Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It’s Pumpkin Time!

Reader Karen emailed me a newsletter from the Seroonian Armenian Community Center, (outside of Philadelphia, PA.) which read:
“Come to the Seroonian Armenian Community Center on October 11th for dinner.  Dinner served will include a delicious Armenian pumpkin dish, oroogh, pilaf, salad and coconut cookies.  Dinner will be served at 7:30pm.”

Karen wrote: “I just got this newsletter which mentions an Armenian pumpkin dish called "oroogh."  A quick google search didn't yield any results.  Have you heard of it?”

Since ‘oroogh’ was a recipe name that didn’t ring a bell, I searched through my cookbooks, and found 2 recipes (both spelled differently than in the newsletter), neither of which included pumpkin. Instead they seemed to be a type of lule kebab. ('Oroogh' will be a separate post.)

As I suspected, the menu listed in the newsletter really meant that the ‘delicious Armenian pumpkin dish’ and ‘oroogh’ were two separate items.

So then came my question …. "Now that I have an idea of what oroogh is, what's the ‘delicious Armenian Pumpkin dish’ mentioned in the newsletter?"

To find out, I emailed the Seroonian Community Center and got an immediate response from Sevag Shirozian who told me the pumpkin  and oroogh recipes were his mother’s. He suggested I contact her directly - which I immediately did.

Anahid Shirozian was delighted to share her recipes with me, but I discovered she cooks ‘achkee chop’, meaning she eyeballs the ingredient amounts.
I took some liberties with the measurements when writing up her Lamb and Pumpkin Stew recipe, so if you try it, and it isn’t to your liking, the fault is mine!  

Anahid Shirozian’s Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

In advance, cook about 2 lbs. of cubed stewing lamb (1 ½ to 2 inch cubes) in enough lightly salted water to cover the meat. Cook until the meat is tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve. 
Cut a 3-lb. pumpkin in half, scoop out and discard the fibers, but save the seeds for roasting later on. Peel the pumpkin, and cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes. 
In a large pot, add about 3 to 4 cups reserved lamb broth (beef broth can be used). Stir in the pre-cooked lamb cubes, lemon juice to taste, crushed dried mint (to taste), 4 oz. tomato paste, 5 to 6 cloves of mashed garlic, seasonings of your choice. (Suggested seasonings: ground coriander, cumin, cardamom, salt, pepper – measured to taste.)

Bring to a boil, add pumpkin cubes. Partially cover the pot, reduce heat to medium, and cook until pumpkin is tender, about 45 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
Serve with rice.
For some of The Armenian Kitchen's  pumpkin recipes, check out the list below:

Pumpkin Hummus
Simply click on the recipe name, and you’ll be directed to the original story and recipe.
Have fun clicking, and happy pumpkin cooking!

 The PUMPKIN list:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Is it really dangerous to eat chicken? I'm afraid to find out.

Two recent news stories about the dangers of chicken are making me queasy just thinking about dinner.

I’ve always loved chicken. Who doesn’t? It’s a mainstay of diets around the world, and a particular favorite of Armenians. To me, there just isn’t anything that says “comfort food” like a plate of roasted chicken, pilaf and salad.

But it’s impossible for me to be comfortable with chicken on my plate or even in the fridge after reading New York Times food writer Mark Bittman’s recent report on virulent new strains of salmonella.

The gist of his concern is that the government has been telling us for years not to worry about lax standards regarding salmonella in raw chicken sold in the U.S. because cooking chicken is supposed to kill the bacteria.

Now we’re learning that isn’t necessarily so. There have been cases of salmonella in chicken cooked well beyond the recommended safe temperature. The reason this is not just bad but very, very bad is that eating food laced with this invisible and now apparently heat-resistant menace can cause serious and lasting illness or even death.

What’s maddening is that Bittman notes some other countries have taken the problem more seriously. Sweden has eliminated salmonella in chicken, while our government has failed to remove some seriously contaminated chicken from our markets.

There is reason to worry that the situation may actually get worse. The Times has also reported that the Chinese have been given the go-ahead to process American chicken and ship the cooked product back to the U.S. The move is seen as the first step in allowing imports of Chinese-bred chicken.       

“China does not have the best track record for food safety, and its chicken products in particular have raised questions,” the story reported. “The country has frequent outbreaks of deadly avian influenza, which it sometimes has been slow to report.”      

Think you’ll just avoid anything labeled “chicken from China?” No such luck, as origin labels won't be required and these processed bits are liable to wind up tucked, folded or stewed into the next sandwich or bowl of soup you order in a restaurant.

How did this happen in America?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

'My Uncle Rafael' - The Movie; 'Nazook' - The Dessert

Movie Review by Douglas Kalajian 
We're often the last to see films that everyone else has already forgotten. It's a bit embarrassing when the film in question is as huge as Iron Man or Avatar.

But I think we can be forgiven in the case of My UncleRafael, as it didn't seem to stop at a theater near us. In truth, it was not a national blockbuster, and that's the real shame.

In case you missed it, My Uncle Rafael is a 2012 comedy about a 70-something Armenian who gets cast in a reality TV show. He “adopts” a dysfunctional American family and restores both sanity and humor to their lives by dispensing Old Country-style wisdom and, alternately, slapping the father across the head.

The title character narrates the film as he tells his story to fellow students at an English-as-a-second-language class. The first clue that Rafael is a real Armenian comes when he is about to reveal to the class his dying mother's last wish but answers his cell phone instead.
The film is filled with that sort of small detail that struck me as hilarious as well as authentic, as it should be considering the story, as well as the character, are the creation of Vahik Pirhamzei, an Armenian actor and comedian from Iran.

