thanksgiving-through-Armenian Christmas season special.

Would you be so kind as to share them?

We'd love to hear your favorite Armenian food memories AND recipes. We'll feature them all here during the holiday season, along with a photo of you. Send along pics of holidays past, too.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stovetop Lamb Roast: Sunday dinner, any day of the week

Our stovetop Lamb Roast

Pardon us for being a little heat sensitive here in Florida.

Summer may be over according to the calendar, but Mr. Sun is still blazing away through the ever-thinning ozone layer.

So turning on the oven just doesn't seem like a bright idea.

Still, we love good roast any time of year and we love lamb any day of the week. Luckily, stove-top roasting is one of our favorite cooking methods.

In addition to keeping the house cooler, it has one big advantage over oven roasting: The gravy makes itself, and it's deliciously intense.

It's also really, really easy.

Here's how we do it:

Stove Top Lamb Roast
1 lamb roast (bone-in or boneless, your choice) 4-5 pounds
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken broth
ground coriander
3 bay leaves
two carrots, chopped
two stalks celery, chopped
one medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
olive oil
more ground coriander

Trim the tough membrane off the roast but leave a little fat
Heat the roasting pan with enough oil to coat the bottom. (Note: The pan must have a tight-fitting cover.)
Add and saute the onion, carrots, celery and garlic
Season with salt, pepper and freshly ground coriander
When the vegetables start to brown, turn the heat up to medium high and place the lamb in the pan fat-side down.
Season the meat with salt, pepper and more ground coriander. Turn after about five minutes.
Brown the other side of the meat about the same time, then add the wine and chicken broth.
There should be enough liquid to cover about a third of the meat. If not, add water or more broth.
Add the bay leaves.
Turn the heat to a medium simmer and cover the pan.

That's it. Just let it cook until it's done to your liking. Figure 20 minutes a pound for medium-well. Just be careful not to turn the heat up too high. Slow roasting means tender, more evenly done meat -- just as in the oven.

Skim the liquid and serve as gravy.

Serve with bulgur pilaf and Armenian salad for a real old-fashioned Sunday dinner any day of the week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Armenian cabbage soup

Cabbage Soup
What comes to mind when you think of cabbage?

Coleslaw? Sauerkraut? Cabbage rolls, stuffed cabbage, dolma?

I automatically think of soup - yes, cabbage soup. It’s easy to make, inexpensive, hearty, delicious, and a family favorite.

This was one of my mother-in-law’s Armenian recipes that was passed down to me when Doug and I got married.

Cabbage is low in sodium and calories, fat-free, a good source of Vitamin C, protein, fiber, carbohydrates, folate, iron, and calcium. So, what’s not to like?

There are different varieties of cabbage: savoy, green and red. This soup recipe uses the green variety, and to make things super-easy, green cabbage can be purchased already shredded, saving you time and energy.

The convenience of buying the pre-shredded type might cost you a bit more money, so decide what’s more important to you - time or money.

I think you’ll agree that this recipe will become one of your family-favorites, too!

Sylvia Kalajian’s Cabbage Soup
Yield: 4 to 5 servings


1 small onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
4 to 5 cups water
½ of 6-oz. can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste -or- 1 to 2 bouillon cubes
¼ head of green cabbage, shredded - or- ½ bag of shredded cabbage
1- 15 oz can chick peas, rinsed and drained
¼ cup uncooked rice

1. In a large pot, brown the onions in oil or butter.
2. Add 4 cups of water; stir in the tomato paste; add salt and pepper - or bouillon.
3. Stir in the rice, shredded cabbage and chick peas.
4. Cook, with pot lid tilted, until the cabbage and rice are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.
5. Add more water, as needed, during cooking.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Know your potatoes

All potatoes are not alike.

I was reminded of this recently when I used the potato that was handiest (red) instead of the potato that belonged in the recipe (baking). The result was crunchy and chewy instead of soft and velvety.

So, a lesson learned: Know your potatoes and respect their differences!

Here's some potato knowledge that might come in handy.

Potatoes are one of the most important staples in the world - and - perhaps the most popular vegetable. They’re economical, versatile, and nutritious.

