Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Last year we offered everyone a hearty recipe to start the New Year - basturma and eggs. Did you try it?

To end 2013, and begin 2014 on a Hye note, my daughter and her boyfriend treated us to a dinner of homemade pizzas. We started with a pie topped with an awesome tomato sauce, cooked, chopped (wild-caught, Gulf) shrimp and lots of shredded mozzarella and parmesan, with a hint of crushed red pepper. Delicious!
Homemade pizza topped with basturma, soujouk, and feta cheese!
But, our hands-down favorite was the pie made with a whole wheat crust topped with slivers of basturma, soujouk, crumbled feta cheese, olives, fresh basil and fresh tomato slices. We washed everything down with bowls of homemade vegetable soup, and glasses fine red wine! Better than delicious!!

We at The Armenian Kitchen wish everyone Good Health, Prosperity, and a year filled with Joy and Peace.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce

This year most of my immediate family will be spending Christmas with us in sunny south Florida. It’s the first time in decades that we’re able to be together for the holidays, so it's cause for celebration!

Easy Midia Dolma
Our Christmas noon-time meal will be at a restaurant, but after that, everyone will come to our home to relax and catch up. Instead of a sit-down evening meal, we'll serve a casual buffet with some of our favorite nibbles – easy midia dolma, mini cheese boregs and paklava bites, to name a few. I plan to add a lamb meatball recipe to the mix as well. These are perfect as an appetizer, and can be cooked a day in advance to save time. (Recipe follows.)

Mini Paklava
We hope your Christmas will be filled with joy and memories you will treasure!

Lamb Meatball Appetizer
Lamb Meatballs with Currants and Pine Nuts – and - Yogurt Sauce

Mint-Yogurt Sauce Ingredients: (Best made one day in advance)
    1 cup plain yogurt
    1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
    1 garlic clove, minced
    1 Tbsp. lemon juice
    Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions for Yogurt Sauce:
   In a small bowl, mix the yogurt with the mint, garlic and lemon juice. Season the yogurt sauce with salt and pepper; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Meatball Ingredients:
    3 tablespoons dried currants
    3 tablespoons pine nuts, coarsely chopped
    ¼ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/2 tsp. Aleppo red pepper, or paprika
    Kosher salt and pepper to taste
    1 ½ lbs. ground lamb (ground beef or ground turkey may be substituted)

Directions for Lamb Meatballs:
1. Place the currants in ¼ cup warm water for 5 minutes to rehydrate; drain and pat dry.
2. For a chunky texture, in a small mixing bowl, combine the currants, pine nuts, lemon juice, ground cumin, ground coriander, Aleppo red pepper, and Kosher salt and pepper.
(Alternately, for a smooth texture, combine these ingredients – except the meat - in a food processor to create more of a paste.)
 3. In a large mixing bowl, add the currant – seasoning mixture to the ground lamb. Using your hands, gently mix until well-combined.
4. Shape into balls using about 2 Tbsp. of the meat mixture for each. Set the meatballs on a plate, cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until ready to cook. NOTE: Remove meatballs from refrigerator about 15 minutes before cooking.
 5. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet then warm it over medium-high heat. Add meatballs, without crowding the pan, and cook on all sides until meatballs are thoroughly cooked. Drain any excess fat from the skillet.
6. Place cooked meatballs on paper towels to absorb any excess fat, then place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in a warm (200°F) oven. Continue until all meatballs are cooked. Keep meatballs warm until ready to serve.
Serve immediately with mint-yogurt sauce.

NOTE: If cooking the meatballs a day ahead, refrigerate them in a covered container. Heat in a preheated 350° oven on a foil-lined baking pan for about 10 to 15 minutes or until warmed through; serve with mint-yogurt sauce.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Cookie Round-up

If you haven’t already started baking for the holidays, you’d better get busy!
Here are five of our favorite cookie recipes for you to consider for your Christmas dessert table:

#1. Kourabia, ala The Armenian Kitchen
Yield: Approx. 2 ½ dozen cookies

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. Arak (or cognac, or whiskey)
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
½ tsp. baking powder
Dash salt
Sliced blanched almonds
Powdered sugar for dusting, optional

1.    Using a wooden spoon, cream the softened butter until fluffy. Beat in powdered sugar, mixing well.
2.    Beat in egg yolk and Arak.
3.    Stir the baking powder and salt into the flour. Gradually add the flour mixture into butter/sugar mixture. Stir with your hands until a soft dough is formed. (If dough feels too sticky, add a little more flour.)
4.    With lightly floured hands, pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1- inch balls.
5.    Place on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten slightly and press a blanched almond slice in the center of each cookie.
6.    Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheet. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

#2. Apricot Crescent Cookies
From the kitchen of Irene Guregian, Chelmsford, MA
Apricot Crescent Cookies
2 cups sifted flour
½ lb. butter or margarine
1 egg yolk
¾ cup sour cream
¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
One jar apricot preserves

Cut butter into flour, using fingertips. Add yolk and sour cream. Mix well. Dough should be sticky. Shape into ball and sprinkle with flour. Wrap in waxed paper and chill several hours. Divide dough into 3 parts. Roll each section out to a large circle like a pie shell. Cut, as you would a pie wedge, into 12 sections or less. Mix nuts into apricot preserves. Place heaping teaspoon into large section and start rolling toward small point to make crescent-shape (using fingers) as you place on cookie sheet. Bake in 350 oven 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
Yield: approximately 3 dozen.

