Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sita Jebelian's Homemade Madzoon (Yogurt)

Any time is madzoon time. You could buy it from the store, but why would you when it’s so easy to make at home? Madzoon can be made on the stovetop or in a yogurt-making machine. We wrote about our homemade recipe – a stovetop preparation - a while back, then received this super-easy method of making madzoon in the microwave oven from Sita Jebelian from Toronto, Canada. Thanks Sita!

Sita wrote:

“I was just reading your homemade madzoun and I thought I'd send you my own recipe that is easier; there is no stirring and it ALWAYS is successful. And you just use milk (any kind, even skim milk) of course, you can add half and half if you want more fat.
My (Sita’s) Madzoon recipe:
I use 8 cups of milk in a French corningware.
Put the milk in microwave for 17 minutes on HIGH
Take it out and let it rest for exactly 30 minutes, then add your 3 tablespoons of (starter) madzoun** (I first stir the madzoun in a cup with a little bit of the hot milk)
Cover with a lid and lots of towels and leave it on my counter overnight. Next morning it is ready to go to fridge. No need of paper towels!
It works!”

**Robyn's Note: You must have a small amount of 'starter madzoon' in order to make madzoon (kind of a Catch - 22!). So save some from a previous batch, or buy a small container of plain madzoon (yogurt) containing active-culture, otherwise it won’t work.

My attempt at making Sita’s homemade madzoon recipe went like this:
I bought 2 half-gallons (8 cups) of 1 % milk only to discover my largest microwave-safe bowl would only hold 4 cups. OK, that meant I was only going make 4 cups-worth.
Then I wondered if I’d still need to microwave the milk for 17 minutes, as mentioned in Sita’s recipe, since I’d be making half the amount. After doing some research, I found a microwave recipe that said to heat 4 cups of milk at HIGH power for about 9 minutes, or until it reached a temperature of 175° F.

Here’s how my preparation actually went:
*I placed the 4 cups of milk in the microwave-safe bowl.
*Heated it for 17 minutes, because that’s how long it took for the 4 cups of milk to actually reach 175°F in my microwave. A layer of “skin” formed on the surface of the milk which I removed and discarded.
*Allowed the madzoon to rest for 30 minutes.
*Mixed 3 Tbsp. of starter madzoon with a little of the heated milk (which was now slightly cooled, thus preventing the starter madzoon from curdling).
*Stirred the starter madzoon into the large bowl of heated milk.
*Covered the top of the bowl with plastic wrap; covered the entire bowl with a large towel; left the bowl on the counter overnight.

Next day, with fingers crossed, I unwrapped the bowl.
I unveiled a bowl of somewhat thin, but creamy homemade madzoon. It tasted great, but the madzoon came out thinner than we like.
A simple solution to thicken it is to place some madzoon in a cheesecloth (or coffee filter)-lined strainer over a bowl. Place the bowl with strainer in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Discard the liquid that collects in the bowl. What's left in the lined strainer will be thick, yummy madzoon!

Would I make microwave madzoon again? You bet! But next time I'll use milk containing a little more fat.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The 'Arsene Sandwich' - Grilled Cheese Spectaculaire

The ‘Arsene Sandwich’ is a specialty of Doug’s cousin, Arsene Dirkelessian. Some might call this a grilled cheese sandwich; we call it spectacular! While visiting Arsene and his family, who reside on the outskirts of Paris, he prepared this as a quick and delicious breakfast for us. I’ve gotta say, it was a great way to start the day.

Arsene’s recipe:
1. Cut chunks of crusty French bread, fill it with crumbled Feta cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese slices (or any cheese that melts well), crushed dried mint, a sprinkle of Aleppo red pepper (or a hint of cayenne), and a drizzle of olive oil.
2. Grill it on both sides in a heated, lightly greased skillet, pressing down until the cheese melts and a minty fragrance fills the air.
3. Serve with fresh fruit (or juice) and coffee.

1. Prepare this with your favorite bread, and if you have a George Forman grill or a Panini press, it’s a cinch to make.
2. This sandwich is great for lunch with a cup of your favorite soup or a crisp salad.
3. Check out Arsene’s other recipes for mujadarah, and 3-day hummus!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Learning to live in a world of food without common scents

As a boy, I could always tell I was in an Armenian home even with my eyes closed because I could smell the onions. 

