Monday, September 30, 2013

Apple Dolma

It’s autumn in North America which means the new crop of apple varieties are readily available in the markets.

One of The Armenian Kitchen’s readers/contributors, Lindsay Peckham, asked me to recommend an apple that would best suit the apple dolma recipe she wished to make from the AGBU’s cookbook, ‘Treasured Armenian Recipes’.
The Peckham's Apple Dolma

Since apple preferences are such a personal thing, and apple characteristics and uses vary, I suggested she check out the useful information from The Farmers' Almanac website.
Lindsay did just that, and decided Granny Smith apples would be perfect. There were some issues with the clarity of the recipe, however. For instance, the first ingredient listed in the recipe read: “enough apples”. How many does that mean??

I reminded Lindsay that the older generation had no written recipes, and if they did, the instructions left a lot to one’s imagination. 

Once Lindsay decided on the Granny Smith apple, she made the dolma with her husband’s help.

Here’s Lindsay’s report on their apple dolma experience:

“My husband Jay and I made the apple dolma. I found the inside mixture very easy to make, but coring the apples was difficult to say the least. The first two we did we went right through the bottom. And of course once they were cored we had to cut around even wider to make room for the filling. The texture of the apple does not make this an easy feat. Even though two had holes in the bottom we still filled them with the mixture because we didn't want to waste the apples. Surprisingly, they turned out fine and none of the filling came out. We used Granny Smith apples. We paired the dolma with some rotisserie chicken we bought at the store and voila! A wonderful Fall meal!

While I followed the ‘Treasured Armenian Cookbook’ recipe, I was a little disappointed in the vagueness of the recipe. For example, they don't say approx. how many apples to use, instead they just say "enough apples". Also, they never say whether to peel the apples or not. My assumption was to peel them, but I was so caught up in coring them and thinking about the next step that I totally forgot to peel them until it was too late! The recipe also called for 1 cup of sugar and I had loads of sugar left over. I'm not sure if I didn't use enough, but it seemed like if I had used the whole cup it would have been way too much.

Comedy of errors aside, I would absolutely make them again, however, it would be difficult to have to make a lot! We made 5 which was probably too many for the first time making it.”

I’m glad Lindsay didn’t peel the apples since the skin helps the apples to hold their shape during baking. Her selection of the Granny Smith apples was an excellent choice because the tartness of the apple balanced the sweetness of the sugar in the recipe.

Bravo to Lindsay and Jay! We thank you for sharing your culinary experiment with us all.

Here is the recipe the Peckhams prepared:
Apple Dolma from”Treasured Armenian Recipes”, Detroit chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Inc.
(NOTE: The cookbook recommends this to be served with pork, ham, or turkey.)
Enough apples
½ cup rice
½ cup raisins
1 quart boiling water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
¼ cup melted butter
Step #1
1.  Slice off the tops of the apples and save. Core the apples removing a sufficient amount of the apples to allow for filling with mixture as described below. Use approximately ¼ cup sugar by sprinkling it in the apples that have the center removed.

Step #2

2. Add rice to boiling water and cook ten minutes. Add raisins and cook 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and strain the water from the mixture; pour cold water over mixture and strain again. Add ¼ cup sugar and butter to above mixture.

Step #3

3. Fill the apples with rice and raisin mixture; add ¼ tsp. cinnamon to the top of each apple. Cover with apple top that was removed; sprinkle a little sugar on each apple and arrange in baking dish. Put 2 cups of boiling water in bottom of baking dish to which the remaining sugar has been added.

4. Cover baking dish and bake in 350°F oven until apples are soft, about 30 minutes. Baste apples with liquid from the bottom of the dish from time to time. When apples are almost cooked, remove cover, and bake another 10 minutes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Rekindeled Friendship and a Gift of Saffron

Iranian saffron threads
Saffron is not commonly used in Armenian cuisine, so why am I even writing about it? 

