Saturday, August 31, 2013

‘Agra Hadig’, another Armenian tradition - or is it?

Is the tradition of ‘Agra Hadig’ Armenian, or one that Armenians have adopted?

That’s the question I’m trying to answer for Dan Stepanian-Bennett. 

Dan came across my April post about Agra Hadig and wishes to try out this tradition on his two nephews in September.
When Dan asked his mother about this idea, he was surprised when she dismissed this custom as not actually being Armenian.

In my April story I included a passage from the Library of Congress which explains this topic, but I honestly cannot swear on a stack of Bibles as to whether the tradition of Agra Hadig  is 100% Armenian. 

Dan feels that many of the families who participate in this traditional activity are those who've lived in Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, etc. 

So, I’m reaching out to my Armenian Kitchen audience…
If anyone can shed some light on the country of origin of Agra Hadig, we’d love to hear from you either in a comment, or email:
Thanks very much!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mutabal - Beet Dip or Spread

When I posted a recipe for babaganoush, someone commented that they only knew the recipe as ‘mutabal’. I suppose the name difference is due to one’s familial region of origin. To most, both babaganoush and mutabal conjure up images of eggplant (aubergine), mashed with garlic, tahini, and a few other ingredients, and served as a dip or spread. 
Mutabal - Beet Dip/Spread

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this topic:
Baba ghanoush is a popular Levantine dish of eggplant (aubergine) mashed and mixed with various seasonings. Frequently the eggplant is baked or broiled over an open flame before peeling, so that the pulp is soft and has a smoky taste. Baba ghanoush is usually eaten as a dip with pita bread, and is sometimes added to other dishes. It is usually of an earthy light brown color.
Similar to baba ganouj is another Levantine dish mutabbal (lit. 'spiced'), which also includes mashed cooked aubergines and tahini, and mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil, and anar seeds. Moutabel is sometimes said to be a spicier version of baba ghanoush.
In Armenia the dish is known as mutabal. The essential ingredients in Armenian mutabal are eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon, and onion; and most Armenians also add cumin.

Eggplant, a very traditional Armenian ingredient, cannot be used in my home recipes due to my husband’s allergies. So when an acquaintance suggested making mutabal with beets, I was intrigued. 

When I made the recipe I used canned beets, and served it with toasted pita chips.
To make the pita chips, I cut pita bread into triangles, sprayed the tops with vegetable spray (olive oil PAM), and baked them in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Mutabal - Beet Dip or Spread

2 large red beets, roasted or boiled, peeled, and cut into cubes (One 15-oz. can of beets – not marinated – can be substituted. Drain beets before using.)
2 Tbsp. tahini
2 Tbsp. plain yogurt
1 clove minced garlic
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional toppings: olive oil, toasted pine nuts, or chopped parsley

1. Process cooked, peeled (or canned, drained) beets in a food processor. Drain excess liquid. Add remaining ingredients – except for those listed as toppings – and process until smooth and well-combined.
2. Place mixture in a serving bowl. Before serving, drizzle top with olive oil. Garnish with toasted pine nuts or chopped parsley. Serve with pita bread triangles, pita chips, or vegetable dippers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is Etchmiadzin Dolma?

In answer to a recent inquiry about how Etchmiadzin dolma differs from regular dolma, Ara Kassabian offered a video link (in Armenian) showing how to make Etchmiadzin dolma, and the recipe, which he kindly translated into English. Ara notes that the main distinguishing characteristic of Etchmiadzin dolma, apparently, is the additional use of apples and quince.
Apples and Quince (Image from

Click here to view the video. The video is in Armenian; even if you don't understand the language, you'll get the general idea.

