Friday, March 30, 2012

Eating Their Way Around the World without Leaving Home

I really enjoy requests from newcomers to Armenian cuisine. One such request came from Tegan Harris of Brisbane, Australia.

Tegan wrote:
“I stumbled across your Armenian food blog while I was researching Armenian cuisine. My boyfriend and I decided it would be interesting to eat our way around the world and this weekend is Armenia. Your blog has so many recipes on it I don’t really know where to start so I was wondering if you help me out?? What would a traditional Armenian meal consist of? What main dishes get paired with which side dishes? Could you provide me with some suggestions? “

Before giving her an answer I needed to know their general geographic location, their ability to acquire lamb, and so on. Once I knew that, I suggested a simple menu I thought Tegan and her boyfriend Anthony could easily prepare and enjoy.

Learning that they live in Australia, it was a sure bet they’d be able to get lamb, so I suggested a basic menu consisting of lamb stew, bulgur pilaf, Armenian salad, bread for dipping, and Armenian coffee served with mini paklava or labne drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts. I also gave them links to some of our videos to view as guiding tools.

After sifting through my suggestions and reviewing our website again, Tegan decided on the final menu:
“Hi Robyn,
We cooked some Armenian food on Sunday night and it was delicious!! We tweaked our menu a little. We made the (lamb) Kebabs that you have the video posted on your website, with the pomegranate juice and they were juicy and tender. We served it with the (bulgur)pilaf, which I have decided I am going to use instead of brown rice from now on; it has the same nutty flavour but takes much less time and is lighter. We couldn’t find the pasta to go in (the pilaf) so we use risoni (rice-shaped) pasta and I think it turned out great. We had a fatoush salad which we found on another Armenian website, and a cucumber and yoghurt sauce. It was all delicious and if we could have fit in dessert we would have, but we were just so full. Thank-you so much for your time and help and I am sure I will be back to try some more Armenian recipes.”
Tegan and Anthony's Armenian meal - Before ...
and After!
Tegan reported that their next Armenian food adventure will include Armenian coffee (soorj) and the labne dessert.

The Armenian Kitchen thanks Tegan and Anthony for their enthusiastic interest in Armenian food, and invites anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of dining Armenian-style to give it a try!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lentil and Black Bean Chili

Here’s a tasty, filling vegetarian chili recipe I adapted by combining two separate chili recipes.  One recipe featured lentils; the other bulgur. Since my pantry is overflowing with lentils, I chose to take that route.

Lentil and Black Bean Chili - Ready to Eat!
Lentil and Black Bean Chili 
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients for Lentil-Black Bean Chili
1 cup dry (brown or green) lentils, picked through to remove unwanted particles, and rinsed
1 Tbsp. olive oil   
1 cup onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced    
1 to 2 Tbsp. canned Serrano peppers, drained and chopped    (NOTE: poblano, cubanelle, or sweet red peppers can be substituted)
1 Tbsp. chili powder   
1 tsp.  ground cumin   
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt, or to taste   
28 oz. canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup yellow corn, fresh, frozen or canned (drained) 
1- 15 1/2 oz. canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, or left whole  (optional) 
For serving (optional):  hot sauce, low-fat plain yogurt, and/or fresh lime wedges

1. Place lentils in a large saucepan. Completely cover lentils with water; bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer lentils until they are al dente, about 10-15 minutes. Drain; set aside.
2. In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and peppers; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt to skillet and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
 3. Using the large saucepan again, add tomatoes with the liquid, partially-cooked lentils, and onion-seasoning mixture. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until lentils are tender and flavors blend. Stir occasionally. If chili gets too thick, stir in a little water to thin it out.
5. Stir in corn and black beans; simmer, covered, over medium heat; cook an additional 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.
4. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro, if using; finish with a squeeze of lime juice.

