Friday, April 30, 2010

We are what our ancestors ate

Harry Bichakjian, my maternal grandfather
I had a chat with my doctor about weight. Hers as well as mine.

She's quite proud to have reached and maintained her Weight Watcher's life goal. The downside is that this has her convinced anyone can shrink and stay shrunk.

Is that annoying or what?

I've followed all her advice and then some: reducing portions, cutting back on fat and sugar, adding whole grains and walking more. It works, but the results aren't exactly dramatic.

Me: Doug Kalajian

Why is that? The doc's theory, believe it or not, is that it's an Armenian thing.

"You probably inherited the gene that kept people alive during hard times," she says.
I've heard this theory before, although not in regard to me. While reporting a series of stories a few years back, I interviewed several weight-loss experts who suggested that people who survived historic famines and other upheavals were the ones who had the ability to store enough fat to carry them through.

Their descendants inherited the same ability, only it's not exactly a blessing in an age of abundance.

This would explain why I share a waistline as well as hairline with my maternal grandfather, Harry Bichakjian, who looked enough like me to be my slightly older brother. Grandpa, a cook and restaurateur, appears to have carried ample reserves of lamb fat.

Grandpa died long before I came along, so I can't compare dietary notes with him. But I'd be foolish to ignore his example, because he was only a few years older than I am now when his heart gave out.

The doctor says I just have to keep increasing my exercise level until my metabolism overrides its genetic setting. I'm skeptical, but I'm willing to try.
It isn't easy to overcome the weight of Armenian history, is it?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Armenian Croissant: Ashma, Katah

Leon Kaye...This could be your lucky day!

To refresh your memories... a few weeks ago I posted a recipe search item. Leon  was looking for a gata (katah) recipe that his grandmother used to make.
He said:
"(The katah) were golden brown and crispy on the outside, and flaky like a croissant on the inside--though comparing them to a croissant would be an insult, because these were above and beyond any croissant you can find today."
Cookbook author Dorothy Arakelian (seen above), thinks she might have the recipe Leon is looking for.

 Her recipe for Ashma (Katah) comes directly from her cookbook, "Come Into My Kitchen", (with her permission, of course!).

Leon, we’d love to hear your verdict.

ASHMA (pronounced ush mah)
Also referred to as KATAH

This bread is the ultimate of all Armenian breads. Light, spongy, multi-thin layers of buttery dough with a flaky crust - this is to the Armenians what the Croissant is to the French.

1 lb. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup Crisco, melted
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105°)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups whole milk, lukewarm
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Crisco, melted, lukewarm
2 tablespoons salt
Gold Medal all-purpose flour, about 3-4 pounds
(add enough flour to make a soft, smooth dough)
Egg wash (2 eggs, well beaten)
Sesame seeds*
Melt together the pound of unsalted butter and 1/4 cup of Crisco and set aside to use for brushing the sheets of dough. Dissolve yeast in very warm water with 1/4 teaspoon sugar, set aside to proof.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, add the milk, water, shortening and salt. Gradually add the flour and mix well with a large spoon. Mix in the dissolved yeast. Feed enough flour to the liquid mixture until it begins to pull together, adding just enough flour to make the dough smooth and pliable. Proceed to knead the dough with your fists, using a small amount of oil on your hands, only if the dough is sticking. Divide dough into six balls; cover and set in a draft-free area for 15 to 20 minutes.

Sprinkle flour lightly on work area. Using a regular rolling pin, roll the first ball of dough into an 8” circle. Using a long dowel, roll the dough out to a 24” circle (or as far as you can go). This dough stretches, so use the back of your hands to gently stretch it to the max; your ultimate goal is to stretch the dough to a 36” round.
Brush the entire surface of the dough with melted butter. Fold each side of the circle over to meet in the center, without overlapping. Continue buttering, one side of the dough, and folding it over until you obtain about an 8” wide strip; butter the length of the strip and fold loosely into an 8” square. Put the square aside and cover with plastic wrap; repeat these steps with the rest of the dough.

Taking the first square, gently fold and smooth back the four corners and shape it into a round; using the rolling pin lightly roll and shape the dough to form an 8”x1/2” round disk. Repeat this process with all the squares.

Place circles on an ungreased baking sheet without touching, in a draft– free area to rise, about 3 to 4 hours or as long as it takes to double in size.

