Friday, January 30, 2015

Easy St. Sarkis Day Halva

St. Sarkis Day, the Armenian “Valentine’s Day”, is one of those moveable celebrations. This year it falls on Saturday, January 31st - which happens to be tomorrow! 
This is a very special day for my husband Doug and me as it will mark the 39th anniversary of the day that we met!
Zee Sahakian's St. Sarkis Halva
To celebrate, try making an adapted version of Zarmine Sahakian's recipe for St. Sarkis Halva that I posted a few years back. Other recipes associated with St. Sarkis Day are Aghablit - salty wafers, and Kumba Cake.

Zarmine, "Zee", is the mother of Armand Sahakian, owner of Nory Locum in CA. Armand's locum products are terrific and can be ordered on-line. Delicious treats for Valentine's Day (February 14th), Easter, or anytime of the year!

Easy St. Sarkis Day Halva

1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water, optional
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
7 1/2 oz. jar marshmallow fluff
1 lb. toasted sesame seeds
Unsalted Pistachio nuts, shells removed, of course! (walnuts, pecans or almonds, coarsely chopped, may be substituted)

1. In a medium saucepan, boil water, sugar, orange blossom water, if using, and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved. Add marshmallow fluff and mix until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
2. Place a large amount of sesame seeds on a large plate.
3. Take one tablespoon of the marshmallow mixture, at a time, and dip it completely in sesame seeds.
4. NOTE: This part will be a bit messy. Flatten with fingers shaping it into a long strip, about 3x9 inches. Place some pistachio pieces in the center lengthwise. Fold from the top to the center to cover the pistachios, then fold from the bottom - up to create a rectangle 1/3 the original size of the strip. Cut into 1 ½ to 2-inch pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve. Remove from freezer about 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reader Feature: Alice Vartanian’s Easy Manhattan Clam Chowder

You’ve heard me mention Alice Vartanian before; she is Christine Vartanian - Datian’s mother, and I KNOW you recognize Christine’s name.

This recipe was showcased in the Fresno Bee Central Valley Magazine as have other Vartanian-Datian recipes. OK, I know that Clam chowder is NOT an Armenian recipe, but hey, it’s a great soup – and it’s January, Soup Month!

The thing that struck me as odd was that the ‘Fresno Bee’ called this recipe ‘Easy New England Clam Chowder’ which is milk or cream-based, yet the photo clearly depicts a Manhattan-style (tomato-based) chowder. I asked Christine about it, and she confirmed that the newspaper made an error.

So, on with Alice Vartanian’s recipe for …
Easy Manhattan Clam Chowder 

Special Note:  Alice suggests adding your choice of shrimp, cod, halibut, flounder, or any favorite fish to this recipe, and making it at least one day in advance of serving for the flavors to meld.  You can also add more vegetables or broth as desired.

1 lb. red or white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 (8-oz.) bottles clam juice
4 cups low sodium chicken broth or water
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1 (28-oz.) can solid-packed tomatoes, crushed
2-3 stalks celery (and tops), diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. each Kosher or sea salt, black pepper, dried thyme, oregano, cumin, marjoram, and crushed red pepper flakes
2 (6 1/2 oz.) cans chopped or whole clams
1 bay leaf
Garnish with fresh parsley, chopped

1. In a large soup pot, combine all of the ingredients except the clams.  Bring to a full boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer for 35-45 minutes, stirring now and then.
2. Drain liquid from canned clams and add to soup. If using whole clams, chop them first and add to soup.
3. Simmer for about 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. 
4. Remove bay leaf. Serve soup in warm bowls. Garnish each serving with chopped parsley.  Serve with sliced garlic bread, or French or Italian bread slices.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Reader Feature: Christine Datian's Stuffed Roma Tomatoes with Three Cheeses

Today's Reader Feature comes from regular contributor, Las Vegas, NV resident, Christine Datian. She shares with us her recipe for ‘Stuffed Roma Tomatoes with Three Cheeses’ which was recently published in the ‘LasVegas Review Journal’ as part of a story where readers ‘offer enough hors d’oeuvres to feed a party’.
Ready to serve
10-12 large Roma tomatoes
1 medium red onion, finely minced
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
Olive oil
½ pound ground lean beef or lamb
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
¼ cup medium-sized bulgur (found in Middle Eastern markets)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon each dried basil, dried thyme, sea salt and finely chopped lemon zest
½ teaspoon each black pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika or Aleppo pepper
Dash of cinnamon or allspice
¾ cup crumbled feta and kasseri cheese, combined
Chopped fresh mint or dried mint for garnish
Marinara or tomato sauce
Parmesan cheese
Juice of one lemon

1. Wash the tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise, scoop out and reserve pulp and discard seeds. Chop reserved pulp and set aside.

2. Sauté onion with the garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add beef or lamb and brown the meat; drain.

3. Add the parsley, bulgur, tomato paste, spices and tomato pulp and heat through, stirring, for about 5-10 minutes until bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in the Feta and Kasseri cheeses, to taste. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
Tomatoes stuffed and ready to bake
4. Using a tablespoon, spoon some meat mixture into each tomato shell. Place stuffed shells on a cookie sheet or in a large greased casserole dish. Top each tomato with a tablespoon or two of marinara or tomato sauce and bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until heated through and sauce is bubbly. (Check occasionally and spoon more sauce over tomatoes as they are cooking, if desired.)

5. Remove from oven, top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh or dried mint and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Place on a serving platter with a small bowl of marinara sauce and small slices of garlic or cheese toast. Serve hot or cold.

