Friday, March 28, 2014

Tomato - Spinach Soup

We’re taking a break from lentils and other legumes in this post. Instead we have a light, yet nourishing soup that’s easy to make and can be served any time of year, thanks to the availability of great-quality canned tomatoes. Of course, when tomatoes are in season, use those instead. There’s more work involved with fresh tomatoes – removing the skin and seeds - but it’s worth the effort.
Tomato-Spinach Soup

To remove the skins and seeds of fresh tomatoes, use this simple boiling water technique:

1. Place a large pot of water on the stove top. Bring to a rolling boil. Set aside a large bowl of ice water.
2. Rinse tomatoes and remove any stems.

Blossom end of tomato
3. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow “X” at the blossom end of the tomato (opposite the stem end).

Stem end of tomato
4. Gently slide 3 to 4 tomatoes into the boiling water at a time. Keep them in only until the skin around the “X” starts to split – no more than 25 to 30 seconds. NOTE: Tomatoes will begin to cook and get mushy if left in too long!

5. Using a slotted spoon, immediately remove each tomato and plunge them into the bowl of ice water.

6. Remove the tomatoes from the water, and begin to gently peel the skin starting at the “X”. Discard skin.

7. Carefully cut the tomatoes in half and gently scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Discard the seeds.

Now you’re ready to proceed with the recipe!

Tomato - Spinach Soup
Serves 4 

    2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    1 large clove garlic, minced
    3 cups lower-sodium vegetable broth, or water
    ¼ cup Marsala, optional
   28-oz. can diced tomatoes (including the liquid)
   1-1/2 tsp. brown sugar
   2 tsp. Herbs d’ Provence (or a combination of dried oregano and dried basil)
   1 – 10 oz. pkg. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed (Fresh chopped spinach or Swiss chard may be substituted)
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large, nonreactive saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.
2. Add the broth (or water), Marsala (if using), tomatoes with liquid, brown sugar, dried herbs, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Simmer over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture. Cook for 15 minutes.
 3. Cool soup slightly, then purée in small batches in a blender or food processor. Rinse the soup pot and return the puréed soup to the pot.
4. Add the spinach, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat if necessary.
Serve warm.
NOTE: It’s best to make this one day in advance so the flavors have time to blend. This soup freezes well, too.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mid Lent (Michink) Fortune Bread

Mid Lent (Michink, in Armenian) is the 24th day of Lent, which lands on the Wednesday of the fourth week - this year it's on March 26th.
Michink isn’t a religious celebration; it simply offers an opportunity to reward oneself for successfully following an otherwise very long fasting and reflection period.
Technically, Michink is meant to encourage one to continue on through the second half of Lent.
That said, here is a recipe for Fortune Bread. It is customary to serve this during mid-lent at a family meal. Whoever receives the slice of bread with the wrapped coin, will have good fortune.                  
Mid Lent Fortune Bread 
Mid Lent Fortune Bread
Yield: 1 round loaf

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ cup plus 1 tsp. honey for glazing
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (Canola)
¼ cup (or more) water
1 dime wrapped in foil

1. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
2. In a saucepan, gently heat  ¼ cup each of honey, oil and water. DO NOT BOIL.
3. Mix together the gently heated liquid and the flour mixture. Use remaining oil to coat your hands for the kneading process. Knead for about 5 minutes. Add a little more water, if necessary. Dough should be a bit firm.
4. Cover dough with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for about 30 minutes.
Step #6
5. Shape the dough into a ball.

6. Wrap a dime in foil. Insert the foil-wrapped dime into the center of the dough.
7. With your hand, pat the dough into a 6 to 8–inch round loaf.
 Honey-glazed and decorated
8. Create a design on the surface of the dough using the tines of a fork.
9. Lightly oil a baking pan and place dough on it, allowing it to rest another 30 minutes. Brush surface of dough with remaining honey. (NOTE: Gently heat the honey in a microwave-safe bowl for a few seconds to make it easier to spread.)
10. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven on the lower rack for 20 minutes. Then bake on the center rack for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown.

NOTES: 1.The bread will not rise very much.
              2. This recipe can easily be doubled to yield 2 round loaves.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Peanut Butter Kufteh (Peanut Butter filled Patties)

My friends and I were discussing Lenten recipes at our recent Women’s Guild luncheon and fashion show, when one of them asked about peanut butter kufteh. I’d heard of it, but had never eaten it. I figured that one of my many cookbooks would offer such a recipe, and I was correct.
Anne Marootian 

The ‘St. Leon Armenian Church Women’s Guild Cookbook’ had a peanut butter kufteh  recipe submitted by family friend Anne Marootian who noted that the recipe was handed down to her from her mother, Aghavni Marookian, a native of Kharpert.