Preheat oven to 375°. When loaves are ready to bake, brush tops with the 2 beaten eggs (egg wash) and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for approximately 25 minutes or until light golden in color.

To serve: Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. (To serve warm, wrap in aluminum foil and place in a 375° oven for about 10–12 minutes.) Yield: 6 loaves

Note: Another popular variation for shaping this dough: Roll the dough to a 36” sheet, and brush with the butter. Gently roll the dough, jellyroll style, into a rope, and coil the rope into a round pinwheel, pinching the ends under; set aside to rise, covered. Using a light touch, with the rolling pin, gently roll each pinwheel and enlarge; set aside to rise, about 2 hours, and bake as above. This is a more uniform loaf, very attractive, however, since it is coiled, it will not rise as high as the former shape. This popular appetizer freezes very nicely for many months.

*Seeds can be purchased at Middle Eastern Specialty stores.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Siserov Kufteh (Seesere Kufta)- Chick Pea Kufteh

Lucine Kasbarian’s father, CK Garabed, is searching for Siserov Kufteh, a Dikranagerdtsi recipe, which is served primarily during Lent.
He stated, “Most Armenians make Topig, which calls for a filling. However, Siserov Kufteh requires no filling. Basically, it involves boiling ground chick peas in water, and forming into tennis-sized balls. When cooked and cooled, the balls are crumbled into a spinach-rice soup. In addition, the balls, when cooled may be sliced and fried in olive oil...”

CK, here is a recipe for Seesere Kufta, sent to me by Alice (Doramajian) Bakalian. It was her mother, Baidzar’s recipe.

Alice wrote this in a most amusing way; I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did! A second recipe from Alice follows this one.

#1: Seesere Kufta
      by Baidzar, as written by Alice Bakalian with a sense of humor! 
  • Mint - not too much or it will taste lousy.
  • Salt and coriander
  • Seesere must be soaked for 3 days - at least!
  • Each day water must be changed twice or you are in BIG trouble.
  • After soaking comes the grinding with the medium blade on your machine.
  • Whatever water accumulates in the machine, pour into ground seesere.
  • If machine is water tight, you are LUCKYYYYYY!
  • If leaking, then I would suggest you pull up a chair and place a pot under the machine to collect seepage.
  • Just thought I’d remind you: Before grinding the seesere, prepare a very large pot with briskly boiling water to which 1 ½ Tablespoons of cornstarch has been added.
  • To continue: Mix all ingredients together.
  • Knead everything with a little water (very little).
  • After mixing, you will form mixture into balls the size of your hand - rounded on top, flat on the bottom.
  • Put these cute little concoctions into the boiling water - Don’t overcrowd! They should swim around like dolphins.
  • While boiling, get yourself and Eberhard #2 pencil. Break off the metal and eraser, then break off the point - making both ends flat.
  • Now strip off all the paint on the pencil and you are ready. (If no pencils are around, a bamboo skewer will do.)
  • After 20 minutes of boiling, take one of your dolphins out and insert your surgically prepared pencil (or bamboo skewer) into it gently.
  • If it slides off, pick up the pieces from the floor and throw it back into this inferno for about 10 minutes. Try this procedure again.
                             !!!!!Oh, what a MESS!!!!!
  • When it sticks to the pencil, you hang out a flag and call all the neighbors because you probably (scrupulously) forgot to wash and cut the 2 pounds of spinach.
  • Certainly they’ll help you! Let them do it in the living room; the kitchen is a disaster area by now!
                           !!!!!Oh My God, What a MESS!!!!!
  • By now your kuftas are done (about 5 hours) and you’re left with this strange gurgling liquid (UGH).
  • !!!!!Don’t Panic!!!!!
  • Do not drain, I repeat, Do not drain!
  • Leave as is.
  • I assume you’ve put some sumac in the water and brought to a boil, then cooled.
  • This has been sitting around, festering, while all of this nonsense is going on.
  • Drain the sumac and add liquid with a can of tomato paste. Add lemon, to taste, to the gurgle.
  • Cool this (uh, I really don’t know what to call it).
  • ANNYYYWWWWAAAYYY, cook until spinach is soft - and now you’ve got it made! 
                                 !!!!!Anoush Eghna!!!!!

