Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Caramelized Onion Relish

The women in my family are particularly fond of onions – all varieties. It doesn’t matter how they’re prepared either – sautéed, boiled, broiled, grilled, stuffed – or just plain raw. 

Here’s an onion recipe inspired by my maternal grandmother. She was a master at making fresh red pepper paste that went into just about everything, including this recipe. 
Caramelized onions offer an amazing sweetness that ultimately impart a most- tantalizing flavor to so many dishes.

Caramelized Onion Relish
Caramelized Onion Relish

5 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
3 Tbsp. mild red pepper paste (available in most Middle Eastern stores) diluted in 2 Tbsp. water (NOTE: 3 Tbsp. tomato paste with a dash of paprika and/or cayenne pepper can be substituted)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. dried mint, crushed
1 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
½ tsp. Aleppo red pepper (or ½ tsp. paprika)

Use a mandoline to evenly slice onions.
1. Sautė thinly sliced onions in olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn golden brown. This will take about 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. (This helps to draw moisture from the onions which aids in the caramelization process.) Cook and stir for another 5 minutes.
Onions begin to caramelize.
Red pepper paste mixture

2. In a small bowl, blend together the red pepper paste, water, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and seasonings. Add the mixture to the onions, stirring occasionally; cook for about 3 to 5 more minutes. Adjust seasonings and add a bit more olive oil, if necessary.

How To Serve:
We most-often serve this as a topping for bulgur pilaf, but it can be combined with warm, cooked potatoes, or added to tomato sauce for pasta. For an ultra -special treat, top a freshly baked lahmajoun with it, or slather it on a juicy lamb burger!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yogurt with Honey, Sour Cherry Preserves, and Crushed Pistachios

What do you do when guests are coming for dinner, and the dessert that’s planned can’t be made because a key ingredient is unavailable? Come up with ‘Plan B’, of course!

That’s what happened this past weekend; I was in a dessert bind. Unknowingly, Douglas, my sous chef, came to the rescue!  Earlier in the week, Doug felt like having a simple, yet special for dessert, so he went to the refrigerator and whipped up a yogurt dish. 

We always have plain yogurt, honey, and pistachio nuts on hand; that’s a given. When Doug realized we still had some Noyan Sour Cherry Preserves leftover from his martini project, he knew he had the makings of a winning dessert. Trust me, it was sublime!
Doug's 'Yogurt with Honey, Sour Cherry Preserves, and Pistachios
Recalling this successful, impromptu delight, I followed suit, making Doug’s “Yogurt with Honey, Sour Cherry Preserves, and crushed Pistachios”.

Here’s how to make it …

Yogurt with Honey, Sour Cherry Preserves, and Crushed Pistachios
Serves 4 to 5

2 cups of rich, creamy plain yogurt (any kind will do, really, as long as it’s plain and of good quality)
Sour Cherry Preserves (we used Noyan brand from Armenia which is usually found in Middle Eastern stores)
Garnish: A few tablespoons of crushed pistachio nuts

Step #2
1. Place the yogurt in a mixing bowl.
2. Drizzle about 2 Tbsp. honey into the yogurt, and whisk until blended.
3. Distribute the yogurt into 4 or 5 individual serving bowls.
4. Spoon a little of the sour cherries with some of the liquid on top of the yogurt.
5. Garnish each with crushed pistachios and serve.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

AGENCHIK SOUP - A specialty from Musa Dagh


Just in from Sonia Tashjian… another recipe representing Musa Dagh, my maternal grandparents homeland.

Sonia wrote:
“Have you heard about AGENCHIK (aganch means “ear” ) soup? It’s a Musadaghian traditional soup. The name of the food comes from the shape of the (dumplings which resemble an ear and are added to the soup). Although the ingredients are simple, and the taste is delicious, it is very laborious (to prepare).”

