Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year Bread - DAREHATS (pronounced ‘dar-ee hots’)

Two years ago, I posted a recipe and background information provided by Sonia Tashjian for a bread specifically reserved for New Year’s Eve – Dare Hats. 
Sonia Tashjian's Darehats
Sonia recently sent me another photo of the bread, explaining that this unique bread is from the Sasun region of Armenia.

To see the recipe and previous post, please click here

We wish you all good luck, health, prosperity, and peace in the New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cruise Food

Thirty-seven years ago, Doug and I took a honeymoon cruise from NY harbor to beautiful Bermuda. We were told by well-traveled family members that the food onboard is delicious, and constantly available. That wasn’t the case on our trip. In addition, the ship’s stabilizers weren’t quite up to snuff. Suffice to say, the cruise didn’t leave a very good impression in our minds.
Friends who are avid cruisers, mentioned to us last month that they were taking a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, and that we should give cruising another try. They assured us that that ships and the cuisine have improved tremendously since our earlier trip.
Doug and I took the leap and signed up for the same cruise as our friends, and are we glad we did! We sailed on the Caribbean Princess to Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico.
We could write endless about the experience, which was overwhelmingly positive, but we’ll stick to the food for now.
It was truly awesome, in a number of ways.
With more than 3,000 passengers and about 1,100 crew to feed, the ship’s dining operation produced 12,000 meals daily plus a seemingly endless array of snacks and deserts. And if we just couldn’t wait for the next meal, we didn't have to. We could graze the buffet, order a hot-pressed sandwich or stroll over to an on-deck pizza stand for a hot slice straight from the oven.
Succulent Cioppino on board the Caribbean Princess
The food was uniformly good-to-excellent, with just two disappointments. The first was that getting meat cooked as ordered turned out to be hit or miss. Most attempts were either underdone or overdone. Yet somehow the seafood was always succulent (including fork-tender calamari) and the pasta perfectly al dente.
We got a special treat midway through the cruise when the head chef hosted a culinary demonstration and answered questions about the floating feast that he has overseen for more than 30 years. We were most impressed to learn that nearly everything was made onboard from scratch, including the soup stock and ice cream.
To top it off, we toured one of the ship’s seven galleys and were happy to see that every surface gleamed.
Our shore excursion time was limited, so we used it to observe local culture and tour magnificent Mayan ruins. Along the way, we watched plenty of hungry fellow tourists flocking to familiar restaurant logos, such as Hooters and the Hard Rock Café.
Awesome shrimp fajitas at El Coctelito, in Cozumel, Mexico
We passed them all and ate our one on-shore meal in Cozumel at El Coctelito, an open-air sports bar of sorts on the waterfront. It sure wasn’t fancy: No roof, no walls, no booths. Just plastic patio furniture, palm trees and a limitless view of crystal blue water.
The food was fabulous, including great, green mounds of butter-smooth guacamole that the chef mashed by hand as we watched. And those fat, juicy shrimp! Wonderful.
Sadly, there was indeed a second dining disappointment during our nearly week-long cruise: Nothing Armenian or Middle Eastern showed up on any menu. Despite that, we both showed admirable discipline in not skipping any meals. It was the least we could do for our readers.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

3-Ingredient Khurabia (Armenian Shortbread Cookies)

Christmas and cookies go hand-in-hand. We’ve posted numerous cookie recipes in the past few years, but truly, you can’t have too many khurabia (kurabia) recipes, if you ask me!

Here’s one which uses only 3 ingredients. It appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and was submitted by Ani Saryan who said her grandmother, Martha Auer of Greenfield, WI, has been making them for 60 years.

3-Ingredient Khurabia (Photo from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by The Armenian Kitchen.

3-Ingredient Khurabia    
Yields about 3 dozen cookies

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour


1. Clarify butter: Melt butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan without stirring. When the butter is completely melted, skim the foam off the top and discard it. You will see a clear oily layer atop milk solids.
Slowly pour the clear liquid into a measuring cup, leaving the milk solids in the saucepan; discard them. Measure 1 cup of the clarified butter and put in refrigerator until it's hard (solid) enough to beat.

2. In bowl, whip butter (with an electric beater) until it's almost white. Add sugar and whip until mixed.

3. Using a wooden spoon, add flour and then knead it with your hands, like kneading bread dough. This incorporates all of the flour into the mixture. It takes about 3 to 4 minutes. The sugar granules will break down a little bit, and you should be able to roll it out with your hands and the dough will all stick together as one ball. In Armenian this is called ‘shaghel’. This kneading process allows the sugar crystals to become less grainy, to disintegrate, and in the end khurabia will be more delicate and melt in your mouth.

NOTE: Depending on the environment, humidity and weather, you might have to put in an additional spoonful of flour and mix it in. If the dough gets too soft, you also may put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to make it more workable.