To serve:  Stir in a few drops of hot sauce, a dollop of low-fat plain yogurt and/or a squeeze of fresh lime juice, if desired.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tahini Bread, a Lenten Pastry

In my post about Michink - Median Day of Lent,  I received the following comment:

‘Good Morning - I was hoping you have a recipe for Tahn Hatz to share. The only recipe I have is for massive amounts for Bake Sale purposes. I'm not good at breaking down the amounts to make a dozen or two. Any information would be appreciated. Thanks!’
Tahini Bread (Tahin Hatz)

I took the request to mean ‘Tahin” Hatz or Tahini Bread, so here is a recipe that can easily be made for a family.
Tahini Bread, a Lenten Pastry
Yield: 6 (5 inch) spiral breads

Dough Ingredients:
1 pkg. dry granular yeast
1 tsp. sugar
¼ cup lukewarm water (105° -110° F)

1 cup lukewarm milk, (105° -110° F)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
4 to 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted (Note: Keep extra flour on hand – just in case!)

Dough Directions:
1. Place the yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Gradually stir in ¼ cup lukewarm water until yeast is dissolved.
2. To the yeast mixture, add the milk, melted butter, salt, and beaten eggs.
3. Gradually add 4 cups of the sifted flour, mixing to create a stiff dough. (NOTE: if dough is too soft, add the rest of the flour. If dough is too dry, add some water to achieve the correct consistency.) Robyn’s note: I actually used closer to 5 cups of flour.

4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead until well-blended. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning dough so the entire surface is oiled. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then cover bowl with a large towel. Allow dough to rise about 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.)
5. Cut dough into 6 equal balls. Lightly oil each ball of dough to prevent drying; place on a lightly floured tray. Cover dough with a clean towel; allow to rest for about 15 minutes. At this time, prepare the tahini filling.

Tahini Filling Ingredients:
2 cups tahini, well-stirred
1 cup powdered sugar (Note: if you'd like a  slightly sweeter pastry, add about 1/4 cup more powdered sugar)
½ tsp. cinnamon, optional

Filling Directions:
Mix together the tahini, powdered sugar, and cinnamon, if using until well-blended and free of lumps. Set aside until ready to use.

Robyn’s Notes: 1. Filling can be made ahead of time. 2. If filling is too thin, it can be thickened by stirring in a few tablespoons of flour.

Rolling and Shaping the Dough:
1. Using a rolling pin, roll one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured work surface into a 10-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick.

2. Thinly spread one sixth of tahini filling onto the rolled dough almost to the edge. Using your hands, roll the dough away from you, in a jellyroll fashion  until it becomes an elongated rope. Holding each end of the rope, turn in opposite directions, giving it a twist.
3. Shape the elongated rope into a spiral, tucking the ends underneath so they will not separate during baking.

4. Place the spiraled dough onto a lightly greased baking pan.
5. Continue steps 1-4 with the rest of the dough and filling ingredients.
Robyn’s Note: All six breads should fit onto one baking pan.

Glazing and Garnishing Ingredients:
1 egg mixed with 1 to 2 Tbsp. water

Garnish: toasted sesame seeds, optional
Glazing and Baking:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Beat together one egg and 1 to 2 Tbsp. water. Brush the top of each tahini bread with egg wash. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, if desired.
3. Preheat oven. Place tray on the center rack. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until tops are a lovely golden brown.
4. Cool completely on a wire rack.
5. Serve with piping hot coffee or freshly brewed tea, and fresh fruit.
6. Store in a thightly covered container. Breads should last for several days at room temperature. To freeze, wrap each bread in plastic wrap and place in a plastic freezer bag or plastic container.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cilantro and Coriander Revisted

Last month several us of got together for lunch to celebrate my aunt Arpie’s birthday. 

In front of the Chow Thai restaurant, Boca Raton, FL
(L-R: Barbara, Arlene, Aunt Arpie, and Robyn. Our friend Alice took the photo.)

