Monday, April 28, 2014

The buzz is all about sour cherries -- and it's one heck of a buzz!

A highlight of our weekend in Naples, Florida last month was the sour-cherry martini I drank at a Persian restaurant.
Doug's Armenian Sour Cherry Martini
I was about to order something prosaic when I spotted the description on the drink menu. Just reading the words “sour cherry” brought back memories of my father.

When I was young, he tried to introduce me to sour cherry preserves, a treat from his Old Country childhood, but I wouldn’t bite. Why would a kid growing up in the land of Snickers want sour fruit?

Years later, as an adult, I gave in and discovered the delightful tang of tart cherries in sugar-sweet syrup. Since then, I’ve thought of them as an occasional breakfast treat, the perfect counterpoint to strong coffee and salty Armenian cheese.

The martini was a bit sweet for my taste but still very good, and the best part was waiting at the bottom of the glass: three small, preserved cherries. Instant nostalgia! I made a mental note to renew my relationship with sour cherry preserves when we got back home, but we failed to spot any in several trips to our usual Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Noyan Sour Cherry Preserves

Was that a hint?

Robyn often recounts the stories of recipes that require serious trial-and-error work and even multiple preparations. This sometimes results in both of us having to taste, taste and taste again. It is a sacrifice that we make for you, dear readers.

But here was a challenge I had to face alone: How to make a proper sour-cherry martini? I had no choice but to try and sip, and then try and sip again.

And again.

Before I share the recipe, I must confess I’m no martini expert but I do know that some people take their martins very seriously. Not me. I don’t get fussy about my gin, mostly because I never cared much for gin.

So if you’re offended by a vodka martini, or by my use of red vermouth in this one, beware that I’m one of those unsophisticated drinkers who thinks anything in a martini glass is a martini. I encourage you to take my recipe as a suggestion and conduct your own experiment.

Just remember to save some cherry preserves for breakfast.

Armenian Sour Cherry Martini

3 oz. vodka (or gin)
1 oz. red vermouth
.5 oz.  sour cherry syrup
Three preserved sour cherries

Place a few ice cubes in a martini shaker and pour in the vodka and vermouth. Mix in a few teaspoons of the syrup from the preserves. Shake gently to blend. Spoon three of the preserved cherries into a martini glass, then strain the martini mixture over them. Drink while chilled. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Doug's new book tells a very Armenian life story while sharing lessons learned along the way

I felt certain of the title the moment I decided to write the book: Stories My Father Never Finished Telling Me. 

It represents a dilemma that will be familiar to many Armenian-Americans born after the tumult that dislodged our parents and grandparents from their homeland.

My father, Nishan Kalajian, had the misfortune to be born in Diyarbakir, Turkey in 1912 at the core of the imploding Ottoman Empire. For him, the Armenian Genocide was not a distant, historic event but the defining reality of his life. He lost his mother, his home and everything familiar before being cast into the world alone.

I knew that much from an early age, but I desperately wanted to know more: How he survived, how he kept his wits and his faith, how he moved forward without being consumed by bitterness and hate. My father volunteered none of it. He dealt with his most painful memories in a most Armenian way, by pushing them aside.

My mother understood this better than anyone. She warned me never to ask him about such things and I never did, at least not directly.  But every so often when an opportunity presented itself, I’d approach the topic obliquely and with great caution.

When he responded at all, my father often shared only a scrap or two before changing the subject or retreating to his books. It was left to me to figure out the importance of each scrap, and to connect it to whatever had come before or after. This is how my life-long conversation with my father continued, in fits and starts, yielding scattered pieces of a puzzle that I’m still trying to complete more than 20 years after his death.

As a writer, I felt compelled to tell as much of my father’s story as I could because I believe it holds important lessons. But I also wanted to tell my own story about growing up in the shadow of a great cataclysm with a father who would not talk about what he had experienced. 

The book’s subtitle, Living With The Armenian Legacy of Loss and Silence, conveys my challenge in learning to appreciate a complex cultural inheritance that is rich and wondrous but also dark and painful to contemplate.

