Sunday, December 30, 2012

DAREHATS (pronounced ‘dar-ee hots’) - New Year Bread

With the new year approaching, my friend SoniaTashjian reminded me of her recipe for Dare Hats. Because it’s the time of year for this specialty bread, she kindly provided some background information  in addition to her recipe. Read on, and give the recipe a try!
Dare Hats from Sonia Tashjian

From Sonia:
            Darehats is an Armenian traditional bread prepared for the New Year. When the family gathers around the holiday table, the grandmother cuts the bread and serves it to the members of the family. The family member who receives the portion of bread with the coin, is granted good luck and fertility during the coming year.

            The tradition of Darehats (other names are Dari, Grgene, Kloj, etc...) began centuries ago. In the springtime, the first man prepared the bread using the last of the dried fruits and decorated the bread with seeds. The bread was dedicated to his gods in the  hope of a fertile crop for the coming year.
Dare Hats

5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (if desired)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot water
1 cup chopped dried fruits and raisins
1 cup chopped nuts
½ cup linseed or sesame seeds

a coin


           Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and cinnamon (if using). Add the oil and hot water;   mix well.
           Add the raisin, chopped nuts & dried fruits. Mix, then place in a non-stick round pan.

           Wrap the coin with foil, then insert it into the dough. Rub water on the surface of the dough and sprinkle seeds on top.
           Preheat the oven at medium temperature (approx. 350° F) and bake 40-45 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A blond guy's attempt at Armenian chickpea salad

Armenian Chickpea Salad

That was the topic line of an email I got the other day from Michael Huber, who was definitely a blond guy last I saw him.

On the other hand, I still had hair.

Mike and I worked together more than a few years ago at The Miami Herald, where he was a stand-out editor and writer.

He went on to teach journalism at Florida International University and co-authored a college textbook on writing before moving on again to become a lawyer.

Now he's back to plying his primary skills with a venture offering a range of editorial services to authors, businesses and anyone else who needs help with words.

I know plenty of people do because I'm in the same line of work. Mike is a smart guy and a genuine talent, so I have no doubt he'll be busy as a one-armed typesetter when words spreads that he's available for hire.

The good news for now is that he had enough time on his hands to discover our Web site and dive right in.

"I'm soaking garbanzos now (no canned beans!) so I can make your chickpea salad recipe tonight," he wrote. His follow-up email included the picture above, and this note: "The garbanzo salad turned out great, if I say so myself."

This is a huge part of what makes this blog so much fun. We hear from people around the world who are passionate about food. Most are Armenians or have Armenian family members.

But it's a real kick to hear that we've spread the word far enough to reach a blond guy -- and to make our food sound interesting enough to entice him to give it a try.

It's even better, of course, to hear from an old friend.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Samsag - an Armenian Turnover

My grandmother, Yeranuhe Vartanesian, was famous (at least to us) for her Banerov Hatz (cheese-onion) bread recipe. If she had dough leftover, she would make a special treat called Samsag, kind-of-like a turnover. Hers was filled with cheeses, cooked potatoes, and a bunch of seasonings that was simply delicious.
Baked Samsag
If you’re ambitious, and would like to make dough from scratch, the recipe is included below. If, on the other hand, you’re not interested in spending that much time in the kitchen, prepared pizza dough (sold in most grocery stores in 1 lb. packages), will be your best alternative.
For the Samsag filling, you’ll need:
1 cup cottage cheese (small curd)
3 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. crumbled Gorgonzola or Blue cheese 
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Seasonings: cumin, oregano, allspice, paprika to taste (or any seasonings of your choice)
olive oil
NOTE: The amount of filling above is more than enough for 1 lb. of pizza dough.
1. In a bowl, mix together all of the filling ingredients until well-combined. Set aside.
2. Roll out dough into a thin (about 1/8 inch thick) rectangle, then cut the sheet into quarters.
3. Brush a little oil on each dough section.
Step #4 of samsag preparation
4. Spread about 1/4 of the filling on ½ of the rolled section of dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Fold unfilled side of dough over filling, pinching the edges closed to seal. Brush top with some of the remaining olive oil.
5. Place each turnover on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Robyn's Note: My grandmother used raw onions in her samsag filling. I took the liberty of sauteeing the onions, allowing any liquid to evaporate, and adding them to the cheeses once cooled.
Dough for Banerov Hatz and Samsag
Dough Ingredients:
1 pkg. dry yeast
5 lb. bag pre-sifted flour
½ c. oil
1 ½ tsp. salt
Water (about 5 cups)

