Sunday, March 29, 2015

An Armenian-Style Easter

Today, Palm Sunday, marks The Armenian Kitchen’s 6th anniversary, and the beginning of Holy Week. It also means that we are preparing for Easter Sunday, and the all-important Easter meal.

We’ve shared recipes for chorag, roasted lamb, paklava, explained how to dye eggs naturally and the tradition of cracking Easter eggs to see who the ‘winner’ will be. We also included recipes showing how to use leftover Easter eggs and lamb, and still keep meals interesting.
Photo from ArmeniaNow; photo credit: Nazik Armenakyan
A few years back our friend Ara sent a link from ArmeniaNow, an online magazine, depicting a very traditional Easter meal. The story was written by reporter Gayane Mkrtchyan.

 It is this story that I would like to present to you. Please click here to read this most-interesting account of a traditional Easter meal as done in Armenia.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bulgur Salad with Pistachios and Currants

Bulgur has a zillion uses in Armenian cuisine. In our home, bulgur, in its varying sizes, is combined with any number of ingredients to create many a tasty dish. The list of add-ins included, but is not limited to, such items as vegetables, tomato sauce, chickpeas, raw onions, caramelized onions … you name it. I could on for several pages! 

Bulgur recipes can be served hot, cold or at room temperature making it a truly versatile ingredient and a MUST-HAVE in any Armenian pantry.

NOTE: I buy currants when they are readily available in the supermarket, and keep open packages, well-wrapped, in the freezer to help them last a long time.
Here’s my rendition of a bulgur salad that, I believe, even my grandparents would have enjoyed.

Bulgur Salad with Pistachios and Currants
Bulgur Salad with Pistachios and Currants
Serves 4
Note: This is best if made several hours or up to one day before serving.

1 cup #2 (medium) bulgur
¼ cup currants
¼ cup pistachios, shelled and toasted (* See steps #3 and 6)
½ to 1 tsp. allspice
2 Tbsp. dried mint, crushed
2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley

1 medium clove of garlic, minced
Zest of 1 lemon, optional
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 3 Tbsp.)
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Place bulgur in a large bowl and cover it with cold water; soak for 15 to 20 minutes, until it becomes soft but not mushy. Drain any remaining liquid in a fine sieve, squeezing out any excess moisture. Return bulgur to the bowl.

2. To reconstitute the currants, place them in a separate bowl and cover with a little warm water for about 5 minutes. Drain well.

*3. To toast the pistachios, place them in a dry skillet and cook over medium-high heat,   shaking the pan often, until nuts become fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Place nuts on a plate to cool. Coarsely chop nuts and set aside until ready to use.

4. Add the drained currants, spices, dried mint, and parsley to the bulgur. Toss gently.

5. Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon zest and juice, and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*6. Pour dressing over bulgur mixture and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving the salad, add the toasted, chopped pistachios. This prevents the nuts from getting soggy before serving time.
The salad may be served at room temperature.

Friday, March 13, 2015

White Bean, Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Plaki

Meat was a luxury menu item when my mother was growing up, so legumes and grains were commonplace fare in their household. You might say that my mom and her family ate vegetarian-style meals more often than not. 

Here’s a slightly modified version of a bean dish that my grandmother used to make. This hearty dish will fill your tummy and satisfy your soul.

NOTE: My grandmother used dried beans which she soaked overnight and made her own red pepper paste for this, and many other dishes. What a gal!
White Bean, Roasted Red Pepper, and Tomato Plaki

White Bean, Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Plaki   
Serves 4 to 6 servings
    2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
    1/2 cup roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped
    3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for serving)
    Kosher salt, to taste
    freshly ground pepper, to taste
    dash cayenne pepper, or Aleppo red pepper
    1 tsp. dried oregano
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 Tbsp. red pepperpaste (tomato paste may be substituted)
    2 (15-ounce) cans Northern beans (or any other white beans), rinsed and drained
    4 cups vegetable broth, homemade or commercially prepared
    1 cup diced tomatoes (diced canned tomatoes may be used; save the liquid for another use)
    Garnish: 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley; extra-virgin olive oil; lemon wedges

Step 1
1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onions; season with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne or Aleppo red pepper. Cook, stirring often, until onions are tender, about 10  minutes. Add roasted red peppers, oregano, minced garlic and red pepper paste, (or tomato paste if using) and cook, stirring often, until paste begins to turn deep red, about 3 minutes. 