Pirhamzei also plays Rafael's son Hamo, who runs a coffee shop while trying to break into the movie industry. Plus, as Uncle Rafael proudly announces to the class, Hamo also sells used cars “with no license!”

Some of the characters may be caricatures but it's all in fun and Uncle Rafael's advice is actually quite solid. It's also worth noting that the film is extremely professional: You'll recognize many of the actors, and the production values are excellent.
We found the movie by chance while searching through Amazon's streaming video collection. If you're Armenian, it's well worth seeking out. If you're not, I'd still be curious to know what you think. The mainstream reviews were not glowing, but for my money Vahik is at least as funny as Tyler Perry.

Perhaps odars (non Armenians) just didn't get the jokes? One of the running gags is about nazook, a flaky Armenian pastry resembling rugelach, which is served to everyone on every occasion whether they need cheering up or just filling up.
The constant reference to nazook in the movie got us thinking ... this was one recipe we hadn’t posted on The Armenian Kitchen.

Nazook is irresistible – especially when served with coffee, tea, or even a cup of hot chocolate.
Be warned: once you start eating nazook, it's hard to stop! If you happen to have any left, you’ll be happy to know that nazook freezes well.
Nazook - ready to serve!

Without further ado, here is our version of scrumptious, slightly sweet, buttery, flaky NAZOOK!

Nazook ala The Armenian Kitchen
Yields about 24 to 28 pieces

 Ingredients for Dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 pkg.) dry granular yeast
1 cup plain yogurt, room temperature (sour cream can be substituted)
3 1/4 cups sifted flour (or more, if needed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (such as Canola)
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup shelled nuts, finely chopped, optional (walnuts, pecans, or unsalted pistachios are recommended)
¾ cup dried apricots, finely chopped, optional (raisins or currants may be substituted)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon

3 tablespoons melted butter (see steps #2 and #4 under ‘Preparation and Assembly Directions’)

Glaze Ingredients:
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. plain yogurt

Directions for Dough:
1. Add yeast to the yogurt and mix together. Allow this to rest for 10 minutes.
Step #2
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and softened butter; mix with a pastry blender, fork or your hands until mixture is crumbly.
3.  To the flour mixture, add egg, vegetable oil, lemon juice and yeast-yogurt mixture, mixing well. Dough might be a bit sticky. If so, add a little more flour, but do not dry out the dough.
4. On a floured surface, gently knead the dough until it's no longer sticky. Form into a ball. (At this point, Armenians traditionally mark the top of the dough ball with a “+”, symbolizing a cross.)
5.  Wrap dough with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Step #4 for dough prep.

Filling Directions:
Nazook Filling
Mix the 1 cup of melted butter and flour until combined. Add sugar, chopped nuts (if using), apricots, raisins or currants (if using), vanilla, cardamom, and cinnamon. Stir until the mixture is smooth.

Preparation and Assembly Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and set aside.
3.  Remove dough from refrigerator; divide into 4 equal portions.
4.  Roll each dough ball into a rectangle. Brush with melted butter.
5. Spread 1/4 of the filling over each rectangle, leaving 1/2” border. Gently press the filling into the dough with your hands so that the filling sticks to the dough. Fold the edges in 1/2” over the filling.
6. Starting with the long side of the dough, slowly roll it into a long log shape, making sure the filling stays in place. Gently flatten with the log the palms of your hands.
7. With the seam-side of the log facing down, cut each log into 2” pieces using a serrated knife or a crinkle cutting tool.
8. Arrange each piece, seam-side down, on lightly greased – or – parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing the nazook at least 1 ½ inch apart from each other to allow for even baking.
9. Brush tops generously with the egg-yogurt glaze. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Place each nazook piece on a wire rack to cool completely.
Step #3 for Prep and Assembly
Steps 4 and 5 - edges folded over

Step #6- dough rolled into a log
Step #7- nazook pieces unbaked

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Remembering a song about “roc” that’s definitely rolled

I first heard a scratchy 78-rpm recording of Slim Gaillard singing Yep-Roc Heresay when I was a kid. I hadn’t heard it again until it popped into my head the other day when I was thinking about dinner.

Slim Gaillard
One of the delights of living in these digital times is that almost every distant memory is within Google’s reach. I not only found the song on iTunes, I found various versions on Web sites, where I also discovered that lots of people remembered the song for the same reasons I did:

It’s catchy, and it makes you hungry.
It’s also quite startling–and great fun—to hear an American jazz musician singing about stuffed grape leaves and bulgur.
How it came to be is a bit mysterious, as is just about everything regarding Gaillard except his playful personality and his talent as a composer, guitarist, pianist and comedian.
Various sources (and Slim himself at various times) claimed he was born in Cuba, or Detroit and that his father was Cuban, or Greek. What seems certain is that he eventually settled in Detroit and developed a stage act playing piano with his hands upside down.
He became well-known in the 1930s and '40s for writing and performing fun songs with lyrics that were either inventive or nonsensical, or both. Among the most familiar is A Flat Foot Floozy with a Floy Floy.
There are variations on the story behind Yep-Roc Heresay but the one we like is this: Before he became successful, Gaillard was living in the basement of a beauty parlor in Detroit. His landlady was an Armenian woman who provided dinner along with lodging. Gaillard liked the food so much he decided to sing about it.
There’s also speculation that he was simply reading from the menu of a Syrian or other Middle Eastern restaurant, but the Armenian connection is bolstered by pronunciations that would be voiced by an Armenian from Turkey or Allepo.
See what you think when you listen to this version posted on Qifa Nabki, a Web site that usually deals with Lebanese politics—and be sure to check out the comments.