If you’re up to the task, here is the recipe for …
Agenchik Soup from Sonia Tashjian

Ingredients and Directions for the Dough:
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of oil
1 tablespoon of vinegar
Dash of salt
flour as needed
Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and enough flour to form a soft, non- sticky dough. Set aside.
Preparation of the meat-filled dumpling

Ingredients for the Filling:
300 gr (about 2/3 lb.) of minced (ground) meat
1 onion, chopped
Allspice, to taste
red and black pepper, to taste
chopped parsley (if desired)
Ingredients for the Soup:
1 L. (about 4 cups) of matsuni (madzoon/yogurt)
50 gr (about 3 Tbsp.) of butter
1 tablespoon of flour (or one egg)
1 tablespoon of mint

1. Cook the chopped onion with the meat (until onions are soft and the meat is browned. Drain any excess fat. Add the spices & a little amount of water if needed.  Let it cool.
2. Knead the dough, then open it with a rolling pin. Cut circles 3.5 cm (about 1 ½ in.) in diameter, put the filling, close it, by shaping a semicircle, then pinch the edges. Bake them in the oven (set to about 350°F), until they (begin to brown).
3. Then prepare the soup: Mix the matsuni with the flour (or an egg) & bring to the boil. Then add 1 L. (about 4 cups) of boiling water & the butter.
Add the baked dumplings to the soup & serve mint on top.

NOTE: There are three different kinds of soups to in which to add the agenchiks (dumplings)…
1.- In tanabur (only matsuni with mint)
2.- Matsuni & tomato paste mixed soup (it's special only for Musadaghian kitchen) + lemon + mint + garlic
3.- Tomato & pepper paste + garlic + mint + lemon

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Creamy Chickpea and Brown Rice Pie

My last physical examination revealed that it was necessary for me to change my diet by avoiding white flour, white rice, white sugar … basically anything that’s been overly processed.

All I could think of was not being able to enjoy my favorites - lavash, chorag, paklava, and so on.
As I lamented over this medically-induced “sentence’, I realized the only thing to do is adapt – to find alternate recipes using whole grains, whole wheat, etc.

(Is there such a thing as whole wheat phyllo dough? If so, please let me know!)

The recipe I’m sharing does not include one “white” ingredient; in fact, it sounds like one my doctor would have suggested. It boasts chickpeas, tahini, sesame seeds, and brown rice. Nothing bad here!
 (Perhaps now, someone can conjure-up a real Armenian word for “brown rice”?)

As I discover more recipes – or convert those already in our repertoire, I’ll post them just for you!

Creamy Chickpea and Brown Rice Pie (Photo from Diana Herrington)
Creamy Chickpea and Brown Rice Pie
Serves 4 to 6
 (Recipe adapted from Diana Herrington, http://realfoodforlife.com)

Creamy Chickpea Pie Filling Ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
¼ cup chopped parsley, optional
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 -15 oz. can chickpeas, drained, and rinsed
¼ cup Tahini (sesame seed paste)           
Salt and pepper to taste

Filling Directions:
Filling Steps #1 and 2
1. Sautė onion in a little olive oil until onions begin to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, parsley (if using), cumin and coriander, and cook 1 more minute.
2. Add chickpeas and Tahini.  Mix together, adding a little water, if necessary, to achieve a creamy, sauce-like consistency. Stir and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Fine chickpea flour
Brown Rice Pie Shell Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 cup cooked short grain brown rice** (cooked according to package directions)
2 Tbsp. fine chickpea flour                                 
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
(** I used Uncle Ben's parboiled long-grain brown rice, and it worked well.)
Shell Directions:
Shell Step #1
1. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on the bottom of a pie pan that has been lightly coated with vegetable cooking spray.  Set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, place cooked brown rice and chickpea flour. Add water, a little at a time. Gently mash with a fork to create a sticky dough-like mixture. (NOTE: Do not add water all at once!)
Shell Step #3
3. Place rice mixture in pie pan. With wet fingers, press rice mixture to create a ‘crust’. 

4. Spoon in chickpea filling, spreading evenly.
5. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 450° F oven for 25 - 35 minutes. 
Ready to bake
Serve with a tossed salad.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day! Show your mom you love her with this Armenian Walnut Cake!

Here’s a quick and easy recipe that I posted 5 years ago. It was one of my mother-in-law’s go-to recipes that was enjoyed by all. It’s not too late to show Mom how much you love her by whipping up this easy recipe today – or any day!
Armenian Walnut Cake
Armenian Walnut Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
¼ lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted & slightly cooled
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts (the Armenian ingredient)
NOTE: Chopped pecans can be used instead of walnuts.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter, milk, beaten eggs and vanilla.
3. Blend the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture using an electric hand mixer or wooden spoon just until combined.
4. Fold in the chopped nuts.
5. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
6. Grease the bottom and sides of a 8”x12” rectangular baking pan.
7. Pour the cake batter into the pan, spreading the batter evenly.
8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
9. Cool completely.
10. To serve, cut into squares -- large or small. The size is up to you.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What's the Armenian word for "Brown Rice"? Nobody seems to know exactly.

