Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roasted Spiced Chick Peas

Instead of nibbling on the same-old snack food or appetizer, try something with a healthy twist. 

Roasted Spiced Chick Peas
Roasted Spiced Chick Peas
1-15 oz. can chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained, rinsed, dried, and skins removed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Spice Mix, or to taste (see recipe below)
Dash of kosher salt


1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Be sure to drain, rinse, remove skins and pat chick peas dry before combining with other ingredients.
3. Place chick peas in a mixing bowl. Toss with olive oil, spice mix until chick peas are well-coated.
4. Spread chick peas on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.
5. Bake about 40 to 50 minutes, stirring once, until chick peas are golden. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: The centers will will a bit soft. If you prefer a crispier product, bake a little longer, but if you value your teeth, don't over-do it!

Spice Mix:
Yield: 3+ Tbsp.
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/4 tsp. allspice
dash cayenne pepper

Stir together until well-blended. Reserve unused portion of spice mix to season soup or cooked vegetables. Store leftover spice mix in a zippered plastic bag.

NOTE: Get creative with the spice mix - try adding chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, or whatever flavor combination suits your taste buds!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Zucchini Pancakes- An Adapazari Favorite

When I reached out to my readers in search of foods native to Adapazar, no one responded – until now.

Grace Haronian, from Connecticut, told me her maternal grandmother hailed from Adapazar, however, she didn’t really know what recipes represented that area with the exception of one - zucchini pancakes.
Knar Tutunjian-Marashian

This is what Grace wrote:
“My mother's mother (Knar Tutunjian-Marashian) is from Adapazar. I don't know what foods are specific to that area. However, one thing I love (and I don't see on your list of recipes) is a zucchini pancake that she used to make. It is a simple mixture of flour, eggs, grated zucchini, grated onions, salt, and a little baking powder, pan fried in olive oil. And, like so many Armenian foods, you can eat it hot or cold.
(My grandmother) also used Swiss chard when making dolma, in addition to the usual tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini."

(In the photo above: Grandmother Knar, feeding her grandchildren in Massena, NY. Grace Haronian is 2nd from the right, circa 1973.) 

After reading the note from Grace, I dusted off a zucchini pancake recipe I've had for years, and e-mailed it to her.
Grace responded with: “Yes, this recipe sounds very similar to what my grandmother made. So delicious! Of course, I don't have measurements. Medzmair said she cooked "by eye" - "achke chop".

Read more about Grace's family below this recipe.

Here’s my recipe (with measurements) that I sent to Grace:
Zucchini Pancakes
2 cup zucchini, grated
3 Tbsp. grated onion
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley, optional
3 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp. flour (if mixture looks a bit thin, add a little more flour as needed)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. Black pepper, or to taste
NOTE: Feel free to add your favorite seasonings to the batter for added flair.
Olive oil, for frying

1. Rinse and gently scrub squash; do not peel. Pat dry. Remove both ends of the squash and grate. Place grated zucchini and onion in a colander and press to squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, onion, eggs, parsley (if using), flour, baking powder, salt and pepper until well-blended.
3. Add enough olive oil in a skillet to coat the bottom. When hot, spoon about 2 Tbsp. of the mixture for each pancake into the skillet and flatten. Do not crowd the skillet. Cook 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Add oil as needed. Continue until all of the mixture is used. Drain pancakes on a plate lined with paper towels.
4. Serve hot or at room temperature. May be served with a dollop of plain yogurt or *yogurt-garlic sauce.

*Yogurt-Garlic Sauce

16 oz. plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt to taste
1. In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well.
2. Chill until ready to serve, allowing flavors to blend. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Grace was kind enough to share a little family history. Her mother, Ardell Marashian Haronian, was just three years old when she was brought to America in 1927 by her widowed mother and Grace's great-grandmother. The family settled in Massena, New York, along the Canadian border.

"There was a strong community of Armenians there," Grace wrote. "I think they were primarily attracted to the area because of work in the aluminum plants. My grandmother remarried and spent the rest of her life in Massena, until she died in 1990."

Grace's mother moved to New Jersey after getting married. That's where Grace gew up. "But, every summer we visited Massena and enjoyed some really good Armenian cooking. I even remembered watching my grandmother make filo dough with a broomstick. I have never been brave enough to try that trick."

Along with the memories, Grace included a few pictures. 
Photo on Left: Grace's grandmother, Knar Tutunjian Marashian, at her familiar place in the kitchen with one of Grace's cousins.
Photo on Right: A family photo on the steps of the Hye Hotel in Asbury Park, NJ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Karoun Dairy Products: Award-winning Mediterranean Cheeses and Yogurts

Karoun means “spring” in Armenian - a fitting name for a dairy company. Think of rolling hills, gentle rain, and green pastures, then visualize cows, goats, and sheep grazing in those fields.