Here’s my story: In 1969 to 1970, I attended Chico State College, CA for one year as a domestic exchange student. My roommate, Giety, was from Iran. We got along famously, but went our separate ways at the end of that school year.

I’d been trying to find her, on-and-off, for the past 40 or so years, when I accidentally found her through Facebook. As I suspected, she is married and has a different last name, but that, too was mentioned on FB. So, through the miracle of modern technology, I was able to find her address and send her a letter (the old-fashioned way).

Much to my delight, Giety called me a few days after I mailed the letter. We laughed and cried for a few moments, attempting to make up for lost time. Giety periodically returns to Iran, often shopping in the marketplaces in the Armenian district of her hometown. She sometimes brings back spices, and offered to send me some saffron – a truly generous gift. Upon the arrival of the saffron, I was bound and determined to find a recipe to prepare. What I chose to make was Lamb Tagine, which I adapted from a recipe found on

Now that we've re-connected, Giety and I promise to do a better job of staying in touch.

For some interesting facts about saffron, please click here
For more information about tagine, click here.

Lamb Tagine
Lamb Tagine served over bulgur

Lamb Tagine        
Yield: 4 servings

    3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    2 pounds lamb meat, trimmed and cut into 
    1 1/2 inch cubes (I used boneless lamb roast)
    2 teaspoons paprika
    1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 pinch saffron (I dissolved it in 2 Tbsp. hot water before adding)
    3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
    2 medium onions, cut into 1-inch cubes
    5 carrots, peeled, cut into fourths, then sliced lengthwise into thin strips
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (Since I didn’t have fresh ginger, it was omitted)
    Zest of 1 lemon (I also added the juice from that lemon)
    1 (14.5 ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth - or - 2 cups of homemade chicken stock  (I used 2 cups of homemade lamb stock which I already had in the freezer)
    1 tablespoon tomato paste (I used my old standby - red pepper paste instead)
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional) 
    1 tablespoon water (optional)

Saffron dissolved in hot water
1. Place lamb cubes in a bowl, toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and set aside. In a large resealable bag, toss together the paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt, ginger, saffron, garlic powder, and coriander; mix well. Add the lamb to the bag, and toss around to coat well. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight. (NOTE: The saffron can be added to the sauce preparation – step #3 - rather than in the marinade.)
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 1/3 of the lamb, and brown well. Remove to a plate, and repeat with remaining lamb. (I omitted this step.)
3. Add onions and carrots to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the fresh garlic and ginger; continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Return the lamb to the pot and stir in the lemon zest, chicken broth, tomato paste, and honey. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender. (I cooked the lamb for 2 to 2 1/2 hrs so it would melt in your mouth!)
 4. If the consistency of the tagine is too thin, you may thicken it with a mixture of cornstarch and water during the last 5 minutes. (I found no need to thicken the tagine, so the cornstarch and water were not needed.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Avocado Hummus

There’s no better gift to give (or receive) than fruit that is home-grown.  Doug and I were the fortunate recipients of just that kind of gift, complements of our guests, Onnik and Araksi Dinkjian. (Gifts are not a requirement when visiting the Kalajian home, however, they are graciously received, and shared when appropriate.)

What gift was bestowed upon us? A bag filled with Florida avocados! Florida's landscape yields a bounty of flora and home-grown produce, and the Dinkjians are blessed with a lovely, fruit-producing avocado tree just steps away from their back door.
Florida Avocados (
Some communities, such as the one in which Doug and I live, forbid any fruit-bearing trees on one’s property. (We should have read the fine print in the community documents before buying our house!) Our previous home’s back yard was lush with 2 avocado trees, plus mango, grapefruit, orange, and Ponderosa lemon trees. How we miss them all!

We are comforted in the fact that we live in the agricultural reserve area of our county, where there are numerous local fruit and vegetable markets, and u-pick-it farms.

Back to the avocados ... 

