Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is that really basturma? When you're hungry and out to sea, it's close enough!

We just got back from a Caribbean cruise. We had great fun despite a choppy sea,  a midnight fire alarm and an island tour of a place called Hell that seemed to have been appropriately named.

So what was the fun part? We enjoyed the shows and long strolls on the deck. Robyn luxuriated in the spa, while I nestled into our private balcony with a good book.

And, of course, we ate like mad.
Everybody eats too much on a cruise, and there’s no point denying it much less making excuses. Good food well-prepared is one of a cruise ship’s main attractions.
Fortunately, it is a well-established fact that nothing you eat on a cruise counts against normal dietary restrictions. I actually checked that with unimpeachable scientific sources before we left.
At least, I meant to.
Our ship, the Emerald Princess, had a menu as diverse as its multinational crew. We enjoyed an array of meats and seafood cooked in almost every ethnic style, from Asian to Latin to down-home American.
The notable exception was anything Middle Eastern, except a few Greek olives and a dollop of hummus on flatbread served with our wine.
We were resigned to this familiar-food drought until near the end of our journey, when we explored the late-night buffet for some cheese and fruit to cap the evening. That’s when my jaw (but luckily not my plate) dropped.
Just to the left of the Havarti, I spotted a platter of basturma!
Well, obviously it couldn’t be basturma but it sure looked real. I put a few slices on my plate and carried it back to the table where Robyn was waiting.
“Is this really what it looks like?” I asked.
Her answer was a conditional “no.” The condition was that I had to hurry back to get more because it was really good and it was just that close to the real thing: thinly sliced and supremely tender.
Even the basic seasoning was right. Nothing was missing except basturma’s thick, pungent coating of chaimen spices.
When I returned to the buffet, I spotted the label above the platter: bresaola. Any semi-sophisticated foodie would recognize that immediately. Of course, I had no clue. I did have my iPhone, but it would have cost as much as a year’s supply of basturma to get the answer at the high-seas Wi-Fi rates.
So I waited until we docked the next morning to Google-up the answer. Bresaola is Italian air-dried, salted beef fillet. Count it among the many basturma variations that have turned up wherever the peoples of the Near and Middle East have traveled, settled or conquered.
Thinking about this made me curious about where basturma came from. The short answer is that, like just about everything else on a Near Eastern table, you could wrestle up a powerful appetite while arguing about who had the idea first.

In Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction & Folklore, Irina Petrosian and David Underwood offer two common tales of basturma’s origin.

In the first, Turkic warriors from Central Asia put slabs of beef under their saddles, allowing the pressure and the horse’s perspiration to cure the meat. That’s not very appetizing, but the authors say the story is favored by many food writers because it makes basturma sound exotic.

Greeks, however, say basturma evolved from a Byzantine salt-curing method called pastron that originated in what later became the city of Kayseri. Under Ottoman rule, the Greek pastron became Turkish pastirma.

“Armenian claims to basturma are based on the fact that they were known as the most skillful basturma-makers in the Middle East,” the authors write. “In Kayseri, the Mecca of basturma, Armenians had a monopoly on the basturma business. An Armenian family name, Basturmajian, is living proof of historical meat-processing skills.”

I can’t testify to any of this, as I have no meat-processing skill. But I do have considerable basturma-eating skill, and you can trust me on this: If you’re ever in a ship in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, head for the bresaola.

You won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Two Soup Recipes from Sonia Tashjian - Ttejrik and Porani

Much to my delight, Sonia Tashjian has translated some of her recipes from Armenian into English so that they would appeal to The Armenian Kitchen readers who, like me, cannot read Armenian.
I humbly thank Sonia for her willingness to share her culinary expertise and knowledge with us!

Ttejrik - Sour Water
On these snowy days, we like to eat soups, so I'm suggesting to prepare TTEJRIK,  from Musa Dagian cuisine. “Ttejrik” means “sour water”. There are similar soups in our traditional cuisine; they are usually prepared on lent period, & especially on Maundy Thursday, for the memory of Jesus’ passion. But this soup is from Musa Dagh region & a daily one. 

To prepare the balls - combine equal amount of fine bulghur & flour (if you desire combine meat & bulghur); knead with some water & spices; prepare small balls; fry with ghee or oil. Cook the lentil, add chopped onion, potato & continue to cook; then(add) a bunch of chopped chard, tomato paste, the balls & spices (cumin, black & red pepper, salt); before serving mix crushed garlic & lemon juice.

