Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reader Feature: KHEYMA - Ourfatsi-style from the family of Ara Kassabian

Ara Kassabian is one of my go-to people for certain Armenian recipes. A few years ago, he shared several Lenten- appropriate recipes with The Armenian Kitchen in the comment section of another post. Since readers might not have seen it, I’m presenting his family's Kheyma recipe as a Reader Feature. I have already posted Ara’s Turluh (tourlou) recipe, which is really delicious. Kheyma isn't just for Lent; it can be served any time of the year.

Kheyma - Ourfatsi-style
In reference to Kheyma Ara stated, “This is a recipe that comes from my aunt's sister-in-law (Digin Arshalouys). My aunt married into a family of Ourfatsis and this recipe is from that region. I am reproducing the recipe as I received it from my mom.”

Kheyma – Ourfatsi Style
Serves 4 to 6

1 (16 oz.) can of chickpeas, drained, BUT save the liquid - and - reserve 2 Tbsp. chickpeas for garnish
(NOTE: It's best to remove and discard any loose skins from the chickpeas before proceeding with Step #1. It's tedious, but worth it!)
 1 1/2 cups (or a little more) #1 (fine) bulgur (available in Middle Eastern stores and some    specialty grocers)
 salt, pepper (Aleppo red pepper is preferable) - to taste
 cumin, to taste, optional
  2 cloves garlic, minced, optional
  1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
  Red pepper paste mixed with the tomato sauce (optional)   
  juice of 1 small lemon
  2-3 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed paste) mixed with a little water.
  1small onion, minced
   2-3 green onions (scallions), finely chopped
   A bunch of Italian flat-leaf Parsley, finely chopped
    Garnishes: Reserved whole chickpeas, minced parsley and red pepper slices (fresh or roasted red peppers may be used)

Draining chickpeas; saving its liquid for Step #1
Chickpeas mashed with fork


1. In a medium sized bowl, mashed the chickpeas with the back of a spoon or fork, leaving it fairly coarse. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, add the chickpea liquid from the can. Add the bulgur and stir until it is combined with the liquid.  Set bowl aside until the bulgur softens, about 15 minutes.
3.  After the bulgur softens, add the mashed chickpeas and stir to combine. Add salt, pepper, and cumin and garlic, if using. Stir in the tomato sauce mixed with red pepper paste (if using).  Mix them until well-combined. Add lemon juice, tahini, onion, green onion, and parsley. Add more lemon juice or water if it is too thick. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.
4. Mound the kheyma on a platter and garnish with the reserved chickpeas, minced parsley, and red pepper slices.

Serve with Romaine lettuce leaves, fresh grape vine leaves (in season), red pepper slices, crackers, or just put some in a bowl and eat with a spoon! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Baked Broccoli and Cauliflower

To start you off on the right foot this Lenten season, here’s a very simple, tasty vegetable side dish you’ll want to make. To cut down on preparation time, today’s markets offer already cut fresh broccoli and cauliflower in the produce department, making this dish a snap to prepare. The addition of sesame oil delivers a slightly nutty flavor which elevates these veggies to a higher level!
Baked Broccoli and Cauliflower
Baked Broccoli and Cauliflower
Serves 4 to 5
1 small head broccoli
1 small head cauliflower
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs (NOTE: You may add ½ tsp. each of dried oregano and dried basil, if desired.)
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds, optional
Garnish: Lemon wedges, optional

Broccoli - cauliflower florets
1. Wash broccoli and cauliflower; cut into florets. 
2. Place broccoli and cauliflower florets in a 6 qt. pot. Add enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain, and run cold water over florets to stop the cooking process. 

Time-saving Tip: The broccoli and cauliflower florets can be microwaved in a microwave-safe bowl with 2 to 3 Tbsp. water. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, poking holes in the plastic cover. Cook on high power for 3 to 4 minutes. (Avoid overcooking them in the microwave, as they will continue bake in the oven.) Drain, rinse with cool water. Continue with recipe as directed.
Bread crumb-sesame seed  topping
3. In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, dried herbs and sesame seeds, if using. Set aside.
4. Place broccoli and cauliflower florets in a rectangular baking dish with 2-inch sides that's  large enough to hold them. Add the olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, salt and pepper; toss to coat vegetables. Spread the florets evenly in the baking dish; sprinkle the bread crumb mixture to cover the vegetables. Drizzle a little extra olive oil on top.

5. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 -25 minutes, or until bread crumbs begin to turn golden brown. 

Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Baneerov Halva (Cheese Halva)

As  our close friends Barbara and Ed Dorian drove us home from the food festival at St. Mary Armenian Church a few weeks ago, we  began discussing our favorite Dikranagerdsi recipes. Barbara recalled a delicious dessert called Baneerov Halva (Cheese Halva), and asked if we had it posted on our website. Doug and I realized we  did not - a terrible oversight on our part!
Banerov Halva
As soon as we got home I sifted through our recipes only to discover I did not have my mother-in-law's recipe. I quickly called Doug's cousin Alice Bakalian, our go-to person for certain family recipes.

Alice said her mother was the one who always made the baneerov halva, but she learned by watching. Alice said, “I can recall my mother using a round copper pan, which was made by my grandfather. It was the same pan she used to make paklava. Mom placed flour in the pan and placed it in the oven, pulling the pan in-and-out, stirring the flour until it began to turn a light golden brown. She removed the toasted flour from the oven and added melted butter to the flour, stirring until they were well-blended. To that, Mom added the sugar water, and finally, the cheese. All was mixed until combined. Baneerov halva was always served warm.”

Alice couldn’t provide exact amounts, because, as we know, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked ‘achkee chop’ – meaning they ‘eyeballed’ the measurements.

The baneerov halva recipe that is the closest to Alice’s mother’s comes from two cookbook sources - the “Assyrian Cookbook”, a collection of recipes very similar to those of Dikranagerd, and  Alice Antreassian’s ” Armenian Cooking Today”.

Helpful Tips before you start:
1. Prepare the simple syrup and clarified butter in advance. Have the cubed or shredded cheese ready, also.
2. Before starting the cooking portion of this recipe, assemble all of the components (mise en place), and have them within easy reach.

Baneerov Halva (Cheese Halva)
Yields about 20 pieces

Simple Syrup Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
A few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice
Halva Ingredients:
3/4 cup clarified butter,** melted (directions below)
2 cups flour, sifted
½ lb. cheese curd, cut into small pieces –or- shredded fresh mozzarella cheese, or other mild cheese

1. Making the Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a few drops of lemon juice during the last few minutes. Remove from heat. Store, covered and at room temperature, until ready to use.
Flour in skillet

Flour browning

2.  Making the Halva: In a large deep skillet, brown flour over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it becomes lightly golden in color, about 10 to 12 minutes. Do NOT burn the flour!
Flour with melted clarified butter
3. Gently and carefully add ½ cup melted clarified butter to the flour. Keeping the heat low, continue to stir with the wooden spoon until the butter and flour brown thoroughly. This should take only a few minutes.

4. Gradually stir in the room temperature simple syrup. Stir briskly until the mixture is smooth.
Flour with simple syrup

5. In the meantime, in a separate pan, add the cubes or shreds of cheese and a few drops of water. Turn heat to medium-low. As the cheese melts it will become stringy. Keep a watchful eye on this. Remove from heat.

Melting cheese
6. Add melted cheese to the flour mixture, stirring quickly to blend.

Melted cheese-flour mixture
7. Spread the baneerov halva onto a serving platter. Create a diamond pattern, or other desired design, on the surface and cut into about 20 pieces. Serve warm.
NOTE: Cover any leftover halva and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
**To Clarify butter:
Melt about 1 lb. unsalted butter over low heat until foam appears on the surface. Skim foam and keep on low heat for about 15 minutes or until solids settle to bottom of pan. Cool about 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully pour clarified butter into container, leaving solids at bottom of the pan. Discard solids.
Use the amount of clarified butter needed for the recipe. Cover and refrigerate remaining butter for another use.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Today’s lesson: Soujouk

Question: What is soujouk? 

Answer: It’s an Armenian sausage that is dried, cured, and usually made out of ground beef or lamb. (Some countries make a similar version using horsemeat, but I won’t be addressing that recipe!)
Soujouk is heavily seasoned with garlic and spices as a way to flavor and preserve the meat. The process takes several days to cure, and is best made during the winter months when the curing can take place in a cool to cold setting. 

Don’t try making traditional soujouk in the summer. The heat would spoil the meat before it had a chance to cure.

I am foregoing the traditional soujouk recipe for one that uses chicken or turkey breast, and isn’t cured at all. So, it’s lighter, and takes a lot less time to make, but tastes just as good!