PS: Cut about 2 pounds of onions, very fine. Cook until quite brown in oil. Mince garlic into some water and let it soak for a while. These can be added to each individual dish, if they are so inclined, of course.


 #2: Seeserov Kufta with Parsley and Scallions 
Instead of placing the kufta (chick pea) balls in the spinach, they can be prepared as follows:
Chop scallions and parsley; mix well into the ground seesere along with some flour, dried mint, ground coriander, salt and red pepper. Form into flat patties. Fry in olive oil until done.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Armenian Genocide

Armenians everywhere will gather today to mark the 95th anniversary of the genocide that claimed the lives of up to 1.5 million of our ancestors.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s, April 24 was a day of small, somber gatherings marked by prayers and speeches in Armenian, which I didn't understand but listened to respectfully regardless.

Since then, our day of mourning has become a much more public event. We make our speeches in English, we march, we tell our story to the world.

As a result of Armenians speaking out, the truth about The Armenian Genocide is more widely known and understood than ever.

But at its core, today remains a day of reflection and remembrance. I think about my father, who survived, and his mother, who did not.

In memory of all our blessed martyrs, we pray for an end to all such crimes against humanity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mastic Gum and Chorag?

There is a lot to learn in this world. Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about making chorag, a curve ball was thrown my way.

While touring Macar and Sons Middle Eastern warehouse, Nazan Macarian, introduced me to mastic gum (mastica), an ancient Greek ingredient sometimes used in making chorag and locum. I knew mastic was used in locum, a jelly-like candy dusted in powdered sugar, but not in a chorag application. Mastic gum or mastica, is sap from an evergreen shrub from the pistachio tree family. Nazan suggested freezing it until ready to use. I bought a little bit, and popped it in the freezer.

While cruising “The Art of Armenian and Middle Eastern Cooking” on Facebook, I came across a comment by Aghavni Armoudian of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who mentioned mastic gum and chorag in the same sentence.
Ah Ha! Here’s someone who knows!

I wrote to her, asking how she uses mastic gum in her chorag recipe.

Aghavni wrote:
“I usually do not measure! I would guess half a teaspoon. To pulverize it, I use my garlic mortar and pestle, add the gum and equal amount of sugar and the mahleb, and smash/grind. The gum can get sticky, but the sugar and mahleb help. Then I pass it through a fine sieve so to prevent larger pieces from going into the dough. Clean your utensils immediately!”

Sounds simple enough. But before forging ahead, I had one more question: What does mastic gum taste like?
Aghavni used the word “aromatic” in her description, but that didn’t quite explain it. So, I contacted my friend, Armand Sahakian, who owns Nory Candy and Pastry in Winnetka, CA. He makes mastic locum, so who better to ask?

This is what Armand said:
“Mastic is such a difficult flavor to put into words.
When I cook locum and put the mastic in the kettle, the aroma takes over the entire facility.
The flavor is very light and refreshing. It adds to the sweetness of the choregs my mother makes, yet it's not a sweetener of any sort.
As a youngster, we would place the mastic flavored locums between two pieces of biscuits and would eat it as an after school snack. (similar to smores)
We occasionally do the same now after dinner at my parents house.”

Robyn’s comment: Interesting concept: Armenian Locum S’Mores! Mmmmmm!

For professional purposes, Armand sent us a box of mastic locum, so we could decide how to describe the taste of mastic ourselves. He also provided the photos you see here. Armand explained that the mastic he purchases from his supplier costs a mere $99. for  500 grams (top photo)! FYI: 500 grams is a bit more than one pound! The photo at left depicts a tray of mastic locum after it has been cut into cubes.

When the box of mastic locum arrived, my mother, Doug, and I got down to “work”. We brushed off as much powdered sugar as possible so we could concentrate on the mastic flavor. Later, I took some of the locum to a small gathering of friends for their impressions.

Here are our results:
1. A light taste with a  hint of pine
2. Light perfume with floral overtones
3. Woodsy flavor
4. Bitter herbs counteracted by the powdered sugar
5. Slight resin taste
6. All my mother tasted was the sweetness (Her taste buds aren’t what they used to be!)

Now that the I have my chorag-mastic gum instructions, and an idea of how it tastes, my next batch of chorag will be enhanced with the addition of mastica. That , however, will be another post.