Directions for dough preparation:
1. Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup lukewarm water.
2. In large bowl combine flour, oil, salt, dissolved yeast, and enough water to make a smooth dough. (The amount of water you use isn’t exact. There may be some trial-and error involved here.)
3. Knead dough for 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl.
4. Lightly oil the top of the dough. Cover, and let rise for 30 minutes to an hour.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Raise your hand if you know what Popoques are…
Just as I thought. I’m not the only one unfamiliar with this. 

Popoques are walnut-shaped cookies with a creamy filling. They take their shape from the walnut design from a special press; there are no walnuts in the recipe.

Now that you have an idea of what popoques are, here is a request I received from reader, Lisa Lewis:
“My cooking club recently held a cookie swap, and one of our attendees (who is Armenian) brought Popoques. 
She bought her walnut shaped maker/press on her last visit home to Armenia.  I've looked online and cannot seem to find a website that sells them (and you think you can find everything on the Internet!). Do you happen to know of a place to buy this online?”

Photo from

Lisa's description of popoque:
"The walnut-shaped "shell" is sort of like a tender waffle cone and is not overly sweet. Then you have the wonderful, soft filling. Mmmmm. My friend used a filling for hers that had dulce de leche (1 cup), cream cheese (4 oz.), and butter (2 oz.) - and they were heavenly!" 

FYI: Dulce de leche is a confection prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that derives its taste from caramelized sugar. This is available in canned form in grocery stores which carry Latin American products.

Oreshki (Popoque) Press
My reply to Lisa went like this: “The name popoque is new to me, so I 'googled' it and found a website with the recipe and photo of the press. It seems as though the author of the post also brought the press from Armenia!” 
I was intrigued, yet not optimistic about finding the press. Being unwilling to accept defeat, I immediately contacted the blogger who had written about Popoques. She suggested I try looking for this press under either of its Russian names ‘Oreshki’ or ‘Oreshnica’. Her suggestion paid off because, naturally, the Popoque (Oreshki) press is available through!

To make things really convenient, you can order the oreshki  press (or anything else) by scrolling down to The Armenian Kitchen website’s link to
Interesting aside: The Armenian guest at Lisa’s cookie club who brought the Popoques, was none-other than the author of the website I found while searching for the press - and - the same person I’d been emailing; what were the odds?!?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tahini-Chocolate Truffles

Diana Saker

My long-time buddy, Diana Saker, and her neighbors host an annual Christmas ornament- cookie exchange extravaganza. Unfortunately Diana has an intolerance to wheat products, so I try to make flourless sweets that she could eat and enjoy. I know Diana is a huge fan of hummus, so I narrowed my search for tahini-based delights. (Last year I made tahini cookies, but this time around I was looking for something a bit more sinful.)
Tahini-Chocolate Truffles
I came across a sweet treat – more of a candy than a cookie, actually - called chocolate tahini truffles. I first saw this recipe on The Art of Armenian and Middle Eastern Cooking’s Facebook page; they found the recipe by way of Anja’s Food for Thought website, and best of all… no baking required!

The original recipe called for raisins, dates and agave syrup which I did not have on hand, so I substituted those with things stocked in my pantry - currants, dried plums and tamarind syrup. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. 
The ingredients I used

Below you’ll find Diana’s unbiased evaluation.

Here’s my version of Tahini-Chocolate Truffles           
Yield: approximately 24 pieces, depending on size

2 cups tahini, (sesame seed paste) well-stirred
3/4 cup currants, plumped in warm water and drained
1/2 cup dried plums, finely diced
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Tamarind syrup (optional)

Approximately ¾ cup finely ground almonds for coating

1.  Combine tahini, currants, dried plums and cocoa powder in a food processor and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time. You should end up with a workable, not too sticky, ball. Taste mixture for sweetness. If desired, add tamarind syrup to taste. (NOTE: The currants and plums aren’t as sweet as raisins and dates, so I added about 1 Tbsp. of the tamarind syrup.)