Most important, I wrote the book for my daughter and for her generation in hopes that they’ll figure out how to celebrate the best parts of that inheritance while finally vanquishing the pain.

Stories is my third book, and the first I’ve published independently. It's available in print and as a Kindle e-book. You won't find it at your local book shop but they can order it for you—or you can order one yourself through Amazon or other online book sellers. 

Or just click here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Looking for ways to use leftover Easter eggs? Read on...

Are leftover Easter eggs taking up too much space in your refrigerator?
Teereet (tirit)
Put them to good use in two of our tried-and-true recipes (teereet, Armenian potato-egg salad), or add them in this simple recipe featuring springtime fresh asparagus.

Photo from
Roasted Asparagus with Garlic-Lemon Sauce

    2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed
    1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1/8 teaspoon salt
Sauce Ingredients:
    2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
    2 tablespoons crumbled Feta cheese
    1 small clove garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
   Garnish: 2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
1.  Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Toss asparagus with oil and salt in a large bowl. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast, stirring once halfway through, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Combine mayonnaise, Feta cheese, garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl. If sauce is too thick, add 2 tablespoons water to thin it out.
To serve, drizzle the asparagus with the sauce and garnish with chopped hard-cooked egg.
If you prefer, the asparagus may be grilled instead of roasted.
To grill asparagus:
1. Preheat your grill for high, direct heat.
2. Break or cutting off any tough bottom ends. Place the asparagus on a plate. Toss with a little olive oil and salt.
3 Grill the asparagus spears for 5-10 minutes, until slightly charred and fork tender, turning them now and then so that they brown evenly.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Greetings!

 As we celebrate Easter, we wish you all a glorious day! 

Krisdos haryav ee merelotz! Orhnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosee!

Christ is risen from the dead! Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Preparing for Easter? Hop to it!!

I don’t know about you, but we’re all about tradition when it comes to Easter. Here’s a recap of some our Easter favorites.

Zadigi Kahke (Easter Cookies)
If you haven’t already gathered onion skins to color eggs for Easter, you’ll have to scurry to do so. If that isn’t an option, there are other ways to color hard-cooked eggs naturally. Click here to learn how.

As far as baking goes, chorag takes center-stage at Easter, as do Easter Cookies (Zadigi Kahke).

Just a suggestion: We sometimes have Easter Egg Salad to go with the chorag. It's a nice way to jazz-up otherwise boring hard-cooked eggs.
The main meal? Lamb, of course! Lamb roast ... Lamb shish kebab.
For side dishes, just scroll through our two recipe lists and select what strikes you. (Our go-to side dishes include rice or bulgur pilaf, and fassoulia without the meat.)

Another side dish option, Easter Spinach Salad, comes from Rose Baboian's "Armenian- American" cookbook.

There’s absolutely NO question what dessert will be … Paklava, of course!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TTVEBAS - A Holy (Maundy) Thursday Armenian Recipe

Cooking enthusiast and Armenian cookbook author, Sonia Tashjian, sent me a recipe for a special food traditionally served on the last Thursday before Easter (Zadik). In Armenian it is ‘Avak Hinkshapti’.
Sonia stated that this recipe is in memory of Jesus’ last moments. When He was on the cross, He begged for water, but the soldiers gave Him vinegar. So this soup is dedicated to that event.
The recipe’s name is TTVEBAS  (TTOU=  sour + BAS= Lent).
Ttvebas - Photos courtesy of Sonia Tashjian
TTVEBAS  - from Sonia Tashjian
(NOTE: This recipe has not yet been tested in The Armenian Kitchen.)