I'm always intrigued by a family recipe’s history, and when I found this one, it conjured up memories of my youth back in NJ during the 1950’s and 60’s.

I had to walk past the Marootian’s house on my way home from elementary and junior high school, and can recall being greeted on occasion by the elder Mrs. Marookian with a warm smile and a gentle wave. 

(On a separate note, I always thought it was so cool that Anne’s maiden name was almost the same as her marriage name! But, I digress.) 

Peanut Butter Kufteh
Here’s the Marookian-Marootian Lenten recipe for…

Peanut Butter Kufteh (Peanut Butter filled Patties)
Yields about 30 kuftehs
Peanut butter-onion filling

Filling Ingredients:
21 oz. chunky peanut butter (3/4 of a 24-oz. jar)
3 cups chopped onion
1 tsp. dried mint
¼ tsp. dried basil
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
½ tsp. seasoned salt (I used Kosher salt)

Dry Ingredients for shell
Outer Shell Ingredients:
2 ½ cups fine bulgur (#1 size)
1½ cups oatmeal
1½ cups farina (Cream of Wheat)
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried mint
¼ tsp. dried basil
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 cups hot water

Filling Directions:
Mix all of the filling ingredients in the order listed until well-blended. Set aside.

Outer Shell Directions:
1. Mix together the bulgur, oatmeal, farina, flour, salt, mint, basil, cayenne, and black pepper; add the hot water, stirring to create a dough. Knead. If mixture is too dry, add a little more hot water.
2. Take a ball of the dough the size of a golf ball. Make an indentation in the center with your thumb and keep opening and shaping with your index and middle finger. Press down in center and sides, rotating until you get a thin shell.
3. Fill the shell with one tablespoon or more of the filling. Seal the top and smooth with wet hands. (Keep a bowl of water handy to dip your hands to ease this process.) 

NOTE: According to Anne’s son, George, the kufteh is shaped in the style of Kharpertzi kufteh which is flat on the bottom and slightly rounded on the top. If that’s too hard to master, keep the shape round.


To make the shell as thin as possible, I lined a small plate with plastic wrap, took a golf ball sized piece of the 'dough', flattened it into a circle with my hand, then gently lifted it off the plastic - while trying not to break it. You really do have to keep a small bowl of water to dip your hands into for this process. The water helps 'glue' the outer shell together. After placing a spoonful of filling in the center, I gently encased the filling with the outer shell. Finally, I smoothed the surface with wet fingers, making sure the kufteh was flat on the bottom and slightly rounded on the top.

4. Place shaped kutfehs on a waxed paper-lined tray or plate, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
5. While the kuftehs chill, boil water in a large pot with some salt.
Kuftehs ready to cook
6. Remove kuftehs from the refrigerator, and boil, in small batches, for about 10 minutes until all are cooked. Serve immediately.

For more meatless kufteh recipes, be sure to check out  Vospov (Lentil) Kufteh and Bulgur and Potato Kufteh.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More Lentils for Lent: Lentil-Olive-Mushroom Patties

Forgive me if I seem to be dwelling on the topic of lentils, but they’re incredibly versatile and healthy.
Here’s another patty-style lentil recipe that’s suitable for Lent, or any other time of year. Hope you’ll like it!
Lentil-Olive-Mushroom Patties
Lentil - Olive - Mushroom Patties    
Yield: 5 patties

        1 Tbsp. olive oil
        1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
        1/2 pound white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
        2 cloves garlic, minced
        Freshly ground black pepper
        1/2 tsp. dried oregano
        ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
        1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
        1-1/4 cups cooked lentils, (canned or dried, cooked lentils can be used)
        1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs, plus more for coating
        1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
        Additional olive oil for pan-frying

1. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Sautė the onions for about 3 minutes or until they begin to soften. Add mushrooms, garlic, black pepper, oregano, and parsley; sautė for 7 to 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are cooked. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
2 .Place cooled onion-mushroom mixture into the food processor along with the olives, lentils, ½ cup breadcrumbs, and lemon juice. Pulse until almost smooth, leaving some of the ingredients chunky for added texture. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and thoroughly combine.

NOTE: No additional salt is added to this recipe since the olives are rather salty.

3 Using a ½ cup measure, divide the mixture into 5 equal patties.  Slightly flatten them, and coat each side in a little more of the breadcrumbs.(This will create a nice crust on the surface when cooked.)
4. Place the shaped, coated patties on a plate lined with plastic wrap; cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes, or until ready to cook.
5. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the patties for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until lightly golden brown and heated through.

NOTE:  The patties can also be baked in a preheated 350°F oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray. Spray a little cooking spray on the top of each patty to keep them for getting too dry; bake for 15 minutes. Turn them over and bake for an additional 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

VARIATION: About 1/2 cup of pre-cooked brown rice, bulgur, or quinoa may be added to the mixture in step #2 for a heartier final product.