Uncoated truffles (Step #2)
 2. Roll mixture into balls, about ¾ - inch to 1 - inch each.
(My suggestion: these are quite rich, so smaller is better!)

3. Place ground almonds in a separate bowl. Coat each ball completely with the chopped nuts. (Anja also suggests coating these with coconut, sesame seeds or ground pistachio nuts.)
4. Place coated truffles in a single layer on a parchment-lined tray and refrigerate until firm- about 1 hour – before serving.

5. Serve with coffee or tea. Take small bites and savor the rich, decadent goodness!
6. Storage: These keep well in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container.

Diana’s unbiased evaluation: The tahini-chocolate truffle is very rich (have a beverage nearby!). It’s not as sweet as one would expect a truffle to be. It’s got an earthy flavor from the tahini - not quite savory; not quite sweet. It has a delicious flavor that stands alone. A real keeper!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don't hurry dinner on my account, especially if you're serving liver

 You know this really bugs me because I keep repeating myself: I have no use for chefs who can't be bothered to finish cooking meat.
Properly cooked liver
I have no problem with raw food that's supposed to be served that way, whether it's sashimi or chi kufte, assuming it's been properly prepared with reliable ingredients. But I have a big problem with the pink-is-perfect movement that has turned so many restaurant menus into menageries of bleeding birds and beasts. 
There are times when I feel dinner should be lashed to the plate to keep it from running away.
No question, there's a degree of preference involved, and my preference generally runs hot. I also understand that the trend to lower internal cooking temperatures is linked to the trend in lower fat content: Cuts of meat that aren't well-marbled can get tough pretty quickly.

This is a big part of why cooking isn't simple. Good chefs use different techniques to achieve the desired result. Finding the right balance in all things is a constant challenge, whether the goal is flavor or texture, or simply making your guests happy while keeping them safe.

Apparently, this is just too much to ask of some chefs, including big-name celebrities. Consider this report from England's Independent newspaper.

“A restaurant run by the celebrity chef Raymond Blanc risked killing diners by selling dangerously undercooked meat, a court heard yesterday.

“Staff at Brasserie Blanc in Covent Garden, central London, were warned their method for searing lamb's liver was in breach of food-hygiene rules.

“One woman had already suffered a serious case of food poisoning after eating the meal. But the upscale restaurant, part of a chain owned by the Michelin-starred French chef, ignored the warning and continued serving up the dish.”

When a second diner became ill, the health authorities returned and ordered the dish off the menu unless the restaurant agreed to follow the rules. 

The head chef and director is something of a one-person fine-dining industry in Great Britain, with 18 Brasseries across the country. He is also a well-known TV figure. 

The Guardian newspaper reports that Blanc believes liver should be cooked quickly for as little as 30 seconds on each side. The health authorities advised cooking it for two minutes to an internal temperature of 70 degrees C., equivalent to the American standard of 160 degrees F.

A spokesman for Blanc told the Guardian that the ruling meant liver would be off the menu permanently because “it would need to be overcooked to such an extent that our customers just won't eat it."

Chef Blanc's Web site notes that he is “totally self-taught.” I guess in that case, he deserves a little forgiveness. Unlike Chef Blanc, I had a mother who taught me how to cook lamb's liver properly, meaning Armenian-style.

So, Chef Blanc, in the interest of international good will – and your customers' health – click here for  your first cooking lesson, free of charge.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chickpea Soup with Red Pepper Puree

Our pantry is stock-piled with so many canned products, you’d think we were hoarders! It’s a habit we’ve developed from living in an area where seasons are labeled ‘dry’ and ‘hurricane’, lasting from June 1st through November 30th. We have to keep non-perishables (and a hand-can opener) available just in case the electricity goes out for a long period of time.
We try to keep an accurate inventory list, and use products in the order in which they were purchased. The culinary motto for this is: “First in; First out”.  

The dry season is finally here, so it’s time to use up what we’ve purchased over the past 6 months.
Realizing there was an overload of canned chickpeas, I browsed through some of my cookbooks for a recipe requiring a lot of chickpeas. Happily, I found a soup recipe in an old cookbook, which I adapted to suit our palates.