She chose Thai cuisine for her celebratory meal. Soup, garnished with cilantro, was the first course. What surprised me was that 4-out-of-the-5 of us adamantly insisted on no cilantro - either in the soup, or anywhere else on the luncheon plate!  The ladies started saying how the taste of cilantro simply turned them off.
What’s interesting to me is that the same plant produces both the leaf, which is an acquired taste, and the coriander seed which the ladies all love and use in their Dikranagerdtsi dishes.
I admit - I am a proud lover of fresh cilantro leaves! I volunteered to consume any cilantro that might have accidently made it on to their lunch plates; sadly, none did.
This incident prompted me to re-post the following cilantro-related story. In case you missed it the first time, here it is again.
Please read on…
Cilantro (top); coriander seed (bottom)

“Cilantro: Love it or Hate it “
Doug caught me watching the “Barefoot Contessa” on the Food Network the other day. In one segment, Ina Gartner, the star of the show, was answering questions from her fans. A woman wrote that she absolutely hates cilantro, and wants to know what to use in place of it. Ina’s remark was that she, too, dislikes cilantro, and simply omits it when a recipe calls for it, or uses chopped parsley in its place.
Doug and I looked at each other in amazement... there is NO substitute for cilantro, and using parsley, just doesn’t cut it! (Sorry Ina.)
I feel sorry for people who don’t like - or can’t eat- cilantro, aka Chinese parsley. To me it’s absolutely addictive. The first time I ever ate it was at a Mexican restaurant. I couldn’t stop eating the salsa, but wasn’t sure why. There was an ingredient in the dish I couldn’t identify, yet kept me going back for more. Once I questioned the served about the salsa’s ingredient list, I realized the taste I was craving was the cilantro.
I wrote about cilantro and coriander about a year ago, and provided a recipe for cilantro-tahini dip. If you haven’t tried it, you should; it’s pretty darn tasty, if I do say so myself. If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this topic again, it’s because I just came across an interesting article, "Cilantro:The Controversial Herb", by Lynda Balslev about this very issue. The article contains several delicious-sounding recipes. Read it and let me know what you think.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chemen - Fenugreek

When reader, Bob, asked for a recipe for chamanichur, it turned out what he really wanted was  a sauce recipe containing chaman (chaiman, chemen). His grandmother used to make it and serve it with liver. You might best-know this recipe as the pasty coating that covers basterma, however, chamanichur is thinned out. When I sent Bob a recipe I found in one of my Armenian Church cookbooks, he was overjoyed and anxious to make it.  One BIG catch: he lives in Spain, and finding fenugreek became a monumental challenge. Fortunately, Bob was able to find a source on the internet, and promptly placed an order for ground fenugreek seeds. Bob promises to send a photo of his finished product once he has all of the necessary ingredients.
Ground Fenugreek seeds purchased at Penzeys Spice Shop in Winter Park, Florida (
So, what is fenugreek, you ask? Fenugreek is an aromatic plant with pleasingly bitter, slightly sweet seeds, used as a spice. The leaves, which aren’t readily available in the United States, can be used as an herb in salads. The leaves and sprouts of the plant can also be eaten as vegetables.
Fenugreek seeds can be purchased whole or ground, and generally are used in curry powders, spice blends and teas.

Wikipedia notes the following:
1. For arthritis sufferers: It is believed that drinking 1 cup of fenugreek tea per day, made from the leaves, can help relieve the discomfort of arthritis pain.
(Too bad the leaves are hard to find in the US; I might have to check into this, but  wonder if there would be any side effects, hmmmm.)

2. Fenugreek is a good source of high dietary fiber. Taking a few seeds with warm water before going to sleep helps avoid constipation.

And now for the recipe…
From the cookbook ’Armenian Cuisine: Preserving Our Heritage’, St. John Armenian Church, Southfield, Michigan. Recipe submitted by: Nancy Kazarian and Dolly Matoian

½ cup ground fenugreek seeds (chemen)
½ cup paprika
4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne (red pepper)
4 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
7/8 to 1 cup water

1. Using amount desired, combine in a large bowl, all ingredients except the garlic and water.
2. Add the crushed garlic according to your taste. Begin adding water, a little at a time, so that the mixture has the consistency of cake batter.
3. This mixture can be used in various geragoors  with spinach, lamb, etc., or in Armenian hamburgers, or even in pastry dough for mezza. It can be kept in a plastic bag or bottle in the freezer, to be used as needed. The recipe may be doubled or tripled.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sour Spinach and Rice