According to TV commercials, California’s cows are happy cows, so, naturally, they’d produce the best milk and cheese products. Perhaps this is why Karoun dairy products are so good – it’s located in glorious California.

Karoun Dairies, founded in 1992, was a dream of the Baghdassarian family. After Anto Baghdassarian emigrated to California from Lebanon, he realized that no local stores offered a full line of Mediterranean dairy products, so the family set out to change that. Rostom Baghdassarian, Anto’s son and Chief Operating Officer of the company, has taken Karoun Dairies to new heights making product adjustments as food and diet trends change.

What makes this company unique is that their products are handmade with fresh, natural ingredients, combining traditional recipes with modern technology.

Their hard work paid off. Karoun Dairies received the 2011 Business of the Year Award from the Armenian American Chamber of Commerce, so you know they’re doing something right!

Karoun Dairy Products
The Armenian Kitchen received a complementary assortment of Karoun products to sample. We were delighted to find 3 kinds of Armenian string cheese, packages of grilling cheeses, feta and basket cheese, containers of madzoon (yogurt), and labne.

With the help of friends Bonnie Gross and her husband, David Blasco, plus various dinner guests, we’ve been plowing through the Karoun products to share our opinions with you.

First, and foremost, every single product was extremely fresh.

The twisted cheeses - plain, with herbs, and with caraway seeds, were a favorite at breakfast as well as an appetizer served with olives and pita bread. Each variety had a pleasing taste and proper texture – that is to say, not rubbery or mushy.

The feta with olives, peppers and herbs – along with the plain basket cheese, were served two ways - on crackers, and crumbled into omelets. Each was mild, with a pleasing, lightly salted quality. The cheeses had a unique characteristic in that they produced a slight squeak on your teeth while biting into it.

The plain and jalapeño-studded grilling cheeses came in 8-oz. chunks. These were sliced thinner and made into incredible grilled cheese sandwiches. Unlike mozzarella cheese, the grilling cheeses hold up well under high heat. They soften without getting stringy, and make a wonderful sandwich with the addition of roasted peppers, tomato slices, and fresh basil.

The yogurts were served in several ways: as an accompaniment to dolma; as tahn, a yogurt drink; as an ingredient in other recipes, such as brownies and Spicy Yogurt Cake.

Labne, with its rich, creamy texture, made a superb appetizer spread. This was my favorite with its outstanding flavor and texture – so decadent and extremely satisfying! Warning: A little labne goes a long way!

Bonnie’s feedback: “The yogurts had a mild, pleasing taste.
We tried the fried cheese last night.  Yummy. I think it would make a great appetizer with crackers.
So far, we've tried the string cheese with herbs, which was yummy and both kinds of yogurt. I liked the yogurt a lot -- it seemed rich and thick without much fat and had a very pleasant flavor (not sour.)”

Hopefully, I’ve whet your appetite for Karoun Dairy products; you can find out more about them on their website. To purchase their products, check out your local Whole Foods or The Fresh Market stores, as well as other grocers across the U.S.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spicy Yogurt Cake

We love plain yogurt just as it is, but sometimes our taste buds are looking for a little something special. Having an abundance of Karoun plain yogurt in my refrigerator prompted me to do some recipe experimentation. Recently I added yogurt to brownie mix, which worked extremely well, then my friend Bonnie made a delicious frosting using labne rather than cream cheese to top her cupcakes. I searched through my recipe file and rediscovered a recipe for spice cake that I hadn’t made in a very long time. I figured I’d try removing the fat and replacing it with plain yogurt to see if it would work.

Spicy Yogurt Cake
This is what I made:

Spicy Yogurt Cake

Yield: 2 (8-inch) round cakes
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. salt
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
4 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup plain yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Shake out excess flour.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, honey, and vanilla at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Using a low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt, beating until mixture is smooth.
5. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

To serve: dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.

The results are in: First of all, the scent of the spices perfumed the entire house. The cake had a gentle spiciness, with a sweetness that wasn’t overpowering. The texture, although not as moist as if it had oil or melted butter in it, was moist enough with a tender crumb.
Would I make this again? Absolutely!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chef John Minas adds Armenian Flair to Florida Fare as New Executive Chef at the Governor’s Mansion

Chef John Minas
Ask anyone with a glimmer of culinary consciousness about Florida cuisine and you’ll most likely hear a tale of Caribbean-Latin fusion that sizzles like the sands of South Beach.
Then ask Chef John Minas.