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

5. Take a handful of dough and roll with palm of hand on a cutting board into a rope until it is the diameter of a nickel.
Cut into about 2- to 2 ½-inch pieces, on the diagonal, and put on an ungreased cookie sheet. Leave room between the cookies as they will expand a little in the oven. If desired, use a fork to make little hatch marks on the top of the dough for decoration. 

6. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes. Remove cookies from oven but leave them on the sheet to cool. Do not remove from cookie sheet until they are cool. Khurabia may be stored in the freezer.   

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Haskanoush" : A traditional Armenian walnut - filled pastry

"Haskanoush" is more than a pastry; it's a traditional special-occasion treat passed down from one generation to another.

Maro Nalabandian's Haskanoush
I am told that the original recipe came from Van, Western Armenia and is still prepared there to this day.

I noticed on a FaceBook post last October that St. Mary Armenian Church in Washington, DC was making and selling a dessert called Haskanoush at their annual Food Festival.
Since I was not familiar this dessert, I contacted my cousin, Maro Nalabandian who lives in nearby Maryland, and who just happens to be a chef who makes killer pastries, among other remarkable dishes.
Maro had been to the festival the day before I emailed her. By the time she'd gotten there, the supply of haskanoush was already depleted; it's a very popular treat!

Maro explained that the name haskanoush comes from the words 'wheat' (hask) and 'sweet' (anoush). It is a pastry shaped to resemble a stalk of wheat.
She went on to say, “It is tedious work as you have to snip the tops (of the pastry) with mini scissors (to resemble) a hask (stalk of wheat).”

After my lesson on haskanoush, all I needed was a recipe. Maro painstakingly created the following recipe for home preparation. I must confess that I haven't made this yet, but couldn't wait to post it because it seems perfect for the Christmas season.
~Maro Nalabandian's Haskanoush~
Yields approx. 40 pieces, depending on size

Simple Syrup Ingredients:
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Water
1 Tbsp. fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp. Orange Blossom water
1/2 tsp. Rose Water (opt)
~In a small sauce pot, on medium heat gently stir water and sugar together.
~Bring the syrup to a boil, add the Lemon juice and simmer for about 5 minutes.
~Stir in the Orange and Rose Water, turn off heat and set aside.
Dipping haskanoush

Important Notes:
~Either the syrup has to be cold and the Haskanoush has to be hot when dipping         - OR-
the Haskanoush has to be hot out of the oven when dipping into the cold syrup.
~You may dip part of the Haskanoush to use and save the rest by freezing but without dipping into the syrup.
~Maro suggests that if you don’t like desserts that are too sweet or syrupy, you can omit dipping the baked haskanoush in the simple syrup altogether, especially since there is an ample amount of sugar in the  filling.

Cinnamon and Nut Filling Ingredients:
3 cups finely chopped Walnuts
4 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tbsp. ground Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground Cloves
~Mix all together and set aside

The Dough Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups flour - plus 1/2 a cup Flour, as needed
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. ground **Mahleb (sold in most Middle Eastern stores)
1 cup unsalted Butter, melted
1 cup Milk, room temperature
2 Eggs, room temperature, beaten
** Mahleb, also spelled 'mahlab',is the dried “heart” of the cherry pit. It can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores. I

~Using a stand mixer, add 3 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, salt and Mahleb to the bowl.
~In a separate bowl, add the melted butter, milk, and beaten eggs; mix together.
~Turn the mixer on low speed, and add the liquid ingredients slowly to the dry ingredients.
~Mix until it all comes together. If need be, add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.The dough will be soft to the touch.
~Make 2 inch size balls of dough. Place them on a tray and cover with plastic wrap till ready to use.

~Have ready three baking sheets with parchment paper, rolling pin and a small thin-tip sharp scissors.
~Place oven temperature at 350 degrees/F.
~Start by taking a dough/ball and press to open by hand or with rolling pin on the counter.
~Roll each piece into a 4 to 5 inch circle, then place one teaspoon of the filling in the middle,  spreading it from one end to the other (not quite to the edge) in a line.
~Fold halfway over the filling, and tightly roll to the end, close the edges together firmly.
~Place it on a tray with the seam side down, and do the same with the rest.
~Make sure they are one inch apart, placing diagonally in a tray.
~Start one by one snipping with the scissors making three rows of snips on each pastry.
~Put the tray in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes until lightly golden.
~Remove when done and continue dipping each piece into the room temperature syrup
as directed above.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christine Datian’s Holiday Mushroom, Celery, and Walnut Pilaf

When Christine Datian gets in the kitchen, there’s no stopping her. She just contacted me with her latest  recipe, 'Holiday Mushroom, Celery, and Walnut Pilaf', which appears in the December 6th 2014 issue of the Armenian Mirror – Spectator.

My last post featured Christine and her mother Alice, who both love to cook, especially Armenian dishes which reflect their heritage.