Over the past year or more, Pat and John Nashmy have been kind enough to share several of their favorite recipes with me - some from ‘The Assyrian Cookbook’; some of their own creation.
Pat made sour spinach and rice, one of their family’s Lenten specialties, for which John said he could not take the credit, as this came from their Assyrian cookbook.
The Nashmy's Sour Spinach and Rice

Sour Spinach and Rice (The Assyrian Cookbook)
Highly recommended by the Nashmy family
Yield: 4 to 5 servings

1 lb. fresh spinach leaves
¼ cup rice
1 – 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large onions, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Thoroughly wash spinach leaves to remove any sand or dirt. Chop into small pieces.
2. In a large skillet, combine spinach, rice, tomatoes and water. Mix well. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until spinach is tender and rice is cooked.
3. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.
4. In a separate pan, sauté the onions in olive oil until lightly browned. Add cooked onions to the spinach-rice mixture. Serve.

I had to get on on the act, and put my own  spin on their 'Sour Spinach with Rice' recipe.
My version of the dish
I used :
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-9 oz. bag, fresh spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes (and about half of the liquid from the canned tomatoes)
1/2 cup cooked plain white rice (it was leftover from the night before)
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
Step #2
How I prepared the recipe:
1. In a skillet, sauteed the onions in hot oil until onions were lightly browned. Set aside,
2. In a separate large skillet, mixed together the spinach and diced tomatoes with half of the canned liquid; simmered them, covered, until the spinach began to wilt, about 15 minutes.
3. Seasoned with a little kosher salt. Added the cooked rice, cooking until the rice warmed through, about 2 minutes.
4. Stirred in the lemon juice and cooked onions; simmered for another 2 minutes. Served. 
Yield: about 4 servings

We loved the bright flavors from the tomato and lemon juice. This makes a perfect side dish for baked, broiled or grilled fish.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Michink - Median Day of Lent

What is Mid-Lent – Michink?  
  • Michink falls on a Wednesday.
  • It is not a feast day.
  • The same Wednesday Lenten services are performed on this day.  
  • Michink is celebrated during the middle of lent  to encourage people to persevere until the end of lent.
  • During this celebration, women would insert a coin into a pastry (gata or pagharch) and whoever receives the slice (of pastry) with the coin in it would receive good luck.
  • A special sandwich, Michink Koutap, is also prepared on this day.
For a more in-depth account of Michink, please click here.
Michink pastry preparation
Michink pastries


Photos are from:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Topik - an Easier Version!

When I wrote about the Lenten appetizer “Topig” (Topik) two years ago, I linked my story to blogger Joumana's site ( since she had already gone to the trouble of preparing the recipe and posting it so beautifully. I still haven’t tried the authentic version of topig, and but gave it some serious thought with the return of Lent.

Easy Topik, a la The Armenian Kitchen
My counterpart in Yerevan, Sonia Tashjian, must have been reading my mind because as I was considering making topik, she  emailed me her simpler version, which you will find below. Her method sounded more my speed, in that the ingredients are mixed together, without the tedious shaping and stuffing. It’s still a bit of work, but not as daunting for the time-constrained cook.
TOPIK, an easy method from Sonia Tashjian
Yield: 15 pieces
1 lb. of chick peas (soaked for 12 hours)
2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
2 onions, finely chopped
½ cup of tahini
1 tablespoon of oil
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper (cayenne) – use more or less, according your taste
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of dried mint
Dash of salt
Nuts (such as pine nuts) & raisins (or currants), if desired

1.      Fry the finely chopped onions in oil.
2.      Grind the chick peas, with an electric meat grinder.
3.      Mix, until well-combined, the cooked onions, mashed potatoes, tahini & the spices to the ground chick peas. Also add the raisins (or currants) & chopped nuts, if using.
4.      Cut an old, but clean tablecloth (or cheesecloth) into 15x15 cm (6”x6”) squares. Prepare 15 squares.
5.      Put a small quantity (the size of a ping pong ball) of the mashed chickpea mixture on each square, then tie as a parcel with string & cook them in salted, gently boiling water, until the parcels rise to the top.
6.      Let them cool. Untie the parcels.
7.      Serve with fresh lemon & olive oil.