#3. Nazook, The Armenian Kitchen style 

Ingredients for Dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons dry granular yeast (1 packet)
1 cup plain yogurt, room temperature
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 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 teaspoon 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.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and softened butter; mix with a 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, knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until 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.

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

Nazook is simply irresistible – especially when served with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
If you have any nazook left, you’ll be happy to know they freeze well.
#4. Armenian Cookies (Kahke)

Armenian Cookie (Kahke)
 3 Tbsp. butter, softened
 ¾ cup sugar
 4 ½ to 5 cups flour (perhaps a little more)
 2 eggs
 ½ tsp. vanilla
 2 heaping Tbsp. baking powder
 ½ tsp. salt
 ½ cup warm milk

 1. Using an electric hand or stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar, until blended.
 2. Add eggs, vanilla, baking powder, salt, and milk. Mix until blended.
 3. Add flour, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition until a dough forms. At this point, gently work dough with your hands on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too sticky, you might need to add a little more flour.
 4. Pinch off about a walnut-size piece of dough and roll it into a 6 inch rope. Shape into a circle (doughnut-shape) with lightly floured hands by pressing rope ends together. Continue this process until all dough is used.
 5. Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet.
 6. Place baking sheet on bottom rack in the oven. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
 7. Cool completely on a wire rack.
 8. Store in an air-tight container.

Tahini-Chocolate Truffles
#5. 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.)
 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. (These can also be coated 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.

Special note: The tahini-chocolate truffles are very rich (have a beverage nearby!). It’s not 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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Confused about pagharch, baghaj, gata, and nazook? Perhaps this information will help...

In response to my post about the confusion surrounding pagharch, bagahj, and so on, Pam Aghababian offered her family’s interpretation on the recipe names in question.

Pam said:

"My family uses these words in the following ways: 
Khoritz refers to the filling used in Barbara's Hovsepian’s (baghaj) recipe.
Nazook is a cookie, close to a rugelach, that looks like the finished product in that recipe.
Gata (katah) uses no filling (khoritz); it is almost like a croissant, except that instead of using a *laminated dough*, you roll the dough out very thin and then roll it in on itself."
Laminated Dough (Image from kingarthurflour.com)
NOTE:  A *laminated dough* is created by alternating layers of dough and butter when making pastry.

Pam continued:
"However, none of these refer to an unleavened flatbread made without salt (as defined in Irina Petrosian’s book – Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction, and Folkore in reference to bagharj) So, is (Irina's description of bagharj) the same as the Armenian cracker bread you can find in stores?"

Ah, more questions!

Monday, December 9, 2013

MANTI - deconstructed

I LOVE Manti, but as you might recall, my first attempt at making it with wonton wrappers as a shortcut, led to overdone, hard to chew morsels. Soaking them in chicken broth helped soften them, but generally speaking, I was disappointed.

My plan was to try again making the dough from scratch, but that hasn’t happened yet. Alas, my cousin Ron Takakjian came to the rescue.
Just as I have prepared ‘kufteh deconstructed ’, and ‘dolma deconstructed ’ in the past, Ron suggested a ‘manti deconstructed’ recipe. 

There are easy-manti recipes floating around out there using shell-shaped pasta stuffed with the traditional manti filling, then baking. The recipe Ron sent is even easier than that.
I used my own manti filling and yogurt sauce recipes, but applied Ron’s layering technique to achieve the manti taste without the manti fuss. Try it!
Manti Deconstructed (image from www.dinnerfiles.com)
Manti Deconstructed
Serves 3 to 4

Filling Ingredients:
1 lb. ground lamb, beef, or turkey
1 large onion, finely chopped
1or 2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, black pepper, Aleppo red pepper, and allspice to taste
½ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

Filling Directions:
1. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add ground lamb, salt, pepper, Aleppo red pepper, and allspice to taste. Cook until lamb is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain any fat. Stir in parsley and cook for 2 more minutes. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

½ lb. small pasta of your choice (Small shells, rotini, or bowties work well)
Cook according to package directions; drain and place in a serving platter or bowl, keeping it warm.

Yogurt-Garlic Sauce (Suggestion: Make this in advance.)
16 oz. plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt to taste
1. In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well.
2. Chill until ready to serve, allowing flavors to blend. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Assembling Directions:
Evenly distribute the lamb mixture over the hot, cooked pasta. Top with yogurt sauce. 
Serve immediately.