Porani - a yogurt-based soup

The story of PORANI sounds like a legend. The king of Persian Sanasarian Khosrov (6-th C.) hadn’t a son to inherit his throne; his daughter, whose name is Porantukht, followed him. She liked matsun (yoghurt) very much; In her honor, the foods with matsun were called porani. In fact there are different kinds of PORANI's in the whole region. (Iran, Irak, Armenia, Georgia, etc...) The similarity is the using of matsun in it. In the Armenian traditional cuisine I have found & tried approx. 13-15 versions, some of them are with meat, others are with grains & the others with vegetables. 
The Persian-Armenian variety of borani is a soup. - boil 1 liter of yoghurt with an egg & 1 tablespoon of flour. - chop & cook 3 beets. - chop then finely fry 1 onion, 1 green garlic & 1 bunch of chard. - combine all, season with salt & black pepper; add some water & continue to cook 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sonia Tashjian’s Basuts Dolma – another dish to celebrate the New Year

About two years ago I posted a recipe for basooc dolma(Reminder: Armenian spellings can vary greatly!)  It’s great for vegetarians and vegans, and is a delicious preparation for Lent, which, by the way, begins on Monday, February 8th this year, according to the Armenian Church calendar.

Just the other day, my friend Sonia told be about a FB page called ‘Inside the Armenian Kitchen’. Although the name of this page is very similar to my website’s, we are not related. I was happy to see, however, that some of The Armenian Kitchen recipes and photos are featured, along with recognition to my official website.  

Sonia, with her bounty of information, has provided the following regarding another traditional Armenian food to start New Year.
Sonia Tashjian's Basuts Dolma
Sonia states:

“I recently saw a recipe posted on FB page 'Inside the Armenian Kitchen' for BASUTS DOLMA. This is a ritual, ancient food, dedicated to the gods, begging for fertility of the coming year. Basuts is prepared with all the grains that are to be sown and for the same reason, put dried fruits in it. Each region has its own variation, due to its climatic condition. 

For example, in Vayots Tsor, where the people use rose hip in their foods, the basuts dolma is cooked in the juice of rose hip. In the villages of Lake Sevan, where the weather is too cold, they cook it with a lot of seeds of hemp. In Lori, add some amount of potato puree' is added. In Marash, it is served with tahini sauce. In the villages, the dolmas are wrapped in the leaves of pickled cabbage, but in the cities, for example in Van, they use grape leaves. 

By the way, the word DOLMA came from the Urartian word DOLI = grape leaves, because at the beginning, it was wrapped only in the grape leaves.”

Sonia offers her own version of classical basuts dolma.

 Sonia Tashjian's VOSPOV (lentil) BASUTS DOLMA

 2 cups of cooked lentils
 1 cup of coarse bulghur
 3 medium onions
 1/2 cup of oil
 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
 1/2 cup of chopped mix dried fruits
 1/2 cup of raisins
 fresh parsley & coriander
 red & black pepper, salt
 peppermint & wild oregano(urts)
 marinated grape leaves

 - chop the onion, fry a little, then mix all the ingredients;
 - gently wrap in the grape leaves, then arrange in the pan;
 - pour water, until it covers the dolmas. put a dish on it, then close the lid;
 - cook until the water is absorbed.
 - let it completely cool, or else it will break into pieces.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Halva, some interesting information, and of course, recipes!

I must apologize. I’m a wee-bit late posting the following from Sonia Tashjian. She sent me a recipe for halva and related information to post before New Year’s Eve, but two other time-sensitive stories took priority.

Even though halva is a New Year’s Eve tradition for Sonia and many others, you’ll be happy to know it can be served any time of the year!

Please read what Sonia has to say about this tradition and halva variations.
A Halva assortment from Sonia Tashjian (All photos by Sonia, too!)