My special thanks to Aghavni and Armand for their contributions in words, pictures, and product!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Halvah (Helva): A Recipe of Contrasts

Pam Moroukian asked me to help locate a recipe called “khaveech”. She said it was made with flour, butter and cream, and cooked in a frying pan. It sounded like a type of halvah, with just enough of a description to guide me. While sifting through my Armenian cookbooks, I found a recipe called “khavitz” (similar-sounding to ‘khaveech’) in Sonia Uvezian’s cookbook, “The Cuisine of Armenia”.

To my amazement, I found that it used the ingredients Pam mentioned - plus was made in a skillet! I sent it to Pam in the hopes her lost recipe had been found. She believes this could be it, but as of this writing, I haven’t heard if she’s prepared it to know for sure.

In the meantime, I received an email from reader, Dorothy Arakelian, who asked me for the khavitz recipe I sent Pam. She wanted to compare it against the one her mother used to make.
So..... Here is the recipe I sent Pam - and Dorothy - from Uvezian's cookbook, “The Cuisine of Armenia”:

Khavitz - Flour Helva with Cream

Dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup heavy cream. Set aside.
In a heavy skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter, add 2 cups flour, and cook over a low heat 15 to 20 minutes - until mixture is lightly browned, stirring constantly.
Add the cream mixture and continue cooking over very low until thoroughly blended, stirring constantly.
Pour into a serving bowl; top with toasted nuts.

After comparing Uvezian’s recipe with her mother’s version, this is what Dorothy wrote:

“Flour Halvah

Here's the difference: Halvah is a very old-world Armenian treat and in those days they did not have cream, heavy or light. And it was not put in a bowl, but, spread and flattened in a flat dish and cut into squares, this was the fudge of that era. I really do not make it too often because in our friends and families we are all always on diets and it is very rich.
But I think it is always nice to compare our old time recipes, since our parents and grandparents are not around anymore.”

Special Note: Dorothy is the author of "Come Into My Kitchen" (Old-World Armenian Recipes and International Favorite Cuisines). Her book, which was published with the purpose of “passing on old time recipes for future generations to come to keep our Armenian heritage and cuisine alive”, has been available since 2006. It is available on To order a copy, just click on our Amazon link at the bottom of this page!

Now for Dorothy’s mother’s recipe ...

Aliur ov Helva or better know as Armenian fudge –Yummy!

2 – 3 tablespoons water (just enough to melt the sugar)
1-1/8 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks)

In a small saucepan heat the water and add the sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the flour and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is slightly tan in color, about 20-25 minutes. Sort of toast the mixture but do not allow to darken. Remove pan from heat and carefully stir in the syrup. Stir the mixture extremely well until thoroughly blended. Continue stirring until mixture is soft, smooth and has a shine.

Pour the helva mixture into a large flat plate. Flatten the surface with the back of the spoon and smooth the edges. Using a knife, gently cut diagonal lines criss-cross across the helva to form a diamond shape. Allow to cool and harden before serving.

“ Enjoy!”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Remembering Armenians in the Catskills

Maybe you think of the Catskill Mountains as the Borscht Belt, but I remember when the heights around Tannersville, New York, echoed with the sounds of kebab sizzling on the grill and dice skipping across a backgammon board.

Our family made at least one trip to the Catskills each summer in the 1950s and '60s, and we always had plenty of familiar company. Nobody we knew ever flew anywhere in those days, and working people didn't get much time off. So vacation destinations had to be close at hand.

The Catskills were just a few hours' drive from anywhere in the New York area. Better yet, the rolling mountains and rushing streams were hauntingly familiar to the old folks. I remember them sitting silently, looking out across the deep-green valley. Even on the mistiest day, I believe they truly could see all the way to Mount Ararat.

We always stayed at the Washington Irving Hotel, which we knew as Varbed's Place. It was run by Varbed and Mary Chebolian, whom I called Grandma Mary. I cannot picture her with any expression except a smile on her face.

The hotel was already old and creaky, and a very scary place for a kid when summer storms rolled across the mountains. My father told me the story of Rip Van Winkle, explaining that the thunder was really the sound of the little mountain men bowling in the caverns. The result was greatly calmed nerves, and a lifelong love of Washington Irving's tales.