For one of his first dinners as Executive Chef at the Florida governor’s mansion, Minas served notice that there’s a new culinary accent in the Sunshine State: Armenian.
“I made grape leaves,” he said proudly.

Minas, who grew up in the deep-rooted Armenian community of Watertown, Mass., inherited a love of food from his Armenian and Assyrian family. He credits his paternal grandfather, Bashir Minas, with inspiring him.

“Every Sunday, we’d go to my grandfather’s house,” he said. “He cooked the best Armenian and Middle Eastern food I ever tasted. Dolmas, sarmas. And his fasoulia — oh my gosh! He made it all and he made it amazing. He wasn’t a trained chef, but he was a great cook.”

On weekdays, young Minas rushed home from high school to watch the back-to-back shows of Food Network pioneers Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. “Those guys were all about the food and the technique,” he said.

The idea took hold that he could meld the elegance and discipline of Western fine dining with the flavors and ingredients he grew up with.
After training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Minas worked at several restaurants in the Northeast and was planning to open his own when he heard about the unique opportunity in far-off Tallahassee, Florida. He sent a resume and got a quick invitation for an interview on April 11, his 26th birthday.
The interview turned out to be an audition.

“All of a sudden I was cooking breakfast at the mansion,” he said. “That was followed by lunch and then dinner.” While he was at it, Minas volunteered an afternoon snack, “a real mezze platter” including feta cheese and pita bread.
Nearly every dish in his day-long cooking marathon reflected Minas’ cultural connection.

“My dinner entree was a watercress tabbouleh with Chilean sea bass and grilled asparagus,” he said. “It was a French take on Middle Eastern. I’m very big on that.”
The fourth of six candidates to try out, Minas was barely back in Boston when he received news that he’d been hired. He started his new job in May and launched straight into an exciting yet demanding routine. Minas supervises all planning and preparation for a whirlwind of state dinners and charity events as well as daily meals for Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott.

Minas said he’s excited about Florida’s rich variety of fresh seafood and produce, but the job has kept him so busy that he’s had limited opportunity to travel around the state. “I’m really looking forward not only to getting to know the state, but to meet the Armenians here,” he said. “I want to get to Boca Raton and all the other Armenian communities.”

So far, Minas has brought not only Armenian touches to the mansion menu but other Middle Eastern favorites.
“I take our cuisine and try to make it relevant for a new generation,” he said. “I make a very refined hummus, with several variations on a plate. For example, a kalamata hummus served with traditional pita chips and a basil-pesto hummus with tomato pita chips. It’s no better than my mother’s hummus, but it’s my version.”

Gov. Scott has become such a fan that he appointed Minas and his sous chef, Carin Butler, to represent the state in the 2011 Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. “John is a talented chef and cooks up some of the best food I’ve ever tasted,” the governor announced. “He’s going to give those other chefs a run for their money.”

Minas presented a Florida black grouper with avocado crème fraiche and spicy shrimp toast that he said “tastes like the state of Florida on a plate.” He didn’t win, but he wasn’t discouraged.

“I’m just getting started,” he said. “The job and the people here are wonderful. I plan to be in Tallahassee for a long time. Then, who knows?”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pistachios charge ahead in the race for America's taste

Pistachios were always around but rarely accessible when I was a kid. They were grown-up snack food that magically appeared in mezze dishes when company arrived.
Armenian company, that is.

I don't remember seeing or even hearing about pistachios in the homes of non-Armenians. That remained true even after we were married. There were no pistachios in the supermarket, but I used to buy them at a Syrian grocery store near my office.

I used to get them in a five-pound bag labeled, "Pride of Iran." Then came the hostage crisis of 1979-80 and my favorite pistachios disappeared from the shelves along with everything else from Iran. Then next time I went to the store, the grocer handed me a bag labeled something like, "Pride of Michigan."
"It's not the same," I said.
"Oh, yes it is," he said, explaining that only the label had changed in deference to American sensitivity.

Actually, there was another change. The price had gone up, reflecting the added complexity of international intrigue.
I am a patriot, of course, but I'm also a pisatchio lover. So I paid the man.

Today, good-old American pistachios are abundant and available everywhere at more or less popular prices. And they're wildly popular as well as praised for their nutritional value.

I know this, and yet I was still astounded to read the offical name of this summer's NASCAR race  held on September 10th, at Richmond, Virginia: The Wonderful Pistachios 400.
We're talking about a sport that roared out of the soul of the American South, where boiled peanuts and fried pork rinds ruled the snack roost not long ago.

I've read stories of early racers who were pelted by chicken bones as fans tossed them from the stands. Now I'm picturing a backstretch slick with a fine dusting of crushed pistachio shells.