HALVA, as told by Sonia Tashjian

A delicious sweet of our New Year’s Eve festive table is HALVA. I do not know the exact explanation of the word, but I think & wish it had come from the word “halvel” meaning to melt). There are variations - the one with the sugar, is called “dry halva”; the second one with syrup or honey is called “wet halva”. I have also tried the variation prepared with thick sour cream (from Lori region) & the other one is from Kharput, with unsalted cheese. The Armenians from Nor Chugha (Iran) prepare theirs with dates, nuts & a pinch of saffron in it. Halva is a ritual sweet & we use to prepare it for all holidays (New Year, St. Sarkis, Barekendan, etc...). Halva is also prepared for weddings & funerals. There is a nice tradition, when the groom comes to the bride’s house, his mother in-law welcome him with halva, decorated with raisins & nuts.

Halva squares with almonds
Halva topped with raisins

Halva garnished with cinnamon
Sonia Tashjian’s Halva
1 cup of flour
½ cup of butter ghee (clarified butter)
½ cup of powdered sugar –or- simple syrup - or - honey
 Ground cardamom or cinnamon, if desired

Brown flour on low heat. Add ghee and stir until they meld. Remove from heat and mix in sweets. Immediately pour into serving pan, flatten and slice.
A variation of Halva
This one is the original version of halva from KHARBERT. It is prepared with flour or semolina or corn starch. In a skillet, stir the flour (or semolina or cornstarch) into the hot ghee (or clarified butter). Then add (shredded) unsalted cheese (or curd), then the sugar-water.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Armenian Christmas - and - the Water Blessing

Today is Armenian Christmas!

Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetsav (Christ is born and revealed among us)

Orhnial eh haydnootiunun Krisdosee (Blessed is the revelation of Christ)

The Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church has introduced a video series called “Bread & Salt: Stories from the Armenian Church.”
Der Paren performing the Water Blessing at St. David Armenian Church (Photo credit: Anna-Lusi Simonyan)
In this very timely first episode, Kathryn Ashbahian explains the symbolism of the “Water Blessing” - a service performed in the Armenian Church on January 6, the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord.

Please click here to view and enjoy this well-done, informative video.

P.S.: My husband Doug, who happens to be my favorite writer/author, shares his Christmas story here.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Blessing of Pomegranates - a New Armenian Tradition to Celebrate the New Year

The Blessing of Pomegranates

The following is an excerpt from a recent newsletter from St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton, FL.
Father Paren Galstyan blessing the pomegranates at St. David Armenian Church (photo credit: Anna-Lusi Simonyan)
'In 2015, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, blessed pomegranates in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin for the first time and established it as an annual tradition on New Year's Eve (or day).

The Pomegranate is considered by many faith traditions to be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and a symbol of abundance and life.
The custom of blessing fruits was known among the Israelites.  The Jews offered to the Temple the first harvest, which included wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey.

In nations of the East, the pomegranate is considered to be the king of all fruits, not only because of its pleasing taste and medicinal properties, but also because the top of the pomegranate resembles a crown.  Some believe that the design of ancient royal crowns was based on the pomegranate "crown".

The pomegranate has been known in the East from the 12th to the 7th centuries BC.  Because Cartagena was known for its pomegranates, the ancient Romans called the pomegranate malum punicum 'Cartagena (Phoenician) apple' and malum granatum 'granular apple'.

As a national symbol, the pomegranate has been widely used in Armenian architecture, carpet weaving, arts and crafts and manuscripts illuminated by Gregory Khlatetsi, Toros Taronatsi, Toros Roslin, and in the Haghpat and other Gospels.

In Christianity the pomegranate symbolizes the diversity of God's grace, the Church.  Just as the seeds of the pomegranate are separated by thin membranes yet held tightly together, in the same way the Christian Church holds all Christians around the world together in Christ's love; though they are separate, they are not divided.  Thus the pomegranate shows unity in diversity.

The pomegranate's crown represents Jesus' crown and His sovereignty over the entire world.  The red color symbolizes His salvific Blood that was shed for all.  The popular belief is that each one contains 365 seeds corresponding to the number of days in a year, symbolizing new life in Christ and the New Year.'

Our blessed pomegranate. It may look ordinary to you, but we know better!
Doug and I witnessed this special service and received a blessed pomegranate to bring home. You can be sure it will be used in some of our favorite recipes. (Scroll through the recipes lists on the right side of the screen - or - go to the search bar at the top of the page and type 'pomegranate' to find a variety of our recipes!) 
Pear and Pomegranate Salad
Stanley Tucci's Quinoa with Pomegranate and Pistachios
Cranberry Sauce with Pomegranate