½ cup of dried peas
½ cup of dried chick-peas, soaked in water overnight (NOTE: 1 cup canned, rinsed chick peas may be substituted to speed up the preparation process.)
½ cup of dried lentils (brown or green)
½ cup of shelled wheat (dzedzadz) (Found in most Middle Eastern stores) NOTE: barley can be substituted
Arishda, on right
1 lb. of fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of dried plums, cut into small pieces
½ cup of arishda (homemade pasta) NOTE: any small, flat, not – too- thin noodle may be used
black & red pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
Water or vegetable broth – start with about 6 cups, and add more as needed
To Serve: Drizzle each serving with vinegar (white, red wine, or apple cider vinegar)

1. In a large pot, cook the peas and pre-soaked chickpeas, in 6 cups of water (or vegetable broth); cook for about 30 minutes. Add the lentils and shelled wheat (or barley) and continue to cook until they begin to soften, about 20 to 30 minutes more. If using canned chick peas, they should be added after the first 30 minute cooking time.
NOTE: Sonia suggests precooking all of the legumes separately and keeping them in the freezer for recipes such as this.
2. Add the chopped spinach, raisins, dried plums, and pasta; season with salt, and black and red pepper, according to your taste.
3. Continue to cook about 15 minutes, or until all of the ingredients are tender.
4. Serve with a drizzle of vinegar.

Additional Background Information about the Recipe from Sonia:
In reality, the recipe is from before the time of Christ. It is from centuries before, when people used to prepare foods with grains and legumes to serve to the gods. The grain, legumes & dried fruits are from previous year & symbolize the harvest. But the fresh spinach represents the arrival of spring. Because this recipe is full of grain and legumes, the vinegar helps make it more digestible.

Sonia Says:
1. I always use dry peas and chick peas and soak in water overnight.
2. I always cook the legumes separately & keep them in the freezer, so that whenever I need it I can use them. But if you are going to cook the dry legumes together, first put the peas and chickpea in to cook, then the wheat and lentils are added in the same pot.
For the wheat I mean dzedzadz. The reality is in Armenia, they rarely use barley. It's used more in Russian cuisine.
3. This is not a creamy soup; we use a lot of water as the base.
4. It is a Lenten soup, so it must be made without meat broth. There is no butter or oil in the recipe. There are a lot of such soups in Armenian traditional cuisine.
5. In the picture, the pasta on the right is the arishda. You can use the simple Italian pasta, flat & not thin (as a substitute).
6. To serve: Use whatever kind of vinegar you have. I use apple vinegar, because I prepare it in my house.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grape leaves stuffed with brown rice: A healthy choice you can enjoy without getting all mushy

Looks can be deceiving, or in this case just not very revealing. 

Brown rice-stuffed grape leaves
What you see are stuffed grape leaves, but what you can’t see is what’s inside. It’s always a challenge to pick one up without knowing what you’re about to bite into. 

For me, the unhappiest surprise is mushy rice. 

It’s one of the hazards of restaurant dining. We’ve also made the mistake of sampling the canned variety, as well as those floppy wraps of mysterious origin on the deli bar at the grocery store. 

But things can get a bit squishy even in our own kitchen, especially when Robyn leaves me unsupervised.  (You think she'd know better by now!)

My own preference is for bulgur stuffing, but I find it works best when served hot. For a cold appetizer, I do like rice but I sometimes get tripped up when the leaves are a bit tough and need more cooking time than the rice does. Result: Ugh.

I decided to try brown rice, which is healthy stuff. It has plenty of extra body but it takes quite a while longer to cook. My solution was so-called instant brown rice, which isn’t really instant but is definitely quicker cooking. 

The leaves and rice seemed quite happy simmering together for half an hour. Both had just the right bite, and they remained that way the next day at appetizer time. 

I’ve heard lots of  other tricks, and I bet you know a few. If you have a tip, please pass it along so we can give it a try. I promise to eat as many as I have to.