Why not add this recipe to your holiday repertoire!

Christine Datian’s Holiday Mushroom, Celery, and Walnut Pilaf
Serves 6

2 cups long grain rice – or – medium coarse bulgur, rinsed
1 cup onions, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ lb. crimini or button mushrooms, cleaned and diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced or mashed
4 ½ cups fresh or canned chicken, lamb or turkey broth
½ cube (stick) unsalted butter – and – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ tsp. sea salt or salt of your choice
½ tsp. black or white pepper
½ tsp. crushed rosemary, dried mint, and paprika
½ cup walnuts, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon - and - 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
Dash allspice
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley – or – fresh baby spinach

1. In a large saucepan, add onions, celery and garlic, and sauté in butter and oil for 10 minutes, tossing frequently. Add mushrooms, toss, and cook a few minutes longer.
2. Mix in rice –or- bulgur and broth; add salt, pepper, spices, walnuts, lemon juice, lemon zest, and allspice.
3. Bring to a full boil; reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook until rice or bulgur is tender and liquid is fully absorbed, about 20-22 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat; mix in parsley or spinach using a fork; cover again, and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Family That Loves to Cook: The Vartanian-Datian Story

Christine Vartanian Datian of Las Vegas, NV and her mother, Mrs. Alice Vartanian of Fresno, CA love to cook. In fact, some of Christine’s recipes have been featured right here on The Armenian Kitchen website. 

Alice Vartanian, left, and her daughter Christine Datian
Christine and I have been ‘sharing’ recipes for a number of years via email. Most recently she sent me a link to  her recipe for 'Armenian Rice Pilaf with Raisins and Almonds' which appeared in The New York Times
Christine's Armenian Rice Pilaf with Raisins and Almonds (Photo by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times)
In addition to this, Christine's recipes have appeared in Armenian-American publications such as the Armenian Mirror - Spectator.

Both her mother's and her recipes appear in the November 2014 edition of the  ‘Fresno Bee Flavors Magazine’. It's a great collection of recipes mostly featuring California products. If you take the time to read through it, and I recommend you do, you'll see all sorts of delicious recipes including some from other Armenian ladies from the Fresno area.

Christine's love for her family and Armenian heritage is inspiring. 

Here is The Vartanian - Datian Story

Christine Datian, a Fresno native, is a copywriter and technical writer who has been published in Sunset and Cooking Light Magazines for over a decade.  Christine is a graduate of California State University, Fresno (CSUF) with a Master of Arts Degree in Mass Communications.  She attributes her accomplishments and interests in writing and creating new recipes to her mother Alice, and her late grandmother, Mrs. Peppy Sarkisian, a native of Adana, Turkey.  

Mrs.Vartanian, who recently turned 85, is originally from Lowell, Massachusetts and was married to the late Mr. Arthur Vartanian of Fresno. Their family consists of their three children Christine, Philip and Steven Vartanian, and two grandsons, Justin and Brian Vartanian of Fresno. 

Mrs. Vartanian is known for her superb Armenian dishes - yalanche, dolma, rice and bulgur pilafs, cheese boureg, and desserts such as specialty cookies, nut breads, gata, and “shakarishe” sugar cookies which she has made for many family events and holidays over the past 40 years. 

Christine stated the following: “My mother and grandmother, two energetic, talented, and exceptionally generous women, took pride and effort in creating memorable dishes and recipes for our family celebrations, parties, and special occasions throughout our lives.  I learned by watching and listening to them laugh and talk (in Armenian and Turkish). While working together in our kitchen in Fresno, they instilled in me an attention to detail and interest in Middle Eastern and traditional Armenian recipes, flavors, spices, ingredients, and cooking techniques at an early age.” 

Christine added, “They cooked with love, and that made all the difference. I can still taste my grandmother’s fragrant Armenian “fassoulia” green bean and lamb stew she made when she came to Fresno from Los Angeles with fresh green beans, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, spices, mint, and lamb.  This dish was a feast all by itself.”  

Christine’s beloved grandmother endured a turbulent and tragic childhood in Adana. She lost her father at an early age and was placed in an orphanage when she was 4 or 5 years old. Fortunately, she managed to survive. 

With great determination, Christine’s grandmother vowed to come to America with her new husband, Levon, a successful barber. Ultimately, they built a family business and home, and raised three children in Lowell, MA as did many other immigrants of that time.  

Christine recalled, “My grandmother, a true survivor in many ways, was beautiful, accomplished, and completely dedicated to her husband, children and grandchildren. Working her entire life, she taught us to never give up. We were truly inspired by her determination. Grandmother made us feel special and loved – especially when she made her homemade baklava and Armenian breads and gatas when we were children.”

Christine is following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, however, she doesn’t just cook; she creates dishes that will linger on ones lips, as well as in their memories. Her recipes reach a global audience, something her grandmother could never have imagined.