Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Request for Zadig Kahke

I know it's New Year's Eve and 2012 is just moments away, but it's never too early to start preparing for Easter. A while ago, I received a request for Zadig Kahke (Easter Cookies) from Hermine Kabbendjian.

Hermine wrote:
 “Hello Robyn,
I come from Beirut and have been looking for Zadig Kahke that we used to make while I was a little girl.  I helped shaped the dough to many forms, shapes and designs.  They were heaven and I still smell them.  They were different than the ordinary ones as we made these for  Easter ( Zadig) only and shared them with all.
I hope you know what I mean and please let me know if you have this recipe.  They were a bit on the softer side and heavenly! I would really  appreciate it.”
I asked Hermine for more detailed information and she responded:
“It was a sweet dough.  Not cookie like. It was more like choreg but a bit different! It had yeast, we did brush it with egg wash as the top was golden brown and we even took the kahkes to special bakers during Zadig for a wonderful bake.  I am certain it had milk, yeast and may be some eggs! I cannot quite remember the eggs!  My mom and grandmother kneaded the dough and even let it rise overnight and we started real early next morning for an all day affair of making them, taking them to the baker. Brothers would carry them back and forth and we would sneak one or two in our pockets to eat them secretly as we were not allowed to eat them before they got blessed or after we had gone to Easter service.  This was that special!  We rolled some in smaller pieces and some in shapes closer to open face like lahmajoun - a bit smaller size- with many different designs on top and made lace edges like apple pie edges.....They were close to 1/2 inch thick when open faced!”

Hermine continued: “I am certain some Armenian family from Beirut will remember this too as we did go from house to house and helped relatives and neighbors shape the dough, drink coffee (not the children), tell stories, remember people and how one liked someone's kahke's better than others but were polite enough to taste them.  I have absolutely no family left to ask!  We scheduled kahke- making and it was the most wonderful time for us all children too!  We took some to school and we shared them and our friends in school would give us theirs but  my grandma’s was the best!  She believed because they were blessed! Robyn, I really appreciate all that you are doing!”
I sent Hermine a butter kahke recipe from Rose Baboian's "Armenian -American Cookbook", but just by reading it, she could tell it wasn’t exactly right.

So with her permission, I’m asking readers for help in finding a Zadig Kahke recipe. If this strikes a chord with any of you, please email your recipe suggestions to .

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Revival of an Armenian church in Turkey: a link to the past or a path to the future?

A reader was kind enough to pass along a link to one of the many recent news stories about the restoration and re-consecration of St. Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir, Turkey, the city known to Armenians as Dikranagerd.

Robyn and I both share Dikranagertsi roots, which we've written about many times in connection with the city's distinctive recipes and our memories of wonderful meals in loving company.

One of the largest churches in the Near or Middle East with a capacity of several thousand, St. Giragos was heavily damaged during the Armenian Genocide. It fell into disuse over the decades as the city's once vibrant Armenian community dwindled and virtually disappeared.

Although work continues, Armenians from around the world gathered for the church's rededication services in late October. The multi-million-dollar project represents the first restoration of one of Turkey's many Armenian churches funded entirely by the world-wide Armenian community.

The achievment is being hailed as a breakthrough in a country where the historic Armenian presence has been largely downplayed or ignored. Although St. Giragos may never have a regular congregation, Armenians hope it will become a lasting symbol of their history and a repository of the region's Armenian culture.

St. Giragos has long been a very personal symbol for me. A century-old  photo of its magnificent, multi-tiered steeple graces the wall of my den, facing the desk where I work. I look up at it many times each day. It is the same photo that hung in my parents' home throughout my childhood.

When I was a boy, I asked my father why the rest of the church was absent from the picture. He said it was most important to remember the steeple because it was gone. It was so important to him that the photo was the only visible reminder in our home of the city of his birth.

The steeple, I later learned, was just a bit younger than Dad. It was built in 1913 as a replacement after the original was struck by lightning.

In an article about the recent restoration published in The Armenian Weekly, the Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian noted that the steeple instantly became the tallest structure in the city, crowned by a glittering cross. It towered over the ruling Muslims' minarets, the article explained, a circumstance that led to its doom.

"On May 28, 1915, as the Ottomans were dragging the Armenian prelate, Mgrditch Vartabed Chulghadian, off to be tortured and eventually martyred, the artillery cannon from across the city took aim at the bell tower and shot it to pieces as the prelate was forced to watch. Even though the church continued to operate during the 20th century, the bell tower was never rebuilt."

My father escaped the steeple's fate, only to endure a childhood of repeated displacement without home or family. He had no interest in revisiting the scene of so much suffering and pain. He is long gone, so I can't know for sure whether the restoration of St. Giragos would have changed his mind.

But I'm certain he would have noted, as I have, the absence of a steeple in photos of the restored church. I have no doubt what he'd say about that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cardamom-Pecan Cookies

Cardamom is a spice most folks associate with cookies, but it’s also used to enhance coffee, fruit salad, or meats. Its scent can be overpowering, but the flavor is pleasingly mild, if used in modest amounts.
Cardamom-Pecan Cookies - Ready to Serve!
Since it’s cookie-baking time, I thought you might like to try my recipe for cardamom-pecan cookies, a kourabia-like cookie that simply melts in your mouth.

Cardamom-Pecan Cookies
Yield: about 3 dozen

Cardamom-pecan cookie ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds*
Dash salt
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (walnuts can be substituted)

1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and half of the powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in the vanilla.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cardamom and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Gently stir in the pecans.
3. Roll into 1-in. balls. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
4. Bake in a preheated 350° for 15-17 minutes or until edges turn a light brown.
5. Roll warm cookies in remaining powdered sugar. Cool on wire racks.

*Note: If you can't find cardamom seeds to grind, you can use pre-ground cardamom, however, it might not offer the same flavor-punch as freshly ground seeds.
To store: Place cookies in an container with a tight-fitting lid. If you need to stack the cookies, be sure to place a piece of parchment or waxed paper in between each layer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It’s Christmas Baking Time!

Flour…check. Sugar…check. Butter…double-check – and don’t forget the kadaif dough! It’s time to roll up your sleeves and start baking your favorite holiday sweets.

Need a little help figuring out what to bake? Try making some of our favorite recipes:
Apricot Crescent Cookies
Mini – or Traditional - Paklava
Cheese, Nut-filled, or Cream-filled Kadaif
Shakar Loqum
Tahini-Sesame Seed Cookies

If you have an Armenian - treasured Christmas baked good you’d like to share, please email your recipe to:
Happy Baking!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Saluting the first IAN Chef: Geoffrey Zakarian

I have to brag a bit: I called this one weeks ago.

I had zero doubt that Geoffrey Zakarian would triumph in the Food Network's culinary Super Bowl to be crowned the next Iron Chef.

The highly lauded New York restaurateur defeated  inventive California chef Elizabeth Falkner in a fast-paced final episode of The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs that aired Sunday Dec. 18. 

Well-established as a master of modern cuisine, Zakarian has become a familiar TV face as one of the rotating judges on the network's Chopped competition among other shows. 

He was one of eight chefs chosen for the Iron Chef cook-off, in which at least one chef was eliminated each week. From the first, Zakarian stood out for his intensity and confidence bordering on hubris.

Judges as well as other contestants commented that he sometimes showed little regard for the rules.

Is that Armenian, or what?

Zakarian has referred to his Armenian roots on television and has been quoted in interviews reminiscing about his early years in the long-standing Armenian community of Worcester, Massachusetts.

His cooking style, however, leans heavily on his classical French training and his experience with contemporary American cuisine. 

Good as he is, Zakarian was hardly a shoo-in for Iron Chef. His competition included Michael Chiarello, Alex Guarnaschelli and Anne Burrell, all familiar faces in the world of TV chefs. 

I knew he'd need something extra special to stand out in the final round.

"He's going to make khorovatz," I predicted confidently.  

Sure enough, the camera showed Zakarian slicing a roast into perfect cubes — but they were already cooked and showed not a hint of coriander or sumac. I was visibly disappointed when he then tied them in little bundles instead of sliding them onto skewers.

In fairness, the ingredients for his festive holiday meal were chosen by the producers: Some beef, a few candy canes, some veggies. No lamb's feet, alas, so no khash!

It all turned out beautifully, however, and we'll guess it tasted even better.

Chef Zakarian's reward for his hard work is the chance to be challenged again and again in Kitchen Stadium. 

We expect he'll do just fine.  We just hope that one of these days he really skewers  the competition. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cream Filling for Kadaif

Kadaif is one of those desserts that’s easier to make than you’d think. It can be filled with cheese, nuts, or a creamy mixture.

After posting the nut kadaif recipe recently, I received a comment with this request from Ara, who asked:
 “Are you familiar with the version (of kadaif) that has clotted cream? I think it uses a mixture of crème fraiche thickened with starch and sweetened. If you know that variation, could you maybe post it? Thanks!”

My cream filling recipe is made with a blend of milk and heavy cream  which becomes the centerpiece of the kadaif.

 Aside from the cream filling itself, this recipe follows the same assembly and baking procedures as the cheese kadaif and nut-filled kadaif recipes.
Nut-filled kadaif
Cheese Kadaif

Cream filling for Kadaif

Cream Filling for Kadaif
¼ cup cornstarch
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup milk, divided
1 cup heavy cream

1. In a medium bowl, mix together sugar and cornstarch. Stir in 1/3 cup of the milk, stirring until well-combined.
2. In a saucepan, combine the remaining milk and heavy cream. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, keeping a watchful eye. 
3. Reduce heat; slowly pour in cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken. Simmer for one or two minutes; remove from heat and cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. Proceed with kadaif recipe, spreading the cream filling evenly over the bottom layer of buttered kadaif dough, then topping with remaining dough. Bake according to the kadaif recipe.
On the other hand, if you want khaimak (kaymak - or - clotted cream) which is served on top of zweibach, pastries or cooked fruit, here are two recipes from George Mardikian’s cookbook, “Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s”. The kaymak (khaimak) is not Mr. Mardikian's own creation, but one he learned from the famous chef Tocatlian from Constantinople (Istanbul).

Kaymak (clotted cream) from Mardikian's “Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s”
Note: This is served on top of sweetened bread, pastries, or cooked fruit.
  1 quart (4 cups) heavy whipping cream
      ·         In a saucepan, boil whipping cream over medium-low heat. 
      ·         Using a ladle, lift out cream and pour it back into the pot until bubbles start to rise. Continue this process for 30 minutes to one hour.
      ·         Remove pot from heat; place pot with cream in a warm place for 2 hours.
      ·         Pour cream into a rectangular pan. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
      ·         With a sharp knife, remove loose bubbles of cream that have risen and set. Roll up and remove from liquid. Slice and serve on top of ekmek khadayiff.

George Mardikian’s Ekmek Khadayiff
4 cups water
Juice of 2 lemons
1 pint (2 cups) honey
8 slices zweibach
      ·         Steam zweibach with water-lemon juice mixture. When zweibach has puffed out, place in a flat, round pan.
      ·         Pour honey over it and bake until golden brown (350°F) for about 45 minutes.
      ·         Serve with kaymak.
Final Note: If preparing the kaymak seems too overwhelming, use labne sweetened with a little powdered sugar in its place!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A beautiful beach and Armenian food make a perfect pair, especially in Hollywood, Florida

Mandy at the Hollywood Grill, FL
OK, the obvious is true: This post started out as an excuse to run a photo of our gorgeous daughter Mandy.

But because we're ethical and hard-working food bloggers, we were forced to enjoy a wonderful meal in an absolutely idyllic setting in order to justify sharing our delight in this recent visit from our one and only.

As director of arts and cultural accounts for Mirrorball, a cutting-edge marketing company based in New York, Mandy spent a week shuttling among the myriad festivities that make up Miami's premiere annual arts event: Art Basel.

It was a grind but it was a fun grind that involved escorting clients to art shows, performances and parties at glittering venues from the beach to downtown, often lasting well into the night. She was too busy or exhausted to chat, much less drag the old folks along.

As soon as the manic pace subsided, however, Mandy set aside a couple of days for fun with Mom and Dad. After regaling us with tales of her week-long tour of chic South Beach eateries, she told us to pick any cuisine and any restaurant we liked for a family feast.

We picked the Hollywood Grill, possibly the world's most unlikely setting for an Armenian restaurant.

A bit of explanation: When you think of Hollywood and Armenians, you probably think of Hollywood, California. The Florida city of the same name lies along the East Coast about halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, very much in the heart of South Florida's relatively small but growing Armenian community.

The restaurant's most unusual feature is that it's on the beach. Not near the beach or across from the beach but actually on it, separated from the dunes and ocean only by a sand-strewn walking path known as the Hollywood Broadwalk.

There are very few such venues in all of South Florida. There are none, of course, in Armenia. That alone makes it special.

It's also appropriately beach-side casual, with a narrow dining area barely larger than a covered home patio and no more formal in furnishings or decor. The menu, however, is far bigger and more sophisticated than you'd expect to find in a row of cheese-steak-and-burger shacks.