Chicken Soujouk
Chicken – or - Turkey Soujouk
Makes 2 (1-lb. each) logs; Each log yields about 20 pieces

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (2 whole breasts), about 2 lbs. total
 – OR –  2 lbs. ground chicken breast or turkey breast
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. Salt and ½ tsp. pepper, or to taste
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground fenugreek, optional
1 tsp. each of Cumin and paprika may be added, if desired
3 Tbsp. olive oil


1. If using whole chicken breasts, rinse pieces in cold water; pat dry.

2. (A) Grind chicken breasts together with garlic using a meat grinder with a fine cutting disc, or in a food processor using a metal “S” blade. Note: If using the food processor, cut the chicken into small, manageable pieces first. Place chicken mixture in a mixing bowl.
     (B) If using already ground chicken or turkey, place in mixing bowl and thoroughly blend in the minced garlic. 

Sanitation Note: Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw poultry. Be sure to sanitize the surfaces which the raw poultry may have touched.

Ground chicken with seasonings
3. To the ground chicken, add salt, pepper, allspice, fenugreek, cumin and paprika, if using, and olive oil. Gently work the ingredients into the ground chicken.

 In order to determine if the seasonings need adjustment, make a small patty and cook it (see step #6) until chicken is cooked through, then sample it. Adjust seasonings to the uncooked chicken mixture, if necessary.

4. Divide the chicken mixture in half. Place each half of the chicken mixture on separate large pieces of plastic wrap which have been lightly oiled, or coated with vegetable spray. Place each portion of the mixture on a piece of coated plastic wrap, and roll to create a long sausage (soujouk) shape with a diameter of about 2 inches. Make sure the rolled chicken mixture is completely covered in plastic wrap fastening the ends. Place them in the freezer for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until they are firm enough to slice. 
Ground chicken divided
Chicken 'sausages' wrapped

5. Remove the 2 rolled soujouks from the freezer, unwrap, and cut into ¼-inch slices. Each one should produce 20 slices.

6. To Cook: Heat a little oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken soujouk slices until they are lightly browned and cooked through. Place cooked pieces on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

 7. Cook all of the chicken soujouk slices in small batches without crowding the skillet. Be sure the pieces are cooked through to the center. 

To Serve: Soujouk makes a great accompaniment to eggs, or wrapped in lavash as a sandwich, served with crackers as a mezza, used as a topping for pizza, etc. 

8. Refrigerate or freeze any pieces for later use. Be sure to tightly wrap the cooked pieces completely before refrigerating or freezing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Roasted Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing

During the cold winter months, most folks don’t usually  think of serving traditional light, crisp tossed green salads.
Instead, a 'winter salad' is more appropriate for the season. Winter salads, made with roasted winter squash, have a toasty, stick-to-the-ribs quality, and are best when served slightly warm

Winter squash varieties such as butternut squash, pumpkin, acorn squash can be used as a base for some wonderful cold weather recipes - including salads!
Click here for butternut squash how-to's.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
Here’s a hearty winter butternut squash and chickpea salad that will warm your heart and fill your tummy. 
Keep this recipe handy for the Lenten season which will soon be upon us! 

Roasted Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing  
Serves 4-5

Salad Ingredients:
2 lbs. butternut squash or other winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1- 16 oz. canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro or Italian parsley

Tahini Dressing Ingredients:
1 garlic clove, finely minced
Dash of salt
2 to 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp. tahini paste(sesame seed paste)
2 Tbsp. water, or more as needed
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the squash with the minced garlic, allspice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
Roasted butternut squash
3. Place squash in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender. Remove tray from oven and allow squash to cool slightly.
4. While the squash is roasting, prepare the tahini dressing: Mix the minced garlic and dash of salt with lemon juice; stir in the tahini paste. Slowly whisk in olive oil. If mixture is too thick, add enough water to thin it out. The dressing should be pourable, but not soupy. Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Set aside until ready to use.
NOTE: The Tahini dressing can also be used on kebabs, in wraps, on falafel, and so on.
5. To assemble: Place the roasted squash, chickpeas, red onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Add the tahini dressing and additional oil, if necessary; toss gently. Season with salt and pepper. 

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Soup
Variation: This winter salad can be converted into an amazing soup! Place the roasted squash and chickpeas in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal "S" blade. Add 2 to 3 cups of water, chicken broth or vegetable broth.  Blend or puree in several batches until it becomes as smooth - or - chunky as you'd like it to be. Place blended soup in a saucepan large enough to accommodate it; gently heat through. Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley, thin slices of red onion, and a drizzle of tahini dressing, if desired.