So many memories come rushing back: hiking along the mountain trails, plunging into the freezing water below the falls, and drinking the equally cold, sweet water that bubbled up from the fountain on the front lawn.

And, of course, I remember eating with all those Armenians in the dining room: Big platters of dolma or kebabs passed around family style as people visited from table to table. It was impossible to get through a meal without at least one serious pinch under the chin from some old person I didn't know but who was just so excited to see me.

The Armenian era in the Catskills began to fade as incomes went up, air fares went down and the old folks began to die. I hadn't been there in more than 40 years, since I was a teenager, until we took a side trip with our daughter Mandy during our vacation in New Jersey last summer.

To my surprise, the Washington Irving Hotel still stands on the outskirts of Tannersville and Hunter along Route 23A -- and it looks great. New owners have restored the hotel to a glory that passed long before I was born. It's very upscale, very charming -- the sort of place where you have afternoon tea and scones, not coffee and chorag.

All vestiges of Armenians seemed to have vanished, but I was wrong. The manager guided me to a wall near the bar where pictures from the hotel's past are proudly displayed, including the Chebolians' wedding photo and several group shots of now-nameless Armenians.

I did a little Googling when we got back home to see what else I could turn up. I found a genealogy site listing everyone buried in Evergreen Cemetery in the Town of Hunter. Entry 187 is Marderos (Varbed) Chebolian and his wife Mary. There are many other Armenian names on the list, too.

I smiled to think that at least some of them must be the old folks I remember looking silently out across that same valley.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Like mother, like daughter

Our daughter Mandy lives in a perpetual whirlwind -- and she loves it.

Mandy works at a cutting-edge marketing company called Mirrorball in Manahattan, promoting brands that want to be associated with the arts. This propels her through an endless series of museum openings, grand balls and late-night gatherings with everyone who is anyone in New York City's glamorous arts scene.

There's plenty of travel involved, too. She's just back from Seattle, and off to San Francisco soon.

Amid all this, we still talk all the time but we rarely talk for long because she's always on the run. She called recently as she was running into an unfamiliar grocery store in an unfamiliar town on the way to a weekend getaway with friends in the Catskills.

"I'm hunting for lamb," she said. "I'm going to make shish kebab."

Is that great? If anyone has an excuse to throw some burgers on the grill -- or, better yet, to let someone else throw some burgers on the grill -- it's our perpetual-motion daughter. But it was Easter, and she was determined to maintain tradition and share it with friends.

We compared recipes notes, and even discussed the worst-case scenario: What if there's no lamb? Luckily, her search was successful -- and so was the kebab.

She even took the time to email us the evidence. The least we can do is brag about her.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Armenian French Toast? Armenian Pancakes?

In our recent recipe search, some of our dearest readers have come through with some recipe suggestions.
To refresh your memory...Pam Moroukian was looking for a type of pancake, souvazogh. In answer to this, 2 readers indicated that it sounded like “dzevadzegh”, an omelet or French toast-type recipe.

Here’s what Shushan has sent in. Pam, let us know if this hits home.
Shushan wrote:
“Here's the recipe for Dzevadzegh (French Toast) from the ‘Tasty Armenian Dishes’ cookbook:

2 eggs, beaten
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
Pinch of salt, optional
Sugar and cinnamon, maple syrup or favorite jam
4-6 slices day old white bread
1 tbsp butter or margarine

Combine eggs, milk and salt. Heat frying ban and grease lightly. Soak bread slices on both sides in egg mixture. Melt 1/2 tbsp butter for each slice of bread, fry soaked bread on both sides until golden brown. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon, or spread with jam or maple syrup. Serves 2-3.

Hope this helps!”

Here’s a recipe option I found in Sonia Uvezian’s cookbook, “The Cuisine of Armenia”. It’s called, ‘Armenian Pancakes’, or Dabagaplit.

1 egg, beaten
1 ½ Tbsp melted butter, cooled to lukewarm
½ cup water
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (approximately)
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
clarified butter**

1. In a mixing bowl combine the egg, melted butter, and water; blend well.
2. Gradually stir in the flour salt and baking powder until a soft, smooth dough is formed.
3. With the hands lightly floured, shape into 1 1/4 inch balls.
4. Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, roll each ball into a circle about 5 inches in diameter.
5. In a small, heavy skillet, melt a little clarified butter. Add the circles of dough and fry one at a time until golden brown on each side. Keep the cakes warm while the others are cooking.
6. Add more butter to the pan as needed.
7. Sprinkle with sugar and serve hot.