Avocado Hummus
After using most of the avocados in salads, on sandwiches, and mashed into guacamole, I decided to try it in something better associated with The Armenian Kitchen’s repertoire … hummus. It turned out to be a colorful, tasty variation on a familiar theme.
Give it a try!

Avocado Hummus

1- 8 oz. can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained and rinsed
3 Tbsp. tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. lime zest
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
¼ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. extra virgin Olive Oil
1 medium ripe avocado, cut into chunks
salt to taste

1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and purée until smooth. Add salt to suit your taste.  If the mixture seems too thick, stir in a little water until the desired consistency is reached.
2. Place hummus mixture in a bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the hummus to keep air out. This helps to prevent browning.
3. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
4. Serve with vegetable dippers, pita bread triangles, pita chips or homemade whole wheat crackers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Basil, the Armenian Church, and Zesty Vegetable Soup

Today, September 15th, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Khachveratz). At the end of the service, parishioners receive blessed basil, which can be used in recipes.

Photo from the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church
Basil Leaves
Basil, also known as rahan, is a sweet-smelling plant with leaves that vary in size. On this feast day, basil is used to decorate the cross because according to tradition,"the True Cross was overgrown with aromatic basil, which is used in the commemoration of the feast day today".

To learn more about the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, please click here.

NOTE:  In the early days of The Armenian Kitchen's existence, I wrote about the significance of basil in the Armenian Church, and provided a recipe for ‘Eggplant-ZucchiniBake’, which features this fragrant herb.

Here is another recipe using basil to add to your collection: 

Zesty Vegetable Soup with Basil
Yield: 5 to 6 servings

    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, diced
    ¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (the amount of heat is entirely up to you!), optional
    3 (14-ounce) cans vegetable, chicken or beef broth
    1 -15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with its liquid
    1 medium zucchini squash, diced
    4 cups escarole leaves, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces  [NOTE: Swiss chard or 
    1- (10 oz.) pkg. frozen spinach, (thawed) can be substituted]
    2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1/4 cup chopped fresh basil for garnish
1. In a large pot, add oil and heat on a medium setting. Add onion, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to soften and turn brown, about 5 minutes. Add cayenne pepper, if using, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
2. Add broth, tomatoes and zucchini; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in escarole, lemon juice, and salt and pepper; continue cooking until escarole is wilted, 5 to 7 minutes more. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh basil.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tipplers in Teheran Chose Armenian-made Arak as Their Beverage of Choice

Although strongly discouraged by Iran’s conservative Muslim government, discreet alcohol consumption remained popular in some suburbs of the nation’s capital until international sanctions caused the price of imported vodka to triple in the past year.
But according to The Economist magazine, tipplers in Teheran are now toasting each other with arak supplied by the region’s enterprising Armenians.

Although Armenians in Iran have certainly been distilling the traditional raisin-based libation for centuries, there hadn’t been much demand for it outside their community until the price of popular vodkas such as Absolut skyrocketed.

“Posh drinkers of the better brands of whiskey and brandy, who would previously have been snooty about arak, are now turning to it,” the magazine reports.   The reason is that arak’s price has remained stable and cheap at the equivalent of $3 a liter. (Note to self: Order a case!)

For Armenians, the sudden popularity of arak has been a bonanza. “Many of my Armenian friends have left for America,” one arak dealer told the magazine. “But they all now say business is better here.”

The Economist reports that Armenian Christians are exempt from Iran’s no-drinking laws, although anyone selling the stuff in large quantities can be thrown in jail. For non-Armenians, there can be far more serious consequences to the arak craze.
Death, for instance.

A Muslim drinker arrested as a repeat offender can be executed, but even those who avoid government suspicion run other risks associated with a black market of unregulated home brew. One bad batch was blamed for 350 illnesses and six deaths in one week.
Anyone who wants peace of mind as well as a smooth drink should stick with the trusted source, the magazine reported.

“If your dealer isn’t Armenian don’t even think about getting it,” one consumer said.