The soup is colorful, full of flavor and healthy. Serve with crusty bread and crisp salad for a hearty meal that will bring a smile to your face!
Chickpea Soup with Red Pepper Puree
Chickpea Soup with Red Pepper Puree
Yield: 4 to 5 servings

1 (7 oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 tsp. lemon juice
¼ to ½ tsp. Aleppo red pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
½ tsp. ground ginger, or to taste
¼ tsp. cumin, or to taste
Dash of salt
2 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 (14 ½ oz.) cans chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste

 For the Puree:

Red Pepper Puree
1. Using a blender or food processor, combine the roasted peppers, 2 to 3 Tbsp. water, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, lemon juice, and Aleppo red pepper. Puree until smooth; pour into a serving bowl and set aside.
For the Soup:

2. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Sautė the onion and carrots with the ginger, cumin, and dash of salt until onion and carrots begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the chickpeas, the broth, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until onions and carrots are tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove about 1 cup of chickpeas, onions and carrots and set aside.

4. Place the remaining soup into the blender, food processor, or use an immersion blender, and puree. Return soup to saucepan with the reserved chickpeas, onions and carrots; adjust seasoning, if necessary. Heat through.
5. To serve: Place soup into individual bowls, drizzle with Red Pepper Puree.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Macaroni with Fried Meat

A simple, yet direct, request was sent to me by reader, Pam: “Please send recipe for Armenian macaroni with meat, done in oven.”
Before I could send Pam a recipe, I emailed her asking for a better description of the dish. I thought she might have been referring to manti - the tiny boat-shaped dough with ground meat filling - that's baked in the oven. 

Alas, no.
I gave this some more thought and suggested the Greek recipe Pastitsio - pasta, meat, tomato, topped with bechamel sauce, then oven-baked.

Again, no.
Pam said the recipe she was seeking was made with spaghetti, meat, tomato. All together in oven.

I told her I’d see if there was anything else I could find, although I really didn't know of a specifically Armenian recipe for spaghetti, meat and tomato baked in the oven.
 After researching, I sent Pam this message: “I found a recipe in my copy of Rose Baboian's Armenian-American Cookbook that might be what you're looking for. Please take a look and see if I'm getting close.”

After reading the recipe (see below), Pam wrote: “Yes, I think that's it! Thank you so much! Can't wait to try it!”
I was going to post the recipe after Pam made it so I could include her evaluation, but she’s in Armenia right now.

So while I await her return, I figured I’d make it for dinner. We hope to hear from Pam later on.

My version was a bit different from the original. The changes I made are listed below Rose Baboian’s recipe.
The Armenian Kitchen's version of  Macaroni with Fried Meat 

(Baked) Macaroni with Fried Meat, from Rose Baboian’s Armenian-American Cookbook’
(Dabgadz Misov Macaron)
Yields: 4 servings

Sauté: ½ lb. ground meat (lamb or beef) in ¼ cup butter or margarine for 5 minutes. Stir constantly.
Add: ¼ cup (1 small) finely chopped onion. Continue browning 5 to 8 minutes more.

Mix in:  
¼ cup finely chopped green pepper
2/3 cup finely chopped canned tomatoes
6 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. water
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 clove finely chopped garlic, optional
1/8 tsp. Aintab red pepper (or paprika mixed with a little cayenne pepper)
¾ tsp. salt

Bring to a Boil, then Simmer about 5 minutes.
Boil: 3 quarts water with 1 ½ Tbsp. salt.

Add: ½ lb. macaroni of your choice.
Cook: according to package directions; Drain.

Mix together: with meat mixture.
Spread: into a 9”x9” baking pan.

Bake: at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes. Stir once or twice during baking. Serve hot.

Most of  my ingredients
Here are the changes I made:      
I omitted the butter in the meat-cooking step. Any excess fat was drained from the skillet.

I used: ½ cup diced red peppers, 1 cup diced tomatoes with liquid, 3 Tbsp. tomato paste, about ½ cup water (or more to make it more sauce-like), farfalle (bow-tie) pasta, and  increased the seasonings (except the salt) according to our taste.
Shhh: I secretly added a splash of Marsala wine to the sauce! J

Plain yogurt was served on the side.
Our evaluation: It reminded us of Manti in casserole form. Pretty good, really, and very easy to prepare!