Here is Ara's translation of the recipe. His comments are in bold print inside [square brackets].
Etchmiadzin Dolma

Stuffing ingredients:
1 kg (approx. 2.2 lbs.) of beef, ground
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup rice [I suggest short-grained or ordinary long-grained--not Basmati]
Tomato paste
Salt, red pepper, black pepper
Mixed fresh herbs [Recipe does not say, but I would suggest parsley, plus mint or dill]
1 head cabbage, outer leaves removed, inner leaves separated and blanched
1 kg (approx. 2.2 lbs.) of tomatoes
1 kg (approx. 2.2 lbs.) eggplant
500 g (approx. 1 lb.) green pepper
1 kg (approx. 2.2 lbs.) of apples
50 g (approx. 3 ½ Tbsp.) melted butter
Additional tomato paste


1. Make the stuffing by mixing all the ingredients.
2. Core the vegetables [I usually add the core material back into the stuffing, but that is optional]. 
3. Fill the cored vegetables and the cabbage leaves with the stuffing [Note: Dolma in Eastern Armenia is made much larger than in Western Armenia].
4. Place a platter on the bottom of a pot and arrange the stuffed vegetables tightly on top of it. Cover with water and an inverted plate to keep everything in place [Note: The purpose of the plate at the bottom of the pot is to prevent the dolma from burning. I suggest using the leftover cabbage leaves, parsley stems, etc., instead]. Cover and cook for 40 minutes (high heat until the water boils, then lower to a simmer). 10 minutes before removing from the fire, add the melted butter and tomato paste.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Versatile Spice Mix and Spicy Baked Fish recipes

Ed Becharian, a Florida resident, is trying to recreate a spicy fish rub recipe once handed down to him by his mother. 
Here’s what he’s looking for:
“Once upon a time my Mom had given me a recipe for an Armenian "rub"... I lost the recipe a while back and have not been able to quite re-create it since....I do not remember the exact formulation but I do know that it had among a lot of ingredient salt/pepper/cumin/cayenne/paprika and sumac (?) and some herbs (?) ..... I believe it was used in the old country to spice a whole fish before deep was an outstanding spice rub even without frying and it tasted AMAZING on salmon, whitefish, snapper, you name it....anyway being a Floridian we buy/broil/bake a lot of fish and that's the fish recipe I have been hunting for....Mom used to make that with a tomato juice based pilaf rice that was our version of comfort food growing up.”  
The spice mix recipe I sent Ed (see below) can be used on fish, as well as lamb, beef, pork chicken, or sprinkled in soups, stews, or on vegetables. (There's a lot of pepper in this, so be warned!)

For Ed’s request, I suggested using the spices on a mild-flavored fish, such as tilapia or any white fish. The fish can either be baked, broiled, grilled, or fried. A recipe for ‘Spicy Baked Fish’ follows the spice recipe.

Once you’ve created the spice mixture, place it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store it in a pantry or cupboard. This should keep for about 2 to 3 months. Be sure to stir or shake the spice mixture before using in order to redistribute the ingredients.

Versatile Spice Mix
Versatile Spice Mix
Yield: approximately 1/2 cup
3 tablespoons of paprika
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of ground white pepper
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 tsp. of ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of ground sumac
1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Mix all of the ingredients together until well-blended. (NOTE: To be sure there are no lumps, you might want to sift the spices before adding the oregano.) Place in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months. Stir or shake mixture before using.

Spicy Baked Fish with Zucchini and Feta
Spicy Baked Fish
Serves 4
1 pound white fish (Ex: tilapia, cod, haddock)
1 ½ to 2 tsp. versatile spice mix
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoon oil
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Cut fish into 4 equal pieces.
3. Spritz a 9x13x2 inch baking pan with vegetable spray. Place fish in prepared pan.
Spice mix in shaker
4. Drizzle lemon juice evenly over the fish. Sprinkle 1 ½ to 2 tsp. of the spice mix over the entire amount of fish. Drizzle oil over the top of the fish pieces. (NOTE: To make sprinkling the spice mix easy, I placed some is an empty salt shaker.)
5. Bake, uncovered, until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 20 to 25 minutes. NOTE: Amount of baking time will depend on the thickness of the fish. Thin fish bakes quickly!