Optional step: In a small saucepan, melt 3 Tbsp. butter over medium-low heat, add ½ tsp. crushed dried mint and a dash of Aleppo red pepper. Cook, stirring often, until butter turns golden brown, about 5 minutes. Do NOT allow butter to burn. Drizzle melted butter over top.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Basoots Dolma – a Vegan Dish

The Armenian Weekly recently ran an article written by (and about) Canadian Lena Tachdjian, a Certified Nutritional Practitioner (C.N.P.) who arrived in Armenia in 2011 as a strict vegan. At first Lena found it difficult to keep her veganism in check. To help sustain herself, she carried around vegan protein bars, which according to her ‘tasted like Play-doh’, and a suitcase filled with nutritional supplements.
Lena Tachdjian and friend!
As part of her nutritional journey, Lena created her own travel and nutrition blog, The Traveling Chamelian – Adapting without Compromising.

Good fortune introduced Lena to “the most wonderful vegan dish” she has ever eaten anywhere - Basoots Dolma (or BasutshTolma, according to my buddy Ara who just returned from Armenia).

According to Lena, this dolma is “served in a pickled cabbage leaf and contains lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, and grains (spelt or bulgur), mixed with spices. It is served cold and sometimes with dried apricot.” She continues that “it is a vegan’s dream come true – a complete protein packed with iron and B-12 (from the pickled cabbage), and is delicious.”
Intrigued by the idea of this dish, I emailed Lena asking for the recipe. 

She responded swiftly with an English translation of it, noting some important points:
“I have roughly translated it (into English)! Everything seems correct except for the cabbage part. The basoots dolma I know has pickled cabbage that's cooked after pickling, and that is the traditional way, but in this recipe the cooked cabbage is not pickled. I will ask around and see if I can get the pickled recipe, but for now this is the recipe translated.”

Pickled cabbage update:
As for the cabbage, Lena’s friend said this:
"You add the cabbage leaves to 40-50 gram (about 2 ½ to 3 Tbsp.) of salt to 1 liter (approx. 4 cups) of water for about 2 weeks. If you want it to take less days, you can put the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds just before you put it in salt."

Basoots Dolma
700 grams (approx. 3 cups) of olive oil
-1 kg (2.2 lbs. or about 4 cups) onion, chopped
-0.5 kg (about 2 cups) dried red beans, precooked
-0.5 kg (about 2 cups) dried peas, precooked
-0.5 kg (about 2 cups) dried chickpeas, precooked
-0.5 kg (about 2 cups) lentils (uncooked)
-300-400 gram (about 12 oz. or 1 ½ cups) grains (spelt or cracked wheat, aka bulgur)
-250 g (about 1 ¼ cups) rice (uncooked)
-2 tablespoons salt
 1 TBSP. red pepper (paprika, or perhaps Aleppo red pepper – definitely NOT cayenne!)
 black pepper (how much you prefer)
 4 TBSP tomato paste
dried tsitron and basil (however much you like), cilantro (however much you like), parsley (however much you like)
Tsitron Herb
NOTE: Tsitron is also known as ‘kondar’ or, in English, 'savory'
(Fresh or dried savory might not be readily available in all locations. Ground savory is generally available in the spice section of grocery stores.)
1 large head of cabbage

Robyn’s note: My thought is that one can use canned red beans, such as kidney beans, and canned chick peas to speed things up, although this might be frowned upon in Armenia!)

How to prepare:
The filling:
In the olive oil, add the chopped up onions and place it on the stove to cook. When the onions become golden, add 1 TBSP. red pepper (paprika or Aleppo red pepper), the dried tsitron (if available) and very little basil, and leave them to cook together, at least for 5 minutes. 
After that, add 4 TBSP tomato paste, and wait a couple of minutes, so that it will cook. Then add the cooked red beans, the peas, the chickpeas, and the lentils (not cooked/boiled), the grains and the rice. 
Mix all of this very well together, and then add 1 TBSP. salt, chopped cilantro and parsley. Again, mix it well, cover the pot and leave it for about 30 minutes.

The Cabbage: (the un-pickled version)

Add 6 cups of water to another pot, and add 1 TBSP. of salt. At that time, get the large head of cabbage, and remove the leaves from the stem. When the water begins to boil, add the leaves into the boiling water. When the leaves of the cabbage become softer/tender, remove them add put them into cold water right away. Then you can cut out the very tough areas of the cabbage leaves, so that they will not interfere when you are wrapping the dolma.
You can then open the cabbage leaves in your palm, and if they are very large and you are having trouble, you can also place them on a cutting board. Add about 1-2 TBSP. of the filling and wrap the dolma in a very beautiful manner.

In another pot, add some cabbage leaves to the bottom, and begin placing the wrapped dolmas on top. You can then cook it, covered, for about 30 minutes. This dish is eaten cold.