** Clarified Butter: Melt 1 pound butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Don’t let butter turn brown. Remove any foam which rises to the surface. Remove from heat. After a few minutes remove any foam that remains on the surface. Transfer the clear butter to a storage container. Discard any residue from the bottom of the saucepan.
Cover the clarified butter and refrigerate. Use for frying or baking.

OK, Pam, it's up to you to let us know which one is closer to what you're looking for.
If anyone has another recipe option, we're open to suggestions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shish Kebab/Khorovatz (The Video Sequel!)

Last summer, we got the bright idea to enter a shish kebab video in a national lamb-cooking contest. We figured our pomegranate-marinated recipe was a sure winner.

What we didn't figure on was rain. A sudden downpour ruined the video, although we salvaged dinner. (Believe us, we'd find a way to make our kebab in a hurricane if we had to.)

We missed the contest, but we never miss the first shish kebab of spring.

We both have fond memories of our fathers firing up the grill in the back yard, the sure sign that winter was finally over.

Here's our latest attempt at a shish kebab video, and a slightly revised recipe

Yours is probably a little different. Or a lot different. Every Armenian family has its own twist, and some even have a secret ingredient or two.

Are you willing to share yours?

Click THIS LINK to check out the video.

Shish Kebab
1/2 leg of lamb trimmed and cubed
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons freshly ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon crushed Allepo pepper
2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt

Put the lamb cubes in a large mixing bowl.
Add the tomato, garlic, onion and parsley. Toss thoroughly.
Add the coriander, crushed pepper and pomegranate juice. Toss again.
Cover, and refrigerate overnight, mixing at least once.
Place lamb on skewers, then brush on olive oil and sprinkle on sea salt.

Note: Save the marinated onions and tomato chunks but DON'T serve raw. Cook in a pan on the stove, or wrap in aluminum foil and cook on the grill.

We love to roast more tomatoes and onions and red or green peppers with our kebab, but it's best to cook them separately. Alternating meat and veggies on the skewers makes a nice presentation, but they don't all cook at the same rate.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What we learn from You (and YouTube)

We continue to be amazed at the popularity of YouTube in general, and at the response to our own videos in particular.

     Our surprise is partly a generational thing: When we grew up, the only video in our homes was black and white and had an antenna on top.

Who'd have believed regular people like us could make moving pictures that the whole world could tune in?

Our first eight videos have drawn a total of nearly 20,000 views so far. The most popular is "How To Make Armenian Coffee," with more than 3,500 views. "Robyn's How To Make Chorag" is just a handful of views behind in second place.

The comments are as interesting to us as the numbers. Many come from names we haven't seen in the comments and emails we get through this Web site, so it's clear that the videos are bringing us a new and expanded audience.

Here are a few of the best YouTube comments so far.

SpringRaven offered a wonderful anecdote about her mother in response to "How To Make Fassoulia," Armenian green-bean stew. "Your version looks wonderfully quick/easy. I was taught the 'purist' version, neck bones and all, then she'd have me painstakingly french cut the green beans -- it took FOREVER."

Wow! What a great memory.

PittJitsu waxed enthusiastic in response to "How To Make Chi Kufteh," raw meat mixed with bulgur and seasonings.

"I have tried pulling into the Armenian store, buying the ingredients and then making this in the car! Now that's how an Armenian foodie's addiction is fed."

But he didn't stop there.

"I tried doing this with lamb, and by hand using two knives to chop it. WHEW! Man did grandma have strong arms!"

Pitt's grandma must have come from the same village as mine, but Red ChileDog added another dimension to our chif kufteh lore.

"In the old country, they didn't use knives to pulverize the meat. Rather, they pounded it with a heavy wooden mallet on stone until it was essentially mush...This is from my boyfriend, who used to watch his grandmother do it in an Armenian village in Lebanon."

THIS is what we cherish: Priceless memories, and techniques you won't find in cookbooks.

We'd love to hear yours!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Searching for Recipes - Can you Help?