An average potato weighing 5.3 oz (148g), provides vitamins A and C, iron, thiamin, more potassium than one banana, and contains only 110 calories! Potatoes also provide carbohydrates, and with the skin left on, fiber.

WAXY or NEW potatoes are high in moisture and sugar; low in starch. They are generally round, and small, however, some varieties are larger and long. Skin color may be red, white, blue or yellow.

Flesh color varies from white, yellow or blue. These are good boiling potatoes used in recipes where holding their shape is important, and are best used in salads, soups, or hash browned potatoes. Waxy potatoes are not suited for deep-frying.

STARCHY OR MATURE potatoes are high in starch, but low in sugar and moisture. Russet or Idaho potatoes are long, evenly shaped, with a rough skin. The all-purpose, or chef’s potato, is generally less dry and starchy, and are irregular in shape.

For those reasons, the all-purpose potato costs less than the Russet. Starchy potatoes are best used for baking, deep-frying, mashing, or any recipe where their shape doesn’t matter.

Store potatoes in a cool, dry place, between 55-60°F (13-16°C).

Refrigerating potatoes is not recommended since potato starch converts to sugar at temperatures below 45°F (7°C).

New potatoes don’t store well, so buy only what you will use within a week‘s time.

Did you ever notice potatoes with a greenish tinge? The green suggests that the potato has been stored in light or has been subjected to very cold or very warm temperatures.

The green areas contain solanine, which has a bitter taste. WARNING: in large quantities this can be poisonous causing headache, vomiting, diarrhea, or even paralysis of the central nervous system! Be sure to remove any green areas before cooking.

High quality potatoes are firm with smooth skin. There won’t be any “eyes” or sprouts protruding from the surface, and there certainly won’t be any green areas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Church Bazaars- It’s that time of year again

According to, the word “bazaar” means (1.) a marketplace or shopping quarter, especially one in the Middle East (2.) a sale of miscellaneous contributed articles to benefit a charity, cause, organization, etc.

Bazaars have been our church’s major fundraising event and social highlight for as long as I can remember.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, Armenian churches had the BEST bazaars ever. They were always 3-day affairs in the church fellowship hall, with lots of food, live music, dancing, children’s games, laughter and joy. A ton of fun for everyone.

My sister and I would mark the bazaar dates on our calendar, and for weeks in advance would figure out which outfits we would wear on which day. After all, we couldn’t be seen wearing the same thing twice in the same weekend!

Bazaars were hard work, too. The men set up the tables, chairs, booths, grills for cooking kebab, and if required, tents. The women - working, non-working, young and old, would prepare and donate the recipe(s) they made best, then sit behind the tables, selling their wares to the throngs of visitors who clamored to taste their delights.

My Aunt Arpie always donated trays of her homemade boorma. Those who knew would seek out her boorma because her recipe contained more walnuts than anyone else‘s.

Since women made their recipes at home, no two recipes were the same; sizes, shapes & taste varied. Some people felt gypped if the piece of whatever they bought was smaller or didn’t contain as much filling as someone else’s item.

To overcome the food-size/shape discrepancy, church women began preparing the bazaar recipes in the church’s kitchen starting months in advance - weighing dough, shaping items alike, and being more precise with ingredient amounts.

Churches still have their food-related fundraising events, but the word “bazaar” isn’t used as much anymore, depending on the location of the church.

Today they’re mostly called Food Festivals - not much in the way of children’s games, live music, or booths, just a lot people hungry for the main attraction - Armenian Food.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an Armenian-intensive area, you can still find a good, old-fashioned Bazaar. St. Leon in Fair Lawn, NJ had theirs this past weekend. The folks pictured above are from St. Stephen Armenian Church in Watertown, Mass., where they're sticking with tradition in holding this year's "bazaar" Nov. 6 and 7. Sts. Vartanantz, Ridgefield, NJ will have their Bazaar just before Thanksgiving while St. David, Boca Raton, FL will host their Food Festival the first weekend in December.