Brown rice stuffing for two dozen grape leaves
2-1/2 cups quick-cooking brown rice (more or less)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Pine nuts to taste (about 1/4 cup or so)
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one large lemon 

1. Saute the chopped onion in enough of the olive oil to cover.When the onion begins to soften, add the pine nuts. Cook until the onion and pine nuts begin to brown. Remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly.
2. Place the uncooked brown rice in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the slightly cooled onion mixture to the rice. Add the lemon juice and remaining olive oil to the bowl and mix.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Cook as usual for ½ hour.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Jingalov Hats (Lavash bread stuffed with herbs) – a Specialty from Artsakh (Karabagh)

After reading a recipe for Jingalov (Djingialov) Hats in the AGBU cookbook, “Flavors with History – Armenian Cuisine”, I thought it might be interesting to try. It’s another Lenten-appropriate (vegan) recipe, and a reminder that it’s springtime. 

Rustic-looking Jingalov Hats

With the bounty of fresh herbs currently available in our local farmers’ markets, gathering the necessary filling ingredients was no problem.

One source suggested using 20 different herbs, another said as many as 40 could be added to this bread. 
20? 40? Really?? Well, I suppose you could, but that sounds like herbal overkill to me.

Creativity is key. Mix-and-match your favorite herbs; there are no set rules with this recipe. Use what’s available in your area, and what herbs you enjoy.

Wanting to be able to taste the individual herbs with each bite, I limited my herb selection to 5 - mint, tarragon, cilantro, thyme, and sage.  (I understand that I violated a rule in this “no rules” recipe, by adding thyme to the mix. What can I say?)

To learn more about Jingalov Hats, read what my friend, LenaTachdjian, has to say on this subject.

For the record, it is highly recommended to eat jingalov hats while sipping a good red wine.

A Warning about Making the Dough
It is imperative that the dough is rolled out as thinly as humanly possible without having it adhere to the work surface. Keep a bowl of extra flour (bench flour) and a dough or bench scraper handy. You’ll be glad you did!
Dough scraper and extra flour

If the dough tears, and undoubtedly it will, don’t panic. Just pinch it with your floured fingers to repair any holes.

Cooking Techniques
Technically, it's best to cook this on a tonir, but since we don’t own one, and never will, I used a 12-inch non-stick skillet coated with vegetable spray, and prepared it on the stove top. One source recommended cooking this on a preheated, inverted wok over a gas stove. So, if you have a wok – and - a gas stove, that could be an option.
Jingalov Hats (Djingialov Hats)
Yields 4 loaves

Fresh Herbs
Herb Filling:
Fresh herb assortment to yield about 3 cups – or more (Ex: mint, parsley, cilantro, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, savory, dill, etc.)
A light sprinkling of Kosher salt
Drizzle of olive oil

Herb Directions:
1. Wash and spin-dry or towel-dry the herbs.
2. Coarsely chop the herb assortment, and sprinkle with salt to taste, but don’t over-do it. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Mix together.
3. Set aside until ready to use.
Dough Balls

Dough Ingredients:
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup water

Dough Directions:
1. Mix together flour, salt, oil and water to form a dough. If the dough seems too dry, add a bit more water. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour at a time.
2. Knead until dough is smooth.
3. Divide dough into 4 equal-sized balls.
4. On a very well-floured work surface, roll each ball into a very thin circle or rectangle – as though you were making lavash. The shape tends to be more rustic than uniform.

NOTE: If the dough is rolled too thick or if it isn't cooked long enough, the inner part will be doughy. This is a tricky balance that requires practice.
Rolled dough with herb filling

Assembling and Cooking Directions:
1. Place enough of the herb filling to almost cover one of the circles. Do not spread it all the way to the edge of the dough.

2. Fold the dough over the herb mixture, pinching the dough closed. Gently re-roll the dough to secure the herbs into the dough.
Herbs encased in dough

3. Coat a large non-stick skillet with vegetable spray, and bring to a medium to medium-high heat.
4. Place filled dough in skillet and cook on until brown spots appear on the dough’s surface. Carefully flip and cook on the second side.                                                

Stove top cooking method
To Serve: As an appetizer, cut into portions, and eat with your hands – OR - eat the entire piece yourself.
Don’t forget the red wine!