At the request of several readers, I have been searching for specific recipes. If, after reading the following requests, you find you have any of the recipes mentioned - or something similar, please email them to me at Please note that the spellings of these recipe names are not necessarily exact.


1. Lucine Kasbarian is looking for “Siserov Kufteh”.

 2. Pam Moroukian is trying to find “khaveech”, made in a frying pan, and it is creamy; and “soovazogh”, a type of pancake. (Sorry, folks, that’s all the description I have.)

In her message to me, Pam wrote:

“Hi Robyn,

So glad I have found your site.
I am in search of a couple of lost recipes for which I only have the names:
khaveech (something creamy in a fry pan) and soovazogh (type of pancake).
Most likely some old Sepastatsi recipe that my grandmother brought with her. My aunts cannot recall how they were made. The gleem in her eyes when she talks about them is worth the journey.
Have you come across anything that sounds like them?
Would you have any suggestions for the search."
Robyn's Note: I found a recipe for “khavitz" a type of halva made with flour, butter, sugar and cream and sent it to Pam. She said this might just be what she’s looking for. Now all she needs is the soovazogh.

3. Linda Torgrimson is on the search for “tutu”, a recipe made with lamb, cabbage and lemon.

Linda wrote:

“Dear Robyn
I am trying to find a recipe for tutu (don't remember the spelling). My mom used to make it, and I made it many years ago, but I can't remember how. I think it had lamb and cabbage and lemon. Slightly tart. Nothing comes up in a search. I don't even see it on your site. It was delicious and I want to start making it again. Can you help me?"

Robyn's Note: I sent Linda a recipe form Sonia Uvezian’s , "The Cuisine of Armenia", called 'Lamb and Cabbage Stew'. It didn’t quite fit the bill since Uvezian’s recipe called for tomatoes, dill, and no lemon. However, Linda said she is willing to improvize.

4. Leon Kaye of Los Angeles, California wrote:
“My grandmother was a genocide survivor, and passed away in 1990. She was from Sepastia, the region near the town of Sivas. Growing up, when we visited her home in Fresno, she made amazing foods.

But what I miss the most is her gatah (or kahtah?) . . . they were NOT like the doughy lumps you find at middle eastern or Armenian stores. They were so flaky. . . all I remember is that the dough would be a long long loaf, the length or so of a dining table . . .then she would slice them and bake them . . . they were like little semi-circles of goodness.

These were golden brown and crispy on the outside, and flaky like a croissant on the inside--though comparing them to a croissant would be an insult, because these were above and beyond any croissant you can find today . . .

She stopped making them in the early 80s, when her health took a turn, so we're talking 25-30 years since we've enjoyed them. I can find just about anything else she has made, but the gatah is something I have never seen. And it's not the braided chorag . . . "
OK, folks. That's the request list for now. We'll gladly post recipes that fit these descriptions as quickly as we receive them.
Thanks for your help!
Robyn and Doug

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Armenian Tradition of Cracking Easter Eggs

Just because Easter has passed doesn’t mean I can’t add another item about it. Right?

Here’s an article I just received from Aghavni Armoudian, Tulsa, OK, about why Armenians crack Easter eggs. I’m sure you still have a few leftover in your refrigerator, don’t you? The next time you crack open an Easter egg, think about this article written by Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian, and the significance of this very Armenian tradition.

"The Tradition of Cracking Easter Eggs Amongst Armenians"
                                  by Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian

"Following the crucifixion on Good Friday, the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped in a white shroud and placed inside a rock-hewn tomb. The front of the tomb was sealed with a heavy stone, and because it was the Sabbath, the disciples were not able to embalm the body properly. Early on Sunday in the morning, women came out to the tomb hoping to complete the burial, but they were astonished to see that the stone in front of the tomb had been cracked open. When they entered the tomb, they saw the emptied shroud, and were told by the angels that Jesus was not there. He is risen!

As Armenians commemorate the miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we exchange the joy with our family and friends by re-enacting the amazing discovery of the emptied tomb on that first Easter. Traditionally, we use onion skins to dye boiled eggs a rich red color (signifying the blood of Christ). The exterior of the hard boiled egg represents the tomb which contained the crucified Body of our Lord. Holding the egg in our right hand, we greet one another saying, “Christ is risen from the dead!” and the others answer, “Blessed is the Resurrection of Christ!” Then, one person strikes the top of the other person’s egg to re-create the sound of that “crack” which opened the tomb. As we remove the shell, we see the egg white which recalls the burial shroud. Then, we remove the shroud to reveal the golden joy of Life, Hope and Resurrection symbolized by the yolk.