Of course, this is an Armenian restaurant so the menu isn't to be taken literally, as we discovered when asking our very friendly server for several lamb dishes that are apparently available only if ordered ahead.

I got a kick out of seeing khash listed, if only because you so seldom read the phrase "cow feet" on a menu.  Alas, the waitress explained that the traditional feet-and-innards soup is best enjoyed before dawn and the restaurant doesn't open until 1 p.m. As an Armenian, I appreciated the philosophical dilemma. I suspect odars might not, but they're unlikely to order such a thing anyway.

The menu is also unusual in another way, at least for us: The fare is not just Armenian but also Russian and Georgian. Dining at Hollywood Grill is a uniquely Trans-Caucasian experience in a tropical setting.
NOTE: If you look closely at the photo, you'll see part of the Armenian flag behind Mandy on the right-hand side.

We weren't feeling quite so adventurous, so we passed up the dumplings and borscht and stuck with mostly familiar choices — and none disappointed us.

The Greek salad was far more than enough for three, and very much Armenian with large chunks of cucumber, tomato and Armenian cheese mixed with herbs. No lettuce, thank you. (There are several other salads available, including one laced with basturma.)

The stuffed cabbage was neatly done, with a generous and moist meat stuffing. The lule kebab was excellent. The lahmajoun was most impressive, with a crisp and clearly home-made crust and served with generous slices of fresh tomato as well as raw onion, parsley, and lemon.

In all, it was a very satisfying meal and we were able to walk off at least a few of the calories while enjoying the balmy breeze as we strolled along the crystal-blue oceanfront.

I think the smile on Mandy's face shows how much she enjoyed the meal. What you can't see are the smiles on our faces. We enjoyed the meal, too, but we enjoyed the company even more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Armenian version of porridge is always just right. (And it's definitely ours!)

We've stated early and often that we're food fanciers not food historians, so we've tried to steer clear of claims that any dish is uniquely Armenian.
From YouTube: Turkish villagers
make keshkeg

Our premise when we began this blog was to embrace as Armenian food anything that Armenians eat.

In my case, of course, that would include hot fudge sundaes — although, it really shouldn't, for a number of reasons. The lesson is that some things aren't so easy to define or to avoid.

But identity politics is a powerful thing, and it's clear that Armenians must define their food or others will define it for us.

There's been a clear and ominous trend in recent years among our not-always-friendly neighbors to label certain dishes as Turkish or Azerbaijani in origin. Our friend and frequent correspondent, the writer Lucine Kasbarian, brought the latest instance of menu poaching to our attention.

A cultural arm of the United Nations recently certified keshkeg as Turkish. Known by various names, it's a familiar and filling winter-time stew of mashed wheat and meat, usually lamb or chicken. It has a consistency and appearance similar to oatmeal and is often seasoned with cumin.

Armenians have been making it for centuries. So apparently has everyone else in the 'hood, with variations, including Persians and Greeks.

There's nothing odd about that. We know food travels, although its exact path is sometimes hard to trace. But there are real food historians in Armenia, and we've noted their efforts to define and refine Armenian food as a distinct cuisine.

They seem certain that the original version sprang from the distinctly Armenian earthen ovens called tonirs. The stove-top pot version —or, in the Old World, the open-hearth version — is an evolutionary step. Turkish cooking, they note, does not include the use of the tonir.

I'm just old enough to remember the lingering euphoria over the UN's birth after the Second World War and the hope that it would be a major and lasting force for world peace.

I think it's fair to say that didn't exactly work as planned. But really, how in the world is it now the UN's business to be poking its fingers in our soup bowls?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Uniquely Armenian Gift Idea

      It’s Christmas shopping time!
Are you looking for that special stocking-stuffer gift? Here’s something new – a refrigerator magnet – but, it's not just any magnet. This one is an English-to-Armenian spice and herb names magnet, a creation of Rostom Aghanian. You can find out how to order it by going to his website,
Rostom came up with his company, ‘Narinj’, as the result of a combination of things: his interest in Armenian language and culture (he runs this as a hobby), his attraction to building websites (which he runs as a side business), his entrepreneurship drive, and finally, the fact that he found very little available on the Internet in terms of Armenian-oriented gifts. 

Currently, Rostom's business is a home-based venture, located in Thousand Oaks, California (near Glendale) and with just a single item for sale (the magnet).  He hopes to expand the business in the future.