Onions simmering in a pot. Onions sliced thin and spread across a serving plate. Onions hanging in a basket next to the stove, with green shoots bursting through brown, papery skins.

It's one of my favorite memories, and now that's all it is.

Learning new words has always been fun for me, but not "anosmia," the loss of any sense of smell. I got a rather rude introduction to this condition recently when I took a fall and landed hard on my head. I haven't been able to smell a thing since.

Not coffee brewing. Not cookies baking. Not even garbage overdue for the curb.

I never really thought about what this would be like because I never thought about it at all. It just never seemed likely, even though I'd been smell-deprived from time to time like everyone else. We all experience colds, and some of us are prone to allergies and sinus attacks that seriously diminish our olfactory sensations while they last.

But this problem won't go away in a few days.  The docs say it's most likely permanent, and that means I have some serious adjustments to make.

My biggest disappointment came from learning first-hand just how close smell and taste really are. 

Turns out, there are certain basic flavors -- sort of like primary colors -- that go directly to the taste buds: salty, sweet, sour, bitter. Beyond those, however, much of what we think of as taste is really aromatic, and that's where much of the joy of eating -- and cooking -- comes from.

I can't taste herbs, for example. Not at all. I discovered this when Robyn asked me to bring her some cilantro, which was stored next to flat-leaf parsley. I couldn't be sure which was which without tasting, but neither tasted like anything at all.

Is that weird? It sure is.

Robyn says I'm still cooking just fine, but I'm not so sure. I have no way of knowing if I've added too much seasoning or not enough. I was briefly encouraged  by the thought of Beethoven writing symphonies after he went deaf, but...after all, he was Beethoven. I'm just a guy with a frying pan. 

It's not just a matter of diminished pleasure, either. I have to be very cautious in the kitchen because I can't tell if milk has gone sour, or if the leftover tuna has turned fishy. 

I've made peace with the electric stove because I'd never be able to detect a gas leak.

I've learned a couple of other important things about anosmia. For one, it's more common than I ever suspected. Certain medications, including some sold over the counter, can bring it on. For others, the cause is a mystery but the results no less severe.

It can also be quite debilitating as well as depressing. Some people lose interest in eating, and other become fearful of foods they can't taste. 

So far, I'm OK.  I'm as hungry as ever but I'm making different food choices -- and not always for the better. The subtle joys of fine dining are lost on me. And by fine dining, I'm sad to include so many Armenian favorites.

I surprised Robyn with parsley, onions and eggs for Mother's Day breakfast. I know it smelled great because she told me so before she reached the kitchen. She assured me it tasted great, too, and I was glad.

I made enough for two, but there was plenty left over for her breakfast again the next day. I couldn't taste anything but the salt, so there was no point wasting something that good on me.

I settled for a bowl of instant grits.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father’s Day!

Robyn's father and his famous shish kebab
Father's Day is synonymous with barbeques.
Grill masters will show their stuff with menus plain and fancy. No matter what you plan to serve, we ask that you grill cautiously. Here are a few tips to help keep your Father’s Day safe.

My dad, Andy Dabbakian, not only grilled terrific shish kebab, he built his own shish kebab machine and skewers! I’ll share his recipe for the kebab, but you’ll have to conjure-up your own grilling machine; sorry!

Dad’s Shish Kebab recipe:
Serves 5
½ leg of lamb, boned and cubed into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 medium onion, sliced
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. freshly ground coriander
2 to 3 Tbsp. wine vinegar
½ of a 6-oz. can tomato paste
Salt and black pepper to taste

One day in advance:
Place cubed meat into a large mixing bowl. Add the onions, oil, coriander, vinegar, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to toss the meat mixture periodically to redistribute the ingredients.

Day of grilling:
1. Mix meat once more before placing meat on the skewers.
2. Broil over charcoal fire; skewers should be turned frequently at the start to sear the outside of the meat, retaining natural juices.
3. When the tips of the meat cubes take on a well-roasted appearance, remove from fire.

Dad’s Notes:
1. Your own taste and practice will tell you how long to keep the meat over the charcoal. If the skewers are held 5 to 6 inches over the hot coals, the following rule of thumb will prove satisfactory:
Rare: 10 minutes
Medium rare: 15 minutes
Well-done: 20 minutes
2. For interesting variations, you may alternate pieces of green pepper, large mushroom caps, and hard, small tomatoes between the meat cubes.

