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 brief explanation and recipe. Ara notes that the main distinguishing characteristic of Etchmiadzin dolma, apparently, is the additional use of apples and quince.
Apples and Quince (Image from

Here is a recipe Ara translated from Armenian into English for our benefit. 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.

Homemade 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!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

In Search of an Authentic Recipe for Etchmiadzin Dolma (Tolma)

A comment recently posted on our dolma story from 2009 presented the following questions:
“Robyn, can you explain, please - what the difference between (your) dolma and Etchmiadzin dolma , and , maybe you have an authentic recipe?”
Holy Etchmiadzin

I replied with two explanations describing Etchmiadzin dolma – see below - but could not locate a specific recipe for this dish. As far as I can surmise, the stuffing for Etchmiadzin dolma would be similar to most other dolma recipes – ground meat (perhaps pork mixed in with beef or lamb), rice, herbs, and seasonings.

Two explanations for Etchmiadzin Dolma (Tolma)
1. Gayane Mkrtchyan, reporter, offers this description:
“Armenian cuisine’s ‘top five tolma chart’ includes grape-leaf tolma, Etchmiadzin tolma (with cabbage and vegetables), Lent tolma, Yerevan tolma (like Etchmiadzin tolma with the addition of quinces), and Mush tolma made of chopped meat and bulgur.”
2. According to Wikipedia,” Etchmiadzin tolma utilizes eggplants, green peppers, tomatoes, apples, and quinces.”

 If anyone reading this can offer an authentic Etchmiadzin dolma recipe, please email It would be greatly appreciated! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Grilled Watermelon with Yogurt Topping

Do you remember the post where Doug and I met Chef Michael Psilakis? We were thrilled to have met him in person and receive an autographed copy of his cookbook, “How to Roast a Lamb”. 
Michael Psilakis

Chef Michael is passionate about his family and career, and is extremely down-to-earth. If we lived near any of his New York restaurants, we’d certainly be regular diners.  Instead, we are content to watch him on TV - and I follow him on Facebook.
Grilled Watermelon and Yogurt 
(Image from Food and Wine)

In one of his recent Facebook posts, Chef Michael shared a recipe for grilled watermelon with yogurt. Since it’s summer and the temperature is soaring, I felt this would be a refreshing recipe to pass along. 

In Chef Michael’s version, he prepares this on an outdoor grill. I’ve not only adjusted this recipe to suit our taste, I also use my indoor, counter top George Foreman grill for this recipe – no fuss, no muss, and no excessive heat! Naturally, use whichever type of grill you like.

Don’t want to heat up a grill? No problem! Skip grilling the watermelon altogether, and call this ‘Chilled Watermelon with Yogurt Topping’. If you prefer the non-grilled method, you can omit step 3 which calls for drizzling oil on the melon slices, and sprinkling with salt and pepper.
Here’s my version of Chef Michael Psilakis’ Grilled Watermelon with Yogurt.

Grilled Watermelon with Yogurt Topping

Topping Ingredients:
    1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (Greek-style, or plain yogurt which has been strained)
    (Chef Michael uses whole-milk plain Greek yogurt)
    1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1 tsp. lemon zest
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    ¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves, divided
    8 to 10 (1-inch) triangular watermelon slices     
1. In a bowl, combine the yogurt with the lemon juice, zest, 2 Tbsp. of the chopped mint, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Mix in salt and pepper to taste.
(Chef Michael suggests making the yogurt topping one day in advance, refrigerating it overnight and bringing it to room temperature before serving.)
2. Heat the George Foreman grill on high with the lid closed. (Mine doesn’t have any heat settings, so it’s always on high heat.)
3. Drizzle the watermelon triangles with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place 2 melon slices on the GF grill at a time, close the lid, and grill until nicely charred, about 1 minute. Continue grilling until all melon slices are done.
 4. Transfer melon to serving plates. Top each slice with a dollop of yogurt sauce. Drizzle with olive oil; garnish with the remaining mint and serve.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Garden-Fresh Recipes from Maro Nalabandian

My newly discovered cousin, Maro Nalabandian, was the guest chef at the University of Maryland’s Master Garden “Grow It; Eat It” open house event. 

A master gardener herself, Maro demonstrated how to make a variety of recipes which focused on the theme, ’From the Garden to the Kitchen Table’. Her recipes included: Cool and Refreshing Yogurt Drink with Mint, Garden Fresh Greek Orzo Salad, Herb Frittata/Omelet, Fines Herbs Butter, and Macerated Fruit in Sweetened Lemon Verbena Syrup. (See below)

Throughout her career, Maro has cooked alongside many celebrity chefs.  She has also worked at Michel Richard Citronelle and The Ritz Carlton, and has taught at L’Academie de Cuisine. She volunteers for Martha’s Table, DC Central Kitchen and Manna Foods.  In addition, Maro has a large community garden plot where she grows vegetables and herbs which are later used in her creative cooking and recipe testing.
I thank Maro for sharing her recipes with us at The Armenian Kitchen!