When I posted a recipe for ‘Lentil and Brown Rice Salad with Cumin Dressing’, a comment appeared asking for the Armenian translation of ‘brown rice’. Because my ability to speak-read-understand Armenian is limited, I started to seek an answer from my Armenian community.

Brown Rice (image from Wikipedia)
Here’s what transpired:

1. From the Internet: “Brown rice” in Armenian: շագանակագույն բրինձ. –OR- shaganakaguyn brindz.

2. Sonia Tashjian from Yerevan suggested this information and translation for “Brown rice”:
 “In Armenia, there hasn't been the culture of rice as widely as in the East. In the region of Marash there had been, & in the fields of Ararat, before Soviet Union. Because of the fear of malaria, the Soviets had dried the fields of rice in Armenia.
So if there is no culture of brown rice & the only rice known by the Armenians was white rice, how we could we have synonym for brown rice? or black rice? or wild rice? I think your reader (might be) from Armenia. It's better if your reader could visit a market & find whatever he/she searches.
Perhaps, brown rice is- srjakuyn rice, coffee colour.”

3. Neighbor Marian Amiraian and my Aunt Arpie suggested: Sourjakouyn prindz, ‘the color of coffee’ rice. Both stated that they never heard of brown rice being used in any Armenian recipes, nor had they ever heard an Armenian word for it. 

4. Translation suggested by Ara Kassabian:
“Regarding brown rice, I honestly do not know. The word for whole wheat bread is "sev hats" (black bread), so maybe brown rice is "sev brintz" (or "sev prints", in Western Armenian pronunciation). Or possibly "luman prints" (whole rice). I don't think I've ever thought about this before, since I don't really like brown rice and I never saw it sold in Armenia or in the Armenian market... I suppose you can always ask for "sev prints" and, when you get a blank look, explain that it is rice that has not been peeled (chegeghvuvadz prints).”

5. And finally, thoughts about this topic from CK Garabed, the master of Armenian words:
If there is (a word for brown rice in Armenian), I'm not aware of it.
I checked a couple of my cookbooks - Baboian, Uvezian, and found nothing.”
CK summed it up best with the following statement:
“Unless there is an Armenian recipe that calls for brown rice, there's no point to having a word for it.”

There it is, folks. If you know of an actual Armenian translation for “brown rice”, we’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Stewed fruit: A traditional Armenian treat

Our recent post about sour cherries drew a comment from our frequent contributor Ara, who noted that he’d made his own sour cherry preserves. That got me thinking: It’s been too long since I cooked with fruit.

Armenian Stewed Dried fruit

We happened to have a generous supply of dried apricots, figs and prunes on hand – all traditional Armenian favorites – so I tossed them all in a pot, added just enough water to cover and turned up the heat.

The result was a treat I remember as anything but. Stewed, dried fruit falls into the fairly large category of foods I remember seeing the old folks eat when I was too young to appreciate anything that wasn’t coated in chocolate.

The much older me has come to appreciate fruit of all sorts, more so now that I’m trying hard to steer clear of cakes, ice cream and most other desserts in order to avoid being unable to squeeze through the kitchen door.

Yes, I’m aware that dried fruit is on the outs in some healthy-eating circle because of its concentration of sugar, but it’s also loaded with fiber and other good stuff. I figure it has to be better for me than eating a doughnut, if only because it isn’t fried.

I do like sweets but not if they’re too sweet, so I don’t add sugar to my stewed fruit. You certainly can. And following Ara’s excellent recommendation regarding the cherries, a little Armenian brandy certainly can’t hurt.

But I chose the simplest preparation: just fruit. It only takes about 15 minutes and can be served cold, warm, or hot, but I definitely recommend spooning it over plain madzoon.

Armenian Stewed Dried Fruit

Two cups dried apricots, figs and prunes mixed together. (You can use any combination of fruits you like.)
¼ cup sugar (optional)

1. Cut larger pieces of fruit into bite-size pieces, trimming and removing any stems.
2. Place fruit in a sauce pan and add enough water to cover.
3. Add sugar and stir it in now if you like an extra sweet, thick syrup.
4. Bring to boil, then reduce to a low boil and cover. Stir and check occasionally.
5. Reduce liquid to about a third of original level, then refill.
6. Let the liquid reduce again and cook until the fruit is soft. Add more water if you want more juice.Remove from heat.

Serve hot, warm or cold as you like.