— Recipe from Christine Vartanian Datian, Las Vegas
Posted December 9, 2014, From the Las Vegas Review Journal

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Armenian Kitchen's first 'Reader Feature': Mike Minassian and his Perfect Lahmajoun Dough Experiment #3

Our first Reader Feature of 2015 is a person whose name you should recognize - Mike Minassian, from Cordoba, Argentina.

After a hiatus of several months, Mike has resumed his search for the perfect lahmajoun dough recipe.

Here’s what Mike has to say on this subject:

“I'm happy to announce I'm back on the road with the ‘Perfect Lahmajoun Dough Experiment’ - # 3
For my girlfriend's birthday I offered to prepare a meal for her and her family. I saw an opportunity to cook lahmajoun once again! I actually prepared a whole Armenian meal including Sarma, Kufthe meatballs, madzoon, hummus, baba-ganoush and of course Lahmajoun!

I think I'm getting closer. This time I used a variation of #4 dough recipe you sent me (see recipe below) a while ago.
I used self-rising flour (it works great and it costs the same than the regular flour) about 700 grams (approximately 3 cups), 1 cup lukewarm whole milk, 3 tbsp. milk cream, olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and (this is something new) 1 tbsp. malt extract. Now I used malt extract because I know it is used in baking to preserve moisture in the products.
Malt Extract
Lahmajoun dough

In the last experiment my lahmajoun dough was flexible enough but still when I rolled it up to eat, you could see some cracks in the sides, meaning that some moisture control needed to be done.
I used same topping as the previous (experiment).

Topping recipe:
I used 500 gr. (a bit more than 1 lb.) ground beef, 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 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. 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 (or apple cider 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.

Stacked Lahmajoun
After I took the (lahmajoun) out of the (very hot) oven, as usual I (stacked) them one on another. Instead of covering the pile with a kitchen (towel), this time I (covered them) with a plastic  bag. Why? Well, I wanted to preserve moisture, and with the (towel) I couldn't achieve that because of the porosity of the (towel).

The result: A very tender and flexible dough. I could roll it and, see, no cracks at all! I really don't know if this is the way the elderly woman I told you about makes them, but they are close enough. I will continue with this recipe and with time improve it.” 
Lahmajoun Dough Experiment #3 Final Product
Mike’s final thoughts on the perfect lahmajoun dough recipe:

I don't know if this last recipe is the way the woman I told you at the beginning does it, but I think it's pretty close and for now I'm satisfied with it. So yes, this would be "perfect" enough. I'm sure with time and practice I will refine even more the art of making lahmajoun, so I'll keep sending you improvements eventually.

Here is the recipe Mike modified for this dough experiment.

Dough recipe #4: This recipe is from the cookbook, ’Armenian Cuisine – Preserving Our Heritage’ – St. John’s Armenian Church cookbook, in Michigan

This recipe differs in that it uses whole milk, canned evaporated milk in addition to vegetable shortening. This makes 80 to 90 lahmajouns!

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

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.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Christmas comes but once a year, unless you're lucky enough to be an Armenian

As kids, we thought the idea of celebrating Armenian Christmas was simply great. Who wouldn't want a second visit from Santa, even if he mysteriously changed his name?

An angel announces the birth of Christ (detail from a Nativity mural at Holy Etchmiadzin).
Of course, it was a little hard to understand--much less explain to our friends--just what this second Christmas on Jan. 6 was all about. For many of us, it hasn't gotten much easier as adults.

We're cooks, not theologians, but we know this much: Armenian Christmas isn't actually a rerun. In fact, it's not exactly Christmas in the Western sense.

For Armenians, the season's traditional occasion of gift-giving and merriment is New Year's. That's when we leave a tray of paklava out for Gaghant Baba, our version of Santa.

What most people call Armenian Christmas actually ushers in the Feast of Theophany, an eight-day commemoration of Christ's birth, baptism and other mysteries. 

The Armenian Church continued to follow this early and universal Christian practice even after the Roman and Greek churches divided Christmas and Epiphany into separate holy days.

Regardless of what you call it, today is certainly a joyous occasion.
So in the spirit of the season, we wish you a Merry Christmas once again!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Getting ready for Armenian Christmas!

Ready or not, Armenian Christmas is almost here. It’s time to prepare Nevik to serve on January 5th, along with a traditional meal comprised of rice, fish, and yogurt soup (madzoon abour - see recipe below), then cap things off with Anoush Abour to enjoy on January 6th.
Nevik, traditionally served on Armenian Christmas Eve, January 5th
Anoush Abour
So, put on your aprons, and get ready for another celebration!

Madzoon Abour  (Yogurt Soup)


1 cup gorgod (shelled whole grain wheat - found in most Middle Eastern stores)

3 cups chicken broth
1 egg
1 quart plain yogurt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
2 to 3 Tbsp. dried mint 
Shelled wheat - gorgod


1. In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil; add gorgod, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg, then gently combine egg with the yogurt; set aside.
3. In a skillet, melt the stick of butter over medium-low heat. Saute the onion until softened, but not browned. Stir in the mint and cook 2 minutes.
4. After the gorgod has sat for 30 minutes, check to see if the liquid has been absorbed. If so, then add 2 to 3 cups water and bring to a boil again. Remove gorgod from heat; set aside.
5. Take some of the hot liquid from the gorgod and slowly add it to the yogurt-egg mixture, making sure the yogurt does not curdle.
6. Carefully add yogurt-egg mixture to gorgod. Stir in the onion-mint mixture to combine.
7. Return the saucepan to the heat and bring to a simmer just long enough to heat everything through. Do NOT overcook.