To help Rostom's business grow, order your magnets today, and surprise your family and friends with this attractive, educational Armenian gift that will enhance anyone’s refrigerator door!

Happy Shopping!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christine Datian's Red Lentil Soup

It’s December in Florida. The outside temperature has finally dipped below 80°F during the day, while the evenings are a comfortable 60°. I planned on making lentil soup for dinner to ward-off the ‘chill’. It just so happened that my foodie-friend, Christine Datian, emailed me her special red lentil soup recipe - one that she developed from all the recipes that she’s tried - that very day. Christine currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, but is proud to say she was born and raised in Fresno, CA.

Since I was going to make lentil soup anyway, I decided to try her version, and with her permission, am posting it for you. I hope you’ll like it as much as we did!

Robyn’s Note: The only part of her recipe I didn’t do was to add the onions at the end. We really liked the minty aspect of this recipe.
Christine's Red Lentil Soup
From: Christine Datian, December 1, 2011

2 cups red lentils
1/4 cup coarse milled bulghour
4 cans of chicken or beef broth, or 2 quarts of lamb broth if available or desired.
6 cups water
3-4 stalks celery (plus green tops), chopped or diced
3-4 carrots, diced thinly
1-2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves (chopped)
Dash of sweet basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cayenne (red) pepper to taste

     ·         Bring broth and water to a boil in a large soup pot.

·         Wash lentils; add the lentils and bulghour to boiling broth with the rest of the above ingredients.

·         Bring to a full boil, stir, and cover.  Simmer for about 35-40 minutes on medium heat, checking occasionally to stir.

·         Adjust seasonings. (Note: Use can use an electric hand blender at this point to BLEND this soup, this is what I do, so it is smoother and ingredients are blended!)
1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 large yellow onion (chopped)
1/2 cup chopped Armenian or Italian parsley (optional)

Saute onion in the butter or olive oil until the onions are slightly golden. Add onions to the soup 5-10 minutes before serving and add the chopped parsley, if desired.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Potato-Green Bean Bulgur Pilaf

When Gloria Hachigian-Ericsen asked me if I had a bulgur recipe that includes potatoes, onions, tomato, and green beans, I chuckled to myself. What Musa Daghtsi kitchen doesn’t have a version of this dish?
Potato-Green Bean Bulgur Pilaf

Here’s what Gloria asked – and remembered - about her mother’s recipe:
Well, Gloria, my grandmother, who was very friendly with your aunt Elizabeth Hachigian, cooked bulgur with all sorts of ingredients. She mixed her bulgur  creations with vegetables, chick peas, caramelized onions, raw onions, tomatoes, tomato paste – you name it. Bulgur lends itself to endless recipe possibilities and Nanny knew most of them!

My version of Nanny’s recipe probably differs a bit from the one Gloria remembers, but I’m guessing it’s pretty close. Mine also uses a modern appliance (for one step) that Nanny didn’t have – a microwave oven.
My favorite part is the caramelized onions - the crowning jewel of this dish! Potato-Green Bean Bulgur Pilaf is really a meal in itself – no need for meat, unless, of course, you want some.

As a stand-alone entrée, serve the bulgur with a nice big salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of oregano. That’s all you’ll need!
Caramelized Onions

Potato-Green Bean Bulgur Pilaf
Yield: Serves 4 (entrée) to 6 (side dish)


¼ lb. (1 cup) green beans, trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
1 small baking potato, peeled and cut into a small dice
2 1/2   cups chicken broth, divided (vegetable broth or water can be substituted)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup of #2 (or #3) bulgur
Salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, cook cut green beans and diced potato in 1 cup of the chicken broth, covered, for about 5 minutes, or until beans and potatoes are soft, but not mushy (remember, they’ll continue to cook with the bulgur). Remove the vegetables from the broth using a slotted spoon. Set aside. SAVE the cooking broth!

2. Combine the remaining cooking broth with enough chicken broth to equal
  two cups; pour into a large saucepan.
3. Bring the 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Stir tomato paste into the hot broth and blend.

4. Add the green beans, potatoes, bulgur and seasonings to the broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.  Remove pot from heat. Allow bulgur to rest about 5 minutes after cooking.
5. While the bulgur is cooking, heat 1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet. Sautė onions until they are caramelized (a deep golden brown) – about 7 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

6. Fluff bulgur with a fork; place in a serving bowl. Top with caramelized onions before serving – or gently stir onions into the bulgur, if you prefer.