If you happen to be in the area of an Armenian church, find out when their festival is, be sure to attend, and savor every moment!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Liquid Licorice: Like candy for adults

Armenians and Greeks have a friendly argument going back a few years -- make that a few thousand years, give or take -- over who came up with the idea of adding anise to distilled spirits.

We vote for us, of course.

Armenians call their version oghi. The Greeks, ouzo.

Or maybe you prefer Turkish raki, or French Pernod or Italian Sambucca. They all taste like liquid licorice, and they all pack quite a kick.

Our families both called the home-brewed version arak, as it's known in much of the Middle East.

My siblings and I were introduced to this stuff at an early age.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t drinking it with the “Big Boys." It was reserved for use as a homemade medicine, when diluted with water, to cure tummyaches, toothaches, or whatever ailed us.

This always fascinated me. When water was added to the Arak, it went from clear to milky. I never really liked the taste but appreciated the fact that the “ache” disappeared after consuming it.

Regular people buy Arak at the liquor store. My grandfather (Baboog), Oskan Vartanesian, made his own. (Shhhhhh! I don’t think he was supposed to!)

I learned recently, from reading friend Jack Hachigian‘s cookbook, Secrets from an Armenian Kitchen, that Baboog started making Arak during The Depression. He sold it for $5.00 a gallon- just enough to avoid going on Relief. Neither he, nor his Armenian neighbors would accept government aid, so they did what they could to get by.

My sister and I can recall walking home from elementary school, smelling a distinctively pungent odor in the air. As we approached our home, the scent became stronger, meaning only one thing. Even though the Depression was long over, Baboog was at it again- making Arak in the bathtub!

Baboog is long-gone, but not forgotten. These days we buy our Arak at the local liquor store. I don’t use it for medicinal purposes anymore; instead I use it as an ingredient in seafood recipes, or sip it slowly to enjoy after the meal.

Note from Doug: I'm just as happy sipping it before a meal, or during. Or, really, any time. The traditional protocol for enjoying arak in polite company is to pour a shot into a short glass of cold water (no ice) and sip, as Robyn suggests.

However, the old-timers, like my own grandfather, were no more interested in protocol than in diluted liquor. So they drank it straight.

Or so I'm told. The arak jug in our house remained more-or-less full throughout my childhood. My father took a shot only when he felt a cold coming on. My mother's preferred medicine was blackberry brandy, so I never got a taste of this tradtional Armenian folk medicine until I was old enough to buy a bottle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dip, Coat, Bite…

The first time I met Marian Amiraian, she tricked me. She invited me to her home for lunch. After a satisfying meal, she served not one, but two delicious desserts.

The first was a blueberries and gelatin concoction that was both tasty and refreshing on that hot summer day. Next she brought out a dish of lusciously ripe strawberries, a bowl of water and a small plate of powdered sugar.

I’d never seen strawberries served this way before, so I watched Marion. First she dipped the berry in the water, then lightly coated it with the powdered sugar. After her first bite, she licked her lips and grinned.

My turn. Dip, coat, bite.

Whoa! That clear liquid wasn’t water! Marion was laughing, and no wonder. The liquid was Sambuca, an Italian liqueur that tastes like black licorice. What a surprise to my taste buds!
I have to admit, I was impressed.

Stop, just one minute - where did Marian get this dessert idea? It’s not an Armenian dessert, or is it? I simply had to know. Marian’s daughter, Anahid, taught it to her, so she wanted me to try it, too. Anahid is blessed with a culinary flair.

While I was re-reading a book this summer, The Song of America, by George Mardikian, I was surprised when I came to the part where he wrote that for special occasions he would serve guests strawberries dipped in champagne, then in powdered sugar. Mr. Mardikian was the owner of the famous Omar Khayyam restaurant in San Francisco, back in the day. Perhaps Marian’s daughter read Mardikian’s book, too. It doesn’t matter how she came up with the idea - it’s a winner!

Want to make the dessert more Armenian? Try dipping the strawberries in Arak for that uniquely Armenian taste.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Douzma: A Stick-to-Your-Ribs Meal

In some parts of the world temperatures are cooling as autumn and winter approach.

