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.

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
Then out of the blue, someone mentioned that a Persian market had recently opened a few miles from home. Robyn and I went to check it out—and what did we simultaneously spot on a shelf? Noyan brand sour cherry preserves from Armenia.

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.