This was one race I couldn't miss -- and you know what I was snacking on.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Remembrance

We're leaving our plates and pans in the cupboard as we join the rest of the country in reflecting on the terrible events that occurred 10 years ago today.
We each have our own memories of that day, and our own thoughts about the events since. All we can add are our prayers for a more peaceful world not too far in the future.

(Photo from The e-newsletter of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Labne Frosting

Doug and I were invited to a potluck dinner over Labor Day weekend. The main course included succulent BBQ ribs, macaroni and cheese, guacamole, and tossed salad. When it was time for dessert, hostess, Barbara Hall, set out vanilla ice cream topped with macerated strawberries, while guest, Bonnie Gross, unveiled her homemade carrot-pineapple cupcakes topped with a surprise frosting.

Cupcakes with Labne Frosting - recipe and photo by Bonnie Gross
Bonnie, who has been helping us sample an assortment of Karoun dairy products, decided to experiment with a traditional cream cheese frosting recipe she’d been making for years. By substituting labne for the cream cheese, she created a surprisingly delicious frosting.
Here’s what Bonnie told me:
“I adapted the classic (cream cheese frosting) recipe from the ‘New Pillsbury Family Cookbook’, which is not so new! I've been using it my whole life; (the cookbook) was published in 1973.

Labne Frosting
1/4 cup labne
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk (approximately)

Mix all ingredients, but start with half the (amount of) milk, adding the rest if needed. Beat until smooth and determine if the consistency requires a bit more milk or a bit more powdered sugar.”

Our evaluation of the frosting: Honestly, if Bonnie hadn’t told us she substituted the labne for the cream cheese, we never would have known. It was mildly sweet and delicious!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fresno-Born Reader is a Great Fan of

Fresno-born, Las Vegas, Nevada resident Christine Vartanian Datian is a new admirer of, enjoying our Armenian recipes and YouTube presentations. 
Spicy Southwestern Tabbouleh*
Because both her mother, Alice, and grandmother were excellent cooks, Christine developed an enormous interest in cooking - and - writing. In fact, Christine has had several of her own recipes published in ‘Sunset’ and ‘Cooking Light’ magazines. She felt our readers would be particularly interested in trying her original recipe, "Spicy Southwestern Tabbouleh," which was published last year in ‘Cooking Light’; it received 5 Stars for Outstanding Recipe by readers and editors.

While you’re at it, try Christine’s other tantalizing recipes, ‘Potato and Lamb Moussaka’, or ‘Lamb and Eggplant Meatball Pita sandwich’ as well. 
Potato-Lamb Moussaka*
There's more... It seems another branch of Christine's family is into the food and dining scene in a big way in California. Her cousins, the Vartanian family, own the Vintage Press Restaurant in Visalia, California. (See below.)

Lamb-Eggplant Meatball Pita*
*(Photos from

The Vintage Press Restaurant, renowned for its excellent food and service, has been in business since 1966.  Cousin David Vartanian is the chef.
Chef David's recipe,** Tomato-Mozzarella Salad, was featured in the Great Day Kitchen - KMPH FOX 26 Central San Joaquin Valley News Source. This is a recipe that can easily be made and enjoyed at home.
NOTE:** The amount of basil in the Tomato-Mozzarella Salad recipe is listed as a question mark(?). According to Chef David, it should be 1/4 cup.

If you are ever in Visalia, CA be sure to visit the Vintage Press Restaurant for a  delicious lunch or dinner. (Reservations are suggested for dinner.) Read what Frommer's has to say about the Vintage Press.
Vintage Press Restaurant

216 N. Willis St.
Visalia, CA.
(559) 733-3033

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brownies made with Yogurt

If you're ever wondering what to do with that little bit of plain yogurt left in the container, here's a sweet idea - add it to a brownie mix. But not just any brownie mix.

I first discovered  No Pudge! Fudge Brownie Mix a few years ago. Requiring only the addition of yogurt in its preparation, I figured this was a handy item to have on hand for those desperate times when a quick, relatively healthy, chocolaty dessert was required.

No Pudge!, a staple in my pantry, comes in 4 flavors – original, cappuccino, raspberry and mint. My personal favorites are the original and cappuccino.
Brownies made with ... Yogurt!
Since I had less than one cup's-worth of fat-free plain yogurt from Karoun Dairy, I figured this would be a good way to use it up.
It’s a cinch to make, too. Just add 2/3 cup plain, fat-free yogurt (the company suggests using vanilla yogurt), and a capful of vanilla extract to the dry mix. Mix until dry ingredients are moist. Pour the batter into an 8x8 inch pan sprayed with PAM. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 minutes. When cooled, cut into serving pieces. This will yield about 12 moist, fudge-like brownies.

Serve with frozen yogurt, if desired.

How easy is that?