Friday, August 19, 2016

One vegetable; two recipes – or - what to make with fresh beets!

Through the magic of FaceBook, I reconnected with a person I knew growing up, Elaine Cherekjian (now Wolfe). She was probably a teenager the last time we saw each other; I would have been somewhere in my 20’s. Although she was related to my late aunt, Arpie Vartanesian, Elaine and I weren’t related to each other.

In her first FB message to me, Elaine mentioned that her paternal grandmother, Rose Boyajian Cherekjian, was a wonderful cook, but none of her recipes were written down; they were all stored in her head, and all measurements were either a pinch, dash, or eye-balled (achkee chop). Sound familiar?

I told Elaine she wasn’t alone. Most of our grandmothers’ recipes weren’t written down.

In her latest communication, Elaine wrote:
“I was making this Armenian rice dish and decided to write the recipe down. This recipe came from my Grandma Rose.  She would make shallaboor in the summer time and serve it cold.  She would buy beets with their greens, cut off the beets and make a wonderful beet salad.  The tops of the beets were then used to make this delicious rice dish called Shallaboor. These two recipes were always made together so I included both recipes.”

A sincere 'Thank You' goes out to Elaine (and her grandmother), for sharing these recipes with us!
Two Cherekjian family recipes: Shallaboor, left and Beet Salad, right (Photos courtesy of Elaine Cherekjian-Wolfe)  
Shallaboor - A rice and beet greens recipe

Beet tops roughly chopped about 1 1/2 inch squares
1/2 cup chopped onions
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic chopped
1/2 cup long grain white rice
1/3 cup of tomato sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups water
Salt to taste

Mix everything together. Add the water last.  Cook on high and then lower quickly when the pot gets hot (must watch the pot or else it will scorch the bottom of the pot).  Simmer on low until rice is done about 20-30 minutes. Stir once about 10 minutes into sometimes sticks to the bottom. Serve warm or cold.
Elaine stated that her grandmother used to add the garlic after the rice mixture was cooked.  Since Elaine likes her garlic a little more subtle, she cooks it.

Beet Salad

3-4 beets cooked (see directions below) until done...peeled; slice into quarters and then into 1/8 inch slices
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Mix all ingredients together. That’s it!

How to boil fresh beets:
(Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Kitchens)

1 1/2 pounds beets, trimmed
2 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar

Place the beets in a large saucepan and add water to cover and the lemon juice or vinegar. This will help to keep the beets from bleeding. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Place pot under running cold water;  rinse until beets can be handled. The skins can now be easily peeled off the beets.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Zucchini Boats stuffed with Lamb

Our south Florida neighbors, Marilyn and David, have a summer place in upstate NY just about an hour from where Doug and I are staying. We met them for lunch on a gorgeous afternoon last week at Frank Guido's Port of Call Restaurant overlooking the scenic Hudson River. 
Summer squash and one giant zucchini!
They brought us a bag of summer squash and one zucchini larger than any I’d ever seen – a gift from their friend's bumper crop. As we thanked them for their thoughtfulness, I was already thinking about what to make with the giant zucchini.

Doug and I had ordered 2 legs of locally sourced American lamb from Heather Ridge Farms for one of the upcoming pre-wedding gatherings. When we picked up our lamb, we found packages of freshly ground lamb in the refrigerated case. This would certainly become the main stuffing ingredient for our giant zucchini. The rest of the recipe was easy to imagine – zucchini boats stuffed with lamb! (Click here to see an earlier post for my veggie-stuffed zucchini boats.)

Zucchini Boats stuffed with lamb
Zucchini Boats stuffed with Lamb
Yield: 2 entrée servings or 4 side dish portions  

 1 extra large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise  
 1 tablespoon olive oil  
 1 medium onion, chopped  
 2 cloves garlic, chopped  
 1 pound ground lamb  
 Kosher salt to taste  
 ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp. ground coriander 
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. dried mint, crushed, optional  
 2 Tbsp. tomato paste, diluted in ¼ cup water 
 1/4 cup pine nuts  
 2 cups or 1-16 ounce can of diced tomatoes with the juice (for baking)- divided
 Garnish options: 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese - or - 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 


1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
Zucchini scooped using a grapefruit spoon which has sharp, jagged edges.

2. Using a spoon, melon baller, or grapefruit spoon, remove the seeds of each zucchini half; discard seeds. Carefully scoop out some of the pulp from the zucchini, leaving about a half-inch shell. Finely chop zucchini pulp and set aside until ready to cook.

Ground lamb from Heather Ridge Farms
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic in hot oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add ground lamb; cook, stirring often, until lamb is no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain excess lamb grease. Stir in chopped zucchini pulp and diluted tomato paste to the lamb mixture. 
NOTE: I had a leftover grilled tomato and red pepper, so I took the liberty of adding those to the filling, too!
Lamb filling for zucchini boats
Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer mixture until the zucchini begins to soften about 3 minutes. Season mixture with salt, black pepper, ground coriander, allspice and dried mint, if using.

4. Remove skillet from heat. add pine nuts to lamb mixture. Spoon mixture into the zucchini halves.
Ready to bake.
5. Pour one cup of the diced tomatoