Friday, September 26, 2014

Phyllo ‘N’ Figs

While I await Mike Minassian's next lahmajoun report, I thought I'd share a dessert recipe my husband was eager for me to make. We'll get back to the lahmajoun experiments soon. 
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My husband loves figs – fresh or dried; it really doesn’t matter. He spotted a fig dessert recipe in the New York Times which included the use of phyllo dough and ricotta cheese. He decided we (when he said ‘we’, he meant ‘I’) could put an Armenian twist on the original recipe, and post it on our website. After reading through the original recipe, I made proportion adjustments as well as some ingredient tweaks.

I must warn you, this dessert uses a generous amount of butter, and the cheeses are not low fat. To satisfy readers who seek a less decadent dessert, a short-cut, lower fat version of the recipe follows this one.
 
Single portion of Phyllo 'N' Figs
Presenting The Armenian Kitchen’s adaptation of …

Phyllo ‘N’ Figs
Yields 4 large or 8 small servings

Ingredients for the cheese filling:
  1/3 cup goat cheese, room temperature
  1/3 cup Mascarpone cheese, room temperature (cream cheese may be substituted)
    Zest of 1/2 lemon
    2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
    2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions for the cheese filling:

In a mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, Mascarpone cheese, lemon zest and juice, vanilla extract (if using) and powdered sugar, blending well. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use. The mixture should have a spreading consistency - like peanut butter.

Ingredients for the phyllo dough base:
    4 sheets phyllo dough, thawed and covered with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel
    1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Directions for the phyllo bases:

1. Place a piece of plastic wrap the size of a sheet of phyllo dough on a flat work surface. Lay 1 single sheet of phyllo dough horizontally on the plastic wrap. Brush surface lightly with melted butter. 
Folded-buttered phyllo sheets
 2. Fold phyllo in half, from left to rightlightly butter the top layer. Then fold phyllo in half, from top to bottom, and brush the top lightly with butter again. Fold once more, from left to right. Brush top with butter and trim edges, if necessary. You should end up with a  rectangle approximately 4 inches-by-6-inches. 
 Repeat with remaining 3 sheets of phyllo, using about 2 tablespoons butter per pastry. 
3. Preheat oven to 375°F.
 
Adding and spreading the cheese mixture
 4.  Lay pastry rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread each pastry rectangle with one fourth of cheese filling. 
Topping ingredients:
    8 ripe figs, stems trimmed (I used Mission figs)
    Granulated sugar
    ¼ cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
    ¼ cup warm honey for drizzling

Directions for Figs and Toppings:

Cut each fig into a star shape, keeping base of fig intact
1. Cut each fig from stem end into quarters, without cutting completely through the bottom of the fig.  Spread figs open to resemble a star. Top each pastry rectangle with 2 figs. Sprinkle each portion with a little granulated sugar. 
Just out of the oven
 2.  Bake for 15 minutes or until dough is golden and crisp. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Sprinkle the top of each fig with chopped pistachio nuts and drizzle lightly with *honey. Serve at room temperature. 
 
Double portion...ready to serve
*I used some syrup from a jar of Noyan preserved figs, a product from Armenia, instead of the honey. Preserved figs in syrup can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores.

NOTE: If desired, cut pastries in half to make 8 smaller servings.

As promised, here’s the shorter, lower fat version of Phyllo ‘N’ Figs:

For the Phyllo:
1 (15-count) package Phyllo cups (Fillo) – found in the freezer section of most grocery stores

Cheese Filling:
Use the same filling ingredients as above, but substitute low fat cream cheese for the Mascarpone.

Toppings:
 4 figs, cut into quarters (yields 16 pieces)
¼ cup chopped pistachio nuts
Honey to drizzle on top

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix together the cheese filling ingredients and set aside.
3. Place phyllo cups on an ungreased baking sheet. Fill each cup with a generous spoonful of cheese filling.
4. Place a slice of fig on top of each cheese-filled phyllo cup. (You can eat the leftover piece of fig!)
5. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is heated and phyllo cup is golden.
6. Remove from oven; allow to cool a few minutes. Sprinkle tops with chopped nuts, and drizzle with honey. Serve at room temperature

NOTE: Refrigerate any leftover cheese filling. It makes a nice spread for toast or crackers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment Part Yergoo (2)

I’ve got to hand it to Mike Minassian… he’s not a quitter. He diligently set out to find the perfect lahmajoun dough recipe described so eloquently: “It should not be a bit dry; it should be well toasted but at the same time very flexible and a bit greasy. The borders should be a little burnt like an old scroll. When you roll it up to eat it you should notice that the folded dough doesn´t have any cracks.” 

With that in mind, Mike used the fourth recipe I sent him for experiment #2. This one is from the cookbook, ’Armenian Cuisine – Preserving Our Heritage’ – St. John Armenian Church cookbook, Southfield, Michigan.

I mentioned that this recipe differs from others in that it uses whole milk, canned evaporated milk in addition to vegetable shortening. I also suggested that perhaps the fat in the milk plus the shortening might give the dough the flexibility he is seeking. I warned him that this recipe yields 80 to 90 lahmajouns, so make adjustments accordingly!
Mike made a double batch of lahmajoun topping with the first dough experiment which saved him a good deal of preparation time.

Without further ado, here is Mike’s Lahmajoun Dough Experiment Part 2 including his comments, photos, and  evaluation:
 Lahmajoun -baked, folded and ready to eat.
The Recipe:

Lahmajoun Dough Recipe (from the cookbook, ’Armenian Cuisine – Preserving Our Heritage’ – St. John Armenian Church cookbook, Southfield, Michigan)

Ingredients:
3 packages (or 7 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water (about 105°F to 110° F)
1 ½ Tablespoon sugar
12 ounce can evaporated milk
2 cups whole milk
1 cup water
1 ½ cups shortening, melted
½ teaspoon salt
5 pounds flour, for medium-soft dough

Directions:
1. In a 4-cup measuring cup, add the yeast, 2 cups warm water and sugar. Stir to dissolve well. Set aside and allow to activate (proof).
2. In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, combine the evaporated milk, whole milk, 1 cup water, melted shortening and salt.
3. Begin adding flour and the proofed yeast to the liquid ingredients. Mix well. Continue to add flour until you have a medium-soft dough. Place dough on a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
4. Place dough in a clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel until double in size. Dough should be soft.
5. Punch down dough and form into 2 ounce balls. Keep balls covered in plastic wrap. Roll out each ball into a circle.
 Water is brushed onto baking sheet before placing disks on it.
Meat-vegetable topping thinly applied.
Baked and stacked. A squeeze of lemon juice on baked lahmajoun adds a fresh flavor!
Ready to serve!

After Mike completed his second experiment, he offered his thoughts and evaluation:

“I bring news about the second try to get this dough like I want to:
I skipped the evaporated milk, (because) I seriously doubt the elderly woman uses that in her recipe. What I also did different is the cooking. I've been doing some research and found out that the woman after greasing the baking sheet with oil, or fat, (I heard two versions) she brushes the surface with water just before placing the dough disks on it. This time I made the disks thinner also.
So I followed those steps and got these results: They were definitely better than the previous ones - not that those were bad at all, but still - The flexibility was improved as you can see in the photos, no cracks (except on) one side. The water helped in keeping the moisture of the dough, but it didn't have that greasy texture like the elderly lady’s recipe (which makes me think it's healthier but still I wanna get there!).

Next time I will put something that (will help keep) the moisture (in the dough) when cooking.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

‘The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment’ has begun!

In case you missed reading about the purpose of The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment, please click here.

I sent Mike Minassian four lahmajoun dough recipes, and his first attempt was based on one from the cookbook, ‘Simply Armenian’ by Barbara Ghazarian. Since Mike has made lahmajoun before, I suggested he use his own recipe for the meat-vegetable topping, which he did. All photos are courtesy of Mike Minassian.

Final Product: Lahmajoun #1, rolled and ready to eat!
Dough recipe #1: From the cookbook, ‘Simply Armenian’ by Barbara Ghazarian
Yields 12 lahmajouns
This one uses olive oil.

Ingredients:
1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (about 105°F to 110° F)
1 Tablespoon (Tbsp.) olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl and baking sheets
½ teaspoon (tsp.) sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 ¼ cups white bread flour, plus more for rolling (I suggested that perhaps the bread flour makes a difference from recipes which use all-purpose flour.)

Directions:
1.Dissolve the yeast in water in the bowl of a tabletop (stand) mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Stir in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, sugar, salt, and 1 ½ cups flour.
2. Mix the dough until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour and mix until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes by machine. (If this part is done by hand, it will take about 20 minutes.)
3. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl greased with olive oil. Turn the ball once to coat it completely with oil. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
4. Place dough into a floured work surface and punch it down. Knead the dough into the shape of a log. Cut log into 12 equal pieces, then roll each piece into a 7-inch circle.

Mike’s comments and photos for Experiment #1:
                 Here's my first attempt of making "the best dough ever". In this recipe I used the recipe from the cookbook "Simply Armenian". I made a few modifications: I added 1 Tbsp. butter, and for the baking sheets, instead of using oil I used flour (the same I used for the dough). I made this because the elderly lady (the woman who´s lahmeyouns are great) seems to do it this way. After I mixed the dough until smooth and elastic I put it in a bowl, covered with a plastic bag and then a kitchen towel on top (see pictures "dough 1" and "dough 2"). 
Dough 1
Dough 2


This time I also took photos of the topping, just for you to know how I made it.

Topping photo #1
 I used 500 gr. (about 1.2 lbs.) beef minced (I'm sorry if I use metric measures sometimes). 2 onions and 2 tomatoes finely chopped, actually I rather like to process them. Some parsley also chopped. Also added 1/4 of a roasted red bell pepper (I made this some weeks ago). At this point I should mention to you that the Armenians here in Argentina, at least in Cordoba, use tomatoes for the topping instead of peppers, though I like to add some to my recipe. 

Topping photo #2
Seasonings for the topping
The spices I used include salt, paprika, ground chili, tricolor pepper, chemen (or fenugreek), and hot chili powder. I mixed everything with my hands, and then processed all. I do this because I like the topping to stick together after I cook it. For this I also add a tbsp. of white vinegar (apple vinegar). After everything is processed I added the juice of one lemon and let it stand for an hour in the fridge. This amount of topping is enough for making a bit more than 2 dozens, so I just used half of it this time, and saved the rest for next time.

Ready to bake
After the dough doubled its size I made the little balls and shape them into disks, put them on the baking sheet (previously covered with flour), added the topping on, and into the oven 250°C - about 475°F - (very hot) for about 10 minutes. That´s it.
Baked, stacked, and ready to serve!
Conclusion: They were good enough, the dough wasn't that crispy, I could roll them just fine, though at some point I could see some cracks in the folding and the borders were a little crispy.  I think I can make them a bit thinner, since the baking made them thicker than I expected. They were not as greasy as the Lady's lahmejouns, but they were good anyway. Next weekend I'll try a different (dough recipe), probably with some new additions that improves flexibility. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment" featuring Mike Minassian

This story was inspired by a simple email from Mike Minassian who resides in Cordoba, Argentina. (Little did he know what his request would involve!)
Mike Minassian

Mike, an avid cook, was searching for a lahmajoun dough recipe to match one made by an elderly woman in his native land. Mike said her lahmajouns were absolutely delicious – in fact, the BEST he’d ever eaten!

Mike tried to recreate the dough but his results were never quite like hers. While others may have given up, he was -  and still is - determined to  achieve lahmajoun dough perfection.
Mike said the key to successful lahmajoun is the dough. “It should not be a bit dry; it should be well toasted but at the same time very flexible and a bit greasy. The borders should be a little burnt like an old scroll. When you roll it up to eat it you should notice that the folded dough doesn´t have any cracks; it's magic! I´ve heard from some people that this lady puts some fat in the dough, or some butter, I don't know, I've tried a few things but I can´t get it right, and of course she won´t tell me the secret (after all, she does this for a living!). 

So, Mike contacted me asking if I had any clue as to how this lady prepares her lahmajouns. He was familiar with my lahmajoun ‘short cut’ version, but he says he’s old-school and prefers making the dough from scratch. Bravo, Mike!

I sent him four different recipes for homemade lahmajoun dough. The first uses olive oil; another uses vegetable shortening; one uses shortening plus whole milk and evaporated milk; and the last one uses no fat at all. 

With the recipes in hand, Mike has vowed to try each recipe and send his results to The Armenian Kitchen. I promised him I’d share his experiments with you.
After all, we can’t let Mike’s hard work go unnoticed or unappreciated.

I hope you’ll follow along as I post Mike’s efforts in ‘The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment’!

Stay tuned for Experiment #1 ... coming soon!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kadaif Bird’s Nests with Custard and Fresh Fruit

What does one do with a half-pound of kadaif (spelling varies!) dough left in the freezer? Make bird’s nests, of course! 
What filling would one use to complete this recipe? Any kind you’d like.

Since I had the opportunity to make the bird’s nest dessert for friends, I chose to fill the centers with the type of creamy custard one would make for custard-filled kadaif, but you could fill the centers with anything you like. 
Variations can include – but are not limited to - any type of custard, pudding, yogurt (frozen or otherwise), or ice cream of your choice. Fruit and/or nuts can also be added as a filling or garnish. The possibilities are endless! 

The blueberries have been quite delicious and plentiful these past few weeks, so I chose to add them for a burst of fruity flavor, and a pop of color.
What I really like about this recipe is that the custard and bird’s nests can be made in advance and assembled at the last minute.
Kadaif Bird's Nests with Custard and Blueberries
Kadaif Bird’s Nests with Custard and Fresh Fruit

Custard filling


Ingredients:
3 egg yolks (Save egg whites for another use.)
½ cup sugar
½ cup farina
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch salt
3 cups milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, optional

Directions:
1. In a saucepan, beat egg yolks with the sugar. 
2. Add the farina, cornstarch, and salt.
3. Slowly pour in the milk; add vanilla, if using. Cook mixture over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Note: Keep a close watch while stirring; don’t even think about walking away! Do not allow mixture to boil. Custard will thicken more as it cools in the refrigerator.)

4. Remove from heat; allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding to prevent a ‘skin’ from forming on top. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
(NOTE: The custard can be made a day or two in advance.)

Shredded Phyllo Cups
The half package of kadaif dough yields about 18 muffin-size servings. (Kadaif dough is available in most Middle Eastern stores.)

Ingredients:
½ of a 1 lb. pkg. kadaif dough, thawed and brought to room temp.
1 stick unsalted butter, melted (If you are so inclined, you could use clarified butter.)

Directions:
1. Separate the strands of dough with your fingers, untangling it as you go. (NOTE: I cut the kadaif dough bundle into thirds with a serrated knife before separating the strands.) Place strands in a large bowl and pour melted butter over it. Work this in with your fingers so that the dough strands are well-buttered. It’s messy, but necessary!

2. Place small equal-size mounds of buttered dough in a muffin tin. Lightly press to take shape of the muffin cup. Make sure there are enough dough strands on the bottom to support the custard filling later on. Let this sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before baking.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake for about 15 minutes or until the dough is golden throughout.
Place muffin tin on a cooling rack, allowing nests to cool slightly while in the tin. Carefully remove the nests from the tin and place them directly on the cooling rack to cool completely. (NOTE: This part can be done in advance. Store the baked nests in a container with a tight-fitting lid until ready to fill and serve. These can be refrigerated or frozen if being served at a later date.)

To assemble and serve:
When ready to serve, place each baked kadaif cup on an individual plate. Fill with custard, top with fresh berries of your choice, chopped nuts, or sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Calling all Kharpertsis – or anyone else who might know …

Roxanne, a reader from Connecticut, sent me an urgent request:

She wrote, “My mom is desperate to find a recipe to make tatchoun - a powder she says that my grandmother (from Kharpert) made from lablaboo and then sprinkled on cracker bread - do you know what this could be?”

Dried Chickpea Snack (Photo from blog.fatfreevegan.com)
This request made me smile because I hadn’t thought about ‘lablaboo’ for a long time. It’s one of those treats that Armenian grandparents keep handy for an anytime snack. 

I know, your curiosity is piquing. Lablaboo is a dried but chewable chickpea. It’s probably processed somehow so as not to break one’s teeth. All I know is that my grandmother always had it available – either plain, or candy-coated in pastel colors.( As a kid, I liked those best!)
Candy-coated Lablaboo!
As for Roxanne’s request, however, I haven’t been able to find an answer.
So, I’m turning to you, dear readers, for help.

If anyone knows what ‘tatchoun’ is and/or how to make it, please leave a comment at the end of this post, or email me: robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com.

Thank you so much!