It’s pretty hot in Florida most of the year, so when we crave a stick-to-your-ribs meal, we either lower the air conditioner’s thermostat, or, if outside temperatures permit, swing open the doors and windows.

One of our favorite cool-weather meals is Douzma, a Dikranagertsi specialty: Seasoned meat patties, layered between a variety of vegetables, baked slowly in a tomato-y sauce. Served with crusty bread….

Simply divine!


Yield: 5 to 6 servings


1 1/2 lb. ground lamb, beef, or turkey - not too fatty
1 large eggplant sliced in half lengthwise, then into 1/2 in. slices -OR- 2 large zucchini cut into 1/2 in. circles
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into about 1/4 in. slices
Sliced tomatoes - as many as will fit in between above ingredients
Salt, pepper, and allspice to taste
1- 6 oz. can tomato paste
olive oil


1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix meat with salt, pepper, allspice, and one tablespoon tomato paste, then form meat into 10 to 12 patties, about ½ inch thick.
3. Place the cut potatoes and eggplant (or zucchini, if using) in a bowl. Lightly toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Arrange all of the above vegetables and meat patties alternately, in a standing position in a large roasting pan (approx. 9"x 13"). Note pan size will vary depending on the amount of ingredients used.
5. Dilute remaining tomato paste in 1 cup water; season with a little salt and pepper.
6. Pour diluted tomato paste over the meat and vegetables.
7. Bake, uncovered, for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until vegetables are tender, and the top begins to brown.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Charles Sarkis - an Armenian?

As I was reading "Boca Raton Magazine" in the doctor’s office, an article caught my eye. It was about a new restaurant in Boca Raton called Abe and Louie’s.

The owner is Charles Sarkis, originally from the Boston area, now a Palm Beach resident.
With the last name Sarkis, could he be Armenian? Probably, although I googled his name and found only that he is from “Middle Eastern” descent.

Hmmmm, makes you think.

Charles Sarkis sounds like an amazing man - restaurateur since age 24, owner & operator of over 35 restaurants, father of six, cancer survivor, philanthropist, and an active alumni of Georgetown University in Washington, DC. A very upstanding member of the community, one would say.

Charles fought hard to get where he is. After all, his father, Abe Sarkis (1913 to 1991) , was a famed (and feared) mobster in New England and New York with a powerful bookmaking business that lasted 50 years, from 1934 to the 1980’s.

Charles, living in his father’s shadow, wanted to shed himself of his father’s image. And shed, he did. In 1998 Mr. Sarkis opened his first Abe and Louie’s restaurant in Boston. The “Abe” is, in fact, a tribute to his late father.
Abe and Louie’s is a classic American Steakhouse, serving Prime cuts of steak, lamb, fresh seafood, an interesting array of appetizers, salads, soups, vegetables, and must-have desserts.

There’s nothing on the menu to suggest Mr. Sarkis might be Armenian, with two possible exceptions: the lamb shank, and the Abe and Louie salad.

I came across a 1998 review of the Boston restaurant which mentioned that the Abe and Louie salad was made from Bibb lettuce, blue cheese, apple slices with cinnamon - OK, here comes the “Armenian” part - pistachio nuts, and a hint of rose water.

AHA! So, perhaps Charles Sarkis IS Armenian. I called the new Boca Raton restaurant and asked if rose water is currently used in the Abe and Louie salad. Sadly, no; it’s served with a Dijon vinaigrette.

Oh well, at least they kept the pistachio nuts. As far as Mr. Sarkis being Armenian goes, that‘s still a mystery. I called the headquarters in Boston, but never heard back.

In my mind he is Armenian.

What say you?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vegetable-Lamb Bake

Get Ready for Autumn! Dust off your roasting pans and crank-up your ovens!

Before you know it, most of you will be wearing sweaters and turning on your heaters. To prepare for the season, I’ve been digging through some of Nanny’s wonderful cold-weather dishes to share with you.