Now that you’ve seen Sonia’s recipe, here is my take on it.
Ingredients I used:
1-16 oz. can chick peas, drained, rinsed, skins removed
2 small red potatoes, boiled, peeled, and cut in half
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup tahini
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. red (cayenne) pepper
¼ tsp. black pepper
 1 tsp. dried mint
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup pine nuts, chopped
¼ cup currants

How I prepared it:

1. Sauteed the onions in hot oil in a skillet until softened. Set aside.
2. Processed the chick peas and cooked potatoes in a food processor using the metal “S” blade.
3. Placed the ground chick peas, potatoes and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl; mixed well.
4. Using my hands, kneaded the ingredients together, making sure the mixture would hold together. (NOTE: kept a bowl of water nearby to dip my hands, if mixture felt a little dry.)
5. Shaped the mixture into 21 ping pong sized balls.
6. Cut 21 (6”x6”) squares out of two-ply cheesecloth, and 21 (10”) strands of kitchen twine.
7. Wrapped each ball in a cheesecloth and tied the top with a piece of twine.
8. Cooked several topiks at a time in a pot of salted, gently boiling water, until they floated to the top (about 5 to 7 minutes).
9. Rmoved each from water; allowed them to cool on a wire rack; untied them.
10. Served the topik with a drizzle olive oil and squeeze of fresh lemon.

Our Verdict: Very enjoyable! Doug said it reminded him of a combination of hummus and midia dolma – minus the mussels; I loved the sweetness of the currants and tartness of the lemon juice, but feel a pinch of cinnamon would have enhanced the flavor a little more.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mock Kheyma, a Lenten treat

Mock Kheyma
Kheyma, a.k.a.Hoom or Chee Kufteh is one of those foods that is very personal. Since folks can be finicky about eating raw ground meat, you either love kheyma or hate it.
I’ll only eat kheyma under strictly controlled conditions – it must be made in my own kitchen, by my hubbie and/or me, using the best quality meat purchased at a tried- and- true butcher, and ground in our own grinding machine. Needless to say, we don’t have it often.

Luckily, the Lenten season provides us with a mock (sud) version, using no meat whatsoever. A  friend of mine found a recipe for mock kheyma and passed it along. After examining the recipe, I made a few changes according to the ingredients I had on hand, and got busy in my kitchen. The final product was very similar to my grandmother’s sarma gurgood recipe, except that the mock kheyma can be shaped.

The Armenian Kitchen’s version of MOCK  KHEYMA
1 c. fine bulgur (#1)
2 cups warm water
½ of a 6 oz. can tomato paste
3 Tbsp. red pepper paste
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 small orange or yellow pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped
3 to 4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Place the bulgur in a large mixing bowl.

2. Mix the tomato paste and red pepper paste in the 2 cups of warm water until well-blended. Pour the tomato-red pepper mixture over the bulgur. Stir to combine; cover bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the bulgur to absorb the liquid for about 15 minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, combining well. Cover and refrigerate at least for 1 hour.

4. Just before serving, shape like lule kebab (or sausages) and serve with chopped parsley, slivers of raw onion, and pita bread.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Recipe Request: Chamanichur

Reader, Bob, is looking for a recipe his maternal grandmother used to make called ‘chamanichur’. When he presented his request, I confessed I didn’t know a recipe by that name. What sounded logical to me was that chamanichur might be a soup with chaman in it – chaman, the seasoning; ‘chur’, meaning water. My cookbooks and research revealed nothing.

I asked Bob for more information. He responded:
“These (Armenian Kitchen) recipes remind me of my Armenian mom's family. My grandmother, who was from Kayseri, used to cook ‘chamanichur’, do you have this recipe?  I would love to find it but no success so far.”

Bob went on to say, “My mother says that chamanichur was something with liver and chaman spice, but does not know the recipe.  It was a sauce rather than soup, and it contained chaman, but we're not sure of the other ingredients or the preparation method. I searched the internet and found only one entry in a forum from an Armenian in Australia, but there were no contact details.”
Well, folks, that’s all I have for you. If you could please put on your thinking caps, Bob – and I - would appreciate any suggestions for chamanichur. Thanks!