May the joyfulness of this Armenian tradition of cracking eggs perpetuate the glory of the Resurrection in our lives on this day and always. Happy Easter!"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Greetings from


Krisdos haryav ee merelotz! Orhnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosee!

Christ is risen from the dead! Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!
Robyn and Doug

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Armenian-style Easter Egg Salad- Teereet

My mother-in-law called her delicious egg salad recipe ‘Teereet.’ Perhaps that’s a Dikranagertsi word; I’m not sure. I do know that it’s a delicious way to prepare egg salad, and it’s an Easter-time treat.

6 to 8 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 small onion, finely chopped
salt, pepper, allspice, to taste
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Gently combine the chopped eggs, parsley, onion and seasonings.Then drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil, tossing lightly. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve with your favorite chorag recipe.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fool, Ful, Fuul? Fava Bean Stew

Ful Mudammas, the national dish of Egypt, is also known as ‘the rich man’s breakfast,’ ‘the shopkeeper’s lunch,’ or ‘the poor man’s dinner,’ according to the Cookbook of the Year, "A Mediterranean Feast" by Clifford Wright.
There are different kinds of fava beans, each requiring a different cooking time. Wright says the proper fava bean used for making ‘ful’ is the smaller rounder one the Egyptians call ‘ful hammam,’ or bath fava.

The only time I’d ever eaten ‘fool’ was at the invitation of long-time friend Arlys Koushakjian. She, her parents and her husband’s family had all lived in Egypt, at least for a while. It was a staple in their homes.

Wishing to prepare a special meal for Doug and me, Arlys and Hagop invited us to their home for a Sunday brunch - featuring Fool. It wasn’t just a recipe; it was a ritual.

Arlys, being a modern, working woman, makes Fool using canned fava beans. She uses one can of beans (undrained) for every two people being served, sprinkles in onion and garlic powder, (or finely chopped sweet onion instead of onion powder), olive oil, and lemon or lime juice. All of her amounts are "to taste." Cook until all beans are soft, then, mash. Mash a little, or mash a lot - that’s up to you, too.

A variety of toppings should be made available for garnishing: chopped parsley, scallions, sweet onions, tomatoes, sliced hard-cooked eggs, and extra olive oil. Guests can add the toppings of their choice.

Another suggestion from Arlys - once the fool is prepared, make an "X" shape on the surface, and drizzle some olive oil in its indentation.
Here’s a recipe for Fool Midammis (their spelling variation, not ours!) from the cookbook "Middle Eastern Cooking," a Time-Life publication, that you might like to try.

Fool Midammis
1 cup dried small fava beans
1 tablespoon dried red lentil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp salt

1 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
8 pitted black olives, Mediterranean type
1. Wash the beans and lentils in a sieve or colander set under cold running water until the water runs clear. Then drain thoroughly.
2. In a heavy 3 to 4 quart saucepan, bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add the beans and lentils, reduce heat to low and partially cover the pan. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until the beans are tender and show no resistance when pressed gently between your fingers.
Check from time to time to make sure that the beans are mosit. If they seem dry, add a few more tablespoons of boiling water. When they are done, there should be almost no liquid left in the pan. Transfer the entire contents of the pan to a bowl and cool to room temperature.
3. In a deep bowl, beat the oil, lemon juice and salt together, using a whisk or a fork.
4. Add the beans and lentils. Mash them gently with a fork, and stir until they absorb most of the dressing.
5. To serve, spread the bean mixture on a platter or individual plates; sprinkle with chopped parsley, and garnish with olives.

Important foonote
This is no April ful's joke: Some people have a rare but serious allergy to fava beans known as favism. It's the result of a genetic disorder that affects mostly males of Middle Eastern, African and Mediterranean ancestry. Reactions appear to occur most often after eating raw beans or inhaling the plant's pollen, but anyone with the predisposition should stay away from fava beans entirely.  Check this link to the National Library of Medicine for more info.