Maro pouring the yogurt drink
Cool and Refreshing Yogurt Drink with Mint
32 oz.  Whole milk, Plain Greek Yogurt
1 tsp. Sea Salt, or as needed
2 ½ cups bottled ice cold Water, or more liquid to taste
1 tsp. dried Mint, crushed between fingers
1 Tbsp. fresh Mint leaves, finely minced
Ice Cubes
~In a large bowl, empty and whip yogurt till smooth and silky and there are no lumps
~Add the salt, the fresh mint leaves, as well as the crushed, dried mint to the yogurt
~ Slowly pour water while whisking
~Give a taste test, then pour into a pitcher with ice and serve

 Garden Fresh Greek Orzo Salad
1 lb. Orzo, cooked according to directions in packaging
3 Cloves Garlic, crushed and finely minced
Juice and zest of 1 Lemon
½ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ tsp. Sea Salt, as needed
¼ tsp. freshly ground Black Pepper, as needed
½ a Medium Red Onion, finely chopped
½ cup of Kalamata Olives, pitted and halved
10 oz. Grape Tomatoes, sliced in halves
2 cups garden fresh Cucumbers, diced in cubes
1 ½ cups imported Feta crumbled in pieces
1/3 cup of Fresh Mint leaves, finely chopped
1/3 cup Greek Oregano, finely chopped
1/3 cup Parsley, finely chopped
4 cups spinach fresh from your garden or 1pkg. fresh organic mini spinach
~In a large serving bowl, empty the drained and cooked Orzo, set aside to cool
~In a Pyrex glass measuring cup, add the garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper, then whisk the vinaigrette while drizzling in the olive oil, 
~Into the cooled Orzo bowl, add the salad ingredients and the vinaigrette, then mix all together and serve

Maro chopping herbs
Herb Frittata/Omelet
5 Eggs, whipped
1 small Zucchini, grated
1 bunch Parsley Leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried Mint
¼ cup fresh Mint leaves, chopped
½ bunch Scallions, finely diced, as needed
½ tsp. Salt, as needed
¼ tsp. freshly ground Black Pepper
4 cloves Garlic, finely minced
½ tsp. Marash Red Pepper
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
~In a large bowl, whip the eggs
~Add all the above ingredients (except the olive oil), whip till frothy
~In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil
~Empty all the ingredients into the skillet and cook until bottom is golden and has set
~Slide omelet into a large plate
~Turn the pan over on top of the plate while holding tightly, and turn over the plate to cook the other side of the omelet in the pan
~Let it cook till golden, then empty on a serving dish and cut the omelet in pie shaped wedges and serve

Fines Herbs Butter
1 lb. unsalted Butter, room temperature
1tsp. Sea salt, or as needed
1 Tbsp. Chives, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. Tarragon, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. Flat leaf Parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. Chervil, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried Thyme crushed between fingers (opt.)
1 tsp. Anchovy paste (opt.)
French Baguette, thinly sliced and toasted
1 bunch fresh Radishes, washed and thinly sliced (opt.)
~Whip butter in mixer or processor with all the items above
~Give a taste test to adjust flavoring
~To Serve: Empty Fines Herbs Butter mixture in a bowl, spread a bit of the Herb Butter on the baguette and top with a radish slice
~To Freeze: Empty butter mixture on to a long cut plastic wrap and roll as a sausage and twist both ends, double wrap and freeze
~When ready to use, remove from freezer, let it stay at room temperature, or refrigerate till soft enough to cut in slices, and make a circular butter plate of it.

Macerated Fruit in Sweetened Lemon Verbena
1 cup Sugar
½ cup Bottled Water
1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon juice
1 cup Lemon Verbena leaves, packed
1 lb. Strawberries, washed
¼ cup Fresh Mint leaves

~In a small saucepan, add sugar, water, lemon juice, and bring to boil
~Add the lemon verbena leaves
~Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let it cool
~Meanwhile, quarter the strawberries into a wide bowl
~Remove the verbena leaves from the syrup
~Drizzle the syrup over the Strawberries, mix 
~Slice the fresh mint leaves very thinly and sprinkle over the strawberries
~Serve with whipped cream and crumbles or shortbread (opt.)