Thanks, Dad. We miss you, and will remember you always.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Walnut-Olive Relish

An interesting request came my way:

“I stumbled across your very informative blog as I was searching for a condiment I've heard of that is supposedly Armenian in origin: walnut-olive relish. Do you know of a bottled brand and where it can be purchased online? I live in the Chicago area and we have a couple of good Middle Eastern bakeries and groceries that might supply it if you can give me an idea of what it's called. Any recipe, history, or other information you could help me with would of course be credited to you once we get our blog going. If you're wondering, it's a blog about condiments from around the world.
 You know me, I started investigating right away. I contacted my friends at Macar and Sons to see if they carried such a product; unfortunately, no. I emailed Sahadi’s in Brooklyn, NY; they don’t carry a product like that either. Then I emailed Kalustyan’s in NYC, but as of this posting, I haven’t heard back.
Walnut-Olive Relish
So, I did the next best thing. I sent Emily my own recipe for Walnut-Green Olive Relish (see below).

If anyone knows of a company that makes walnut-olive relish commercially, or an Armenian name that this product might go by, please let me know: (robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com). Thanks!

When Emily’s blog, Flavor Club, is up-and-running, I’ll let all of you know.

Walnut- Green Olive Relish (Recipe from www.TheArmenianKitchen.com)
Yield: approximately 2 cups

1 1/2 cups pitted green olives, drained, rinsed and chopped* (Note: green olives stuffed with pimentos can also be used)
½ cup walnuts, chopped* (I use pecans instead of walnuts)
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped*
1 small onion, chopped*
1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
*Special Note: hand-chopping is recommended for this recipe.

• In a medium bowl, gently stir together chopped olives, walnuts, parsley, and onion.
• In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, lemon juice, and Aleppo (or cayenne) pepper. Pour dressing over olive-walnut mixture; toss to coat.
• Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
• Serve with crackers or toasted pita triangles.

Other serving suggestions: This relish can also be used as an accompaniment for fish or poultry dishes – or – as a topping for hummus or on a block of cream cheese!

Friday, June 10, 2011

AYF Juniors- 'Back to the Basics' Seminar

Jenn Taylor is the Chef/ Food Service Director at Lutherlyn, a retreat and summer camp site in western Pennsylvania which hosts Junior  Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) seminars. This year's seminar, 'Back to the Bascis', was taking place during Memorial Day weekend with an estimated audience of 300 teenagers, ages 12 to 18.

Working at this facility for the past 5 years, Jenn said she struggled to develop a menu to meet the needs of the group, and wanted to incorporate more Armenian food in the menu.

This is where we came into the picture. Jenn wrote to TheArmenianKitchen.com hoping we could help her plan the menu.

We admired her determination in wanting to please the palates of the Armenian youth and were delighted to help. We offered a number of breakfast, lunch and dinner options, including vegetarian choices. Jenn was confident that she and her cooking team would be able to prepare the recipes that she would ultimately select; her task, however, was to translate our recipes into large quantities. Her work was cut out for her!

The recipes Jenn chose from our website to add to the weekend dining experince included:
1. Matnakash (Bokon) bread
2. Armenian Potato-Egg Salad
3. Armenian Chickpea Salad
4. Simit
5. Eggplant-Zucchini Bake

Roasted Veggies served in a pita
Here's one of Jenn's creations for vegetarian attendees: 

 Here are a few of our recipes that Jenn and her staff made:

Zucchini-Eggplant Bake
Matnakash (Bokon) bread

Update: The Memorial Day weekend event has passed. Jenn wrote a few days later to say, "The weekend was FANTASTIC! Great reviews on our food. My favorite comment was, 'this is the best food we have had!'.
My work is a ministry. I enjoy passing on good flavors to children and young adults. I want to make a difference in each of their lives. I can do that by making sure when they are away from home they have great food to eat."

How can you beat that? Please take a look at Jenn's blog and read what she had to say about the weekend experience, and to see more photos of the food they prepared.
Jenn and her staff worked diligently to accommodate the dietary needs of the participants. How fortunate the camp is to have Jenn and her staff on board!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lentil and Brown Rice Salad with Cumin Dressing

Lentil and Brown Rice Salad
The outside temperature is rapidly rising. It’s been hotter in the northeast than in south Florida lately, indicating it's time to turn off your ovens, and take out your hot-weather recipes.
To get you started, try this heart-healthy salad that’s great as a side dish or as a meal on its own.