Here’s a vegetable-meat dish you can eat hot, or leaving out the meat, at room temperature. Either way, I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Vegetable-Lamb Bake**

1 lb. stewing lamb, cut into cubes
5 medium zucchini, washed & peeled
1 large bell pepper (green, red, or orange), cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ lb. green beans or Italian pole beans, trimmed and cut in half
1 bunch parsley, washed & chopped
1- 15 oz can stewed tomatoes
½ of 6 oz. can tomato paste diluted with 1 cup water or lamb broth
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

One day in advance:
1. Cook lamb cubes in enough lightly salted water to cover meat. With pot lid tilted, cook for about 1 hour or until meat is tender. Remove meat from lamb broth, cover and refrigerate.
2. Strain lamb broth, cover and refrigerate.

Next day:

1. Discard any fat which has risen to the top of lamb broth.
2. Measure 1 cup of the lamb broth to use in the recipe. Freeze any extra broth for later use.
3. Cut zucchini lengthwise, then into ½ inch - half circles.
4. In a large roasting pan, combine lamb cubes, all of the cut vegetables, stewed tomato, tomato paste, oil, and seasonings. Mix together.
5. Preheat oven to 375°F.
6. Cover pan with foil; bake for 1 hour. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 30 to 45 minutes or until all vegetables are tender.
7. Serve with rice or bulgur pilaf. Crusty bread is a MUST for dipping!

** SPECIAL NOTE: This recipe can be made without lamb. If making without lamb, the Vegetable Bake can be served at room temperature.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wrapping up a healthier Armenian dinner

Confession: We are not role models for healthy eating.

Healthy appetites? Definitely! But healthy eating, well...we're working on it.

For one thing, we're trying out healthier ways to make traditional Armenian food.

Turkey Dolma with Romaine lettuce
One simple way is to substitute lean, ground turkey for ground lamb or beef. (As much as we love lamb, we love our arteries even more.)

Consider that a pound of cooked, ground lamb has about 886 calories and 61.5 grams of fat. The same amount of ground turkey breast has about 640 calories and only 32 grams of fat. That's a whopping difference!

(Be careful to look for lean ground turkey, not the stuff that include skin and God-knows what else.)

We decided to try making turkey dolma. The big question for us was whether half the taste would disappear along with half the fat?

Luckily, in our humble judgment, it tasted great.

We'll eat just about any vegetable in this dish, but we happened to have a fresh batch of Romaine lettuce, one of our all-time favorites. It's easier to prepare than coring eggplant or squash -- you just simmer the leaves in water for a few minutes until soft -- and it's a wonderful substitute for grape leaves, which aren't always handy.

And as lettuce goes, Romaine is a hands-down choice over iceburg, with lots more fiber, calcium, Vitamin C and lutein (one of those good things found in green, leafy vegetables).

Finally, to make us feel almost too healthy, we use bulgur in the stuffing rather than rice. We love it, but we'll leave that up to you.

Why not give this a try and let us know what you think?

Turkey Dolma with Romaine lettuce

2 to 3 heads of Romaine lettuce
1 pound lean, ground turkey breast
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 cup #1 bulgur
1 lemon

Separate the lettuce leaves and simmer a few leaves at a time in a large pot with just enough lightly salted water to cover the leaves. Remove the leaves, pat them dry and set them aside.

Note: This is enough stuffing for about 2 dozen dolmas, but the yield depends on the size of the leaves. If you run short of lettuce, you can just roll the remaining stuffing into meatballs and cook them along with the wraps.

Save the water as a base for the sauce, adding the diced tomatoes and:
1/2 the can of tomato paste
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp pepper
the juice of 1/2 the lemon
Stir and keep on low heat while preparing the dolmas

The stuffing:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the turkey with the bulgur and throughly mix with the remaining tomato paste, the juice from the rest of the lemon and the same amounts of salt, pepper and allspice that went into the sauce. (Adjust any of them for your taste.)

Using a stable cutting board, trim the hard stems off the leaves. Place about a tablespoon in the center of each leaf (more or less depending on the size of the leaf) and roll as you would grape leaves -- that is, tucking in the sides as you roll.

Place each wrap gently in the sauce. Add enough water to cover them. Then place a dish on top of the wraps and anchor the dish with a small pot of water or a heavy-enough object to keep the dolma from unwrapping as it cooks.