Step 2
2. Add beans to the saucepan. Turn heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Stir in 3 cups broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, until liquid is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and remaining 1 cup broth; simmer for another 5 minutes or until the consistency is somewhat thick, not soupy. Season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. 
3. Place plaki in a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped parsley. Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired. 
Serve with lemon wedges.

Special Note: Chopped raw onions may be sprinkled on top, too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Special Recipes related to Mid - Lent (Michink)

This coming Wednesday, March 11th marks the half-way point of our Lenten season - the 24th day of Lent, occurring on the Wednesday of the fourth week to be precise. 

Mid Lent Fortune Bread
Here’s a re-cap of the meaning or significance of Mid Lent, also known as Michink:
  • Michink falls on a Wednesday.
  • It is not a feast day.
  • The same Wednesday Lenten services are performed on this day.
  • Michink is celebrated during the middle of lent to encourage people to persevere until the end of lent.
  • During this celebration, women would insert a coin into a pastry (gata or pagharch) and whoever receives the slice (of pastry) with the coin in it would receive good luck.
  • A special sandwich, Michink Koutap, is also prepared on this day.
According to the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles, “a variety of special foods are prepared in Armenian homes for Michink – such as unleavened breads, called “Bagharj,” and a kind of sandwich called “Koutap” that is filled with a mixture of boiled green beans, broad beans, and other vegetables. It is the custom to hide a metal coin or special object in both the Bagharj bread and the Koutap.”
Another source concurs that,  Michink Koutap is a kind of sandwich filled with boiled green beans, broad beans, and other vegetables, but adds that the dough is prepared with olive oil, and small lumps of egg-sized dough may be flattened, enclosed around the filling, then baked.  Before sealing the dough, a colorful bead  or a coin would be hidden in one of the sandwiches, thus identifying the year's lucky person.

Here are a few additional Mid-Lent recipes you might like to prepare:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Coriander - Crusted Fish with Chickpea - Artichoke Salad

Some folks eat fish during Lent, others refrain from it. If you are a Lenten fish-eater, you might want try Coriander - Crusted Fish with Chickpea - Artichoke Salad. It’s not necessarily an Armenian meal, but could certainly pass for one. This dinner combination is satisfying, fancy enough to serve to guests, and is perfect to serve beyond Lent.

Coriander-Crusted Fish over Chickpea - Artichoke Salad (Photo from Publix Aprons™)
I can't take credit for this recipe duo. The credit goes to Publix Aprons™ Simple Meals collection, a great resource for meal ideas!

Coriander-Crusted Fish
Serves 4

3 tablespoons freshly ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
4 fish fillets (salmon, tuna, or swordfish; about 1 1/2 lb. total weight)
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat large sauté pan on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Combine coriander, salt, and pepper; then coat both sides of fish. Wash your hands after handling raw fish.
2. Place oil in pan, then add fish; cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily. Serve with Chickpea Artichoke Salad. (Recipe follows.)

Chickpea Artichoke Salad

1 can artichokes in brine (not marinated), drained and finely chopped
NOTE: Frozen (thawed) artichoke hearts may be substituted for the canned
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely sliced
1 bag baby arugula leaves (4-5 oz.)
1 cup canned chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (red wine vinegar may be substituted)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1. In a large bowl, combine arugula, chickpeas, onions, and artichokes.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk lemon juice (or vinegar, if using), oil, salt, and pepper until blended; add to salad. Toss.
Top with Coriander-Crusted Fish.