 Lentil and Brown Rice Salad with Cumin Dressing
Serves 4

½ cup dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 cup water
1/3 cup brown rice, cooked according to package directions
1 carrot, shredded
1 small onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped cilantro

1. In a medium pot, add lentils and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not mushy. (Keep your eye on the water level; you don't want it to evaporate and burn the lentils!)
2. Cook brown rice according to package directions. Drain any excess liquid, if necessary. Cool slightly.
3. In a bowl, gently stir together the lentils and rice. Add the carrots, onions, parsley, and cilantro; toss. Pour cumin dressing (see recipe below) over salad and combine gently. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Note: If time is of the essence, you can use canned lentils, rinsed, and quick-cooking brown rice.

Cumin Dressing:
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cumin
Dash salt
¼ tsp. Aleppo red pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Farewell to the ‘Pyramid’; Hello to the ‘Plate’

The former guide
I’ve been following the Food Guide Pyramid for decades; it was part of the curriculum I taught to my culinary students. About 6 years ago, The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) re-styled the pyramid to include an “activity guide” (the staircase on the left), because good eating and physical activity go hand-in-hand. Can’t argue with that.

The USDA has changed things around once again, revealing the new “My Plate” design - an updated visual of the government’s suggested nutrition plan replacing our old friend - the pyramid.

The new guide

Looks as though cereal and cracker companies are going to have to redesign their packaging, and culinary textbooks will have to update their nutrition chapters  !
What caught my eye while perusing the USDA's website, were some recipes they posted in keeping with their new theme. For instance, 'cucumber - yogurt  dip', and 'bulgar - chickpea salad'. Sound familiar?

Here is a brief account of the USDA changes according to Jan Norris, blogger, reporter, restaurant reviewer, food writer and editor:

"The USDA is placing more emphasis on fruit, vegetables and grains, and less emphasis on protein (meats, fish, poultry, plant proteins). Dairy is illustrated in the cup on the plate.

Balancing Calories:
■Enjoy your food, but eat less.
■Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase:
■Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
■Make at least half your grains whole grains.
■Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce:
■Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
■Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Web site offers more:
The USDA web site, offers much more in the way of information about suggested foods. Food groups, and specific audiences for the advice, including breastfeeding and pregnant women, kids and those on weight loss plans are addressed.

There are a number of interactive features on the site, as well – you can have your diet analyzed, plan a menu, ask a question and look up individual foods.

What do you think?
Weigh in on what you think of this switchover – will you use this plate and does it make any difference in how you plan your meals? Do you think the government is still wary of dismissing things like soda and fried foods or fast foods, or are they leaving it up to the diner to decide?” JN

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What does peace taste like? (Hint: Lamb is a good guess!)

Why would Public Radio of Armenia do a report on a culinary team based in Israel?

This photo offers a good clue.

Chef Sarkis Yacoubian, proudly hoisting the red-blue-orange flag of Armenia, is one of four culinary masters who have formed Taste of Peace.

The idea is intriguing as well as mouth-watering: Each of the four represents a different culinary tradition, but all have common elements. Sort of like us humans: different in so many ways, yet very much alike.

Yacoubian, a chef-instructor from Jaffa, makes clear on the team's blog site that his Armenian identity informs his mission of peace.

"My family had to flee their homeland in order to survive and it is because they were able to escape the terrors that awaited them in their village and were able to come to the Middle East that I am here today.

"Because of the bloody and unresolved heritage, which  I share with all Armenians, and because of the life which I have led amongst Palestinians and Israelis in this land, I am fully aware of the consequences such harsh antagonisms have on the human spirit...

"Thinking, knowing and believing that living in peace may be the easiest thing to achieve, I embarked on my mission to gather an elite group of people from both nations who will be able to prove that peace is a handshake away."

Other team members are Charlie Fadida, the Jewish executive chef at the Sheraton Tel Aviv; Arab Christian Johnny Goric, executive chef at the Intercontinental Resort in Jericho; and Muslim Arab Imad Shourbaji, Fadida's sous chef.

It's clear these fellows can cook: They won three gold medals at an international competition in Luxembourg in November.

Can they prove that nothing breaks down barriers and brings people together like food?

Let's hope so.