Simmer for about half an hour. Serve with cold yogurt.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The oldest newly discovered health food - Bulgur!

Bulgur (Cracked wheat)
Finally, there's a food that tastes great, helps you lose weight and packs more health benefits than a field of alfalfa sprouts.

It's called...bulgur.

No kidding!

The world has suddenly discovered what Armenians have known since Mrs. Noah cooked her first pot of pilaf on Mount Ararat.

Read any blog, Web site, magazine or news article on healthy eating and you're almost certain to find the latest story about this "exotic" whole grain wonder.

Check out this article ("Bulgur: Natural Weight-Loss Food.") from the Web site about "what's left after wheat kernels have been steamed, dried, and crushed"

"High in fiber and protein, and low in fat and calories, bulgur is another food that offers bulk and nutrients to fill you up without adding pounds. One thing to keep in mind, a cup of bulgur has fewer calories, less fat, and more than twice the fiber of brown rice."

That's not all.

"Bulgur is also a standout in terms of its fiber content, just like whole wheat, and can help keep your digestive tract healthy as a result. The insoluble fiber it contains absorbs water, promoting faster elimination of waste, which prevents the formation of an environment that promotes the development of carcinogens."

We love bulgur, as you know, and we have our own favorite ways of preparing it. You probably do, too.But just for a change, here's a recipe from The Harvard University School of Public Health, which we figure might know a thing or two about healthy eating.

Bulgur Pilaf (Serves 4)
1¼ cups low-sodium vegetable broth, heated
1 cup bulgur
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup tomatoes, chopped
½ cup sun dried tomatoes, minced
1 dash crushed red pepper (or to taste)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons canola oil
Salt (optional) and pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, and sauté the garlic until it is tender; do not let it get brown.

Add the bulgur and sauté until it smells toasty, about 10 minutes. Pour in the hot broth, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until all the broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Fluff bulgur with a fork. Gently stir in diced and dried tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, honey, canola oil, crushed red pepper, salt (if desired), and pepper.

Pour over bulgur and blend well. Serve warm.

Nutrional info

Calories: 230⁄ Protein: 6 g⁄ Carbohydrate: 36 g⁄ Fiber: 8 g⁄ Sodium: 250 mgSaturated fat: 1 g⁄ Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5 g⁄ Monounsaturated fat: 5 gTrans fat: 0 g⁄ Cholesterol: 0 mg

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The real secrets of Armenian cooking are kept by women who are happy to share!

Most people go to bookstores searching for a great novel. Me? I head right to the cookbook section.

If, however, you’re looking for down-home, tried and true recipes - Armenian, American, or otherwise - the place to look is in any cookbook compiled by a Women’s Guild rather than the glossy, over-priced publications featuring a “food celebrity."

Don‘t get me wrong: I love ALL cookbooks. However, I’ve turned my attention lately from bookstore cookbooks, to the lesser-known, yet highly desirable, cookbooks from church guilds and school organizations.
Red Bank Regional HS Faculty Cookbook

My interest in cookbooks began in the early 1970’s, when, as a new home economics teacher at Red Bank Regional High School in New Jersey, I sponsored a group of students in an organization called, FHA-HERO, The Future Homemakers of America - Home Economics Related Occupations. (Today the organization is called FCCLA: Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America.)

In order to raise money for the school, the students and I decided to create a Faculty Cookbook. We asked faculty, staff, and family members to submit their favorite recipes to be included in our cookbook project. We received an overwhelming response, and put together quite a nice little cookbook - if I do say so myself!

Besides the high school cookbook, I own Women’s Guild cookbooks from St. David Armenian Church, Boca Raton, Florida; St. Mary Armenian Church, Livingston, New Jersey; St. Sarkis Armenian Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, and eventually a soon-to-be-published cookbook from the Women’s Guild at St. Leon Armenian Church, Fairlawn, New Jersey.

The recipes found on these pages are the real, everyday recipes that feed our hearts and souls- the comfort foods that make us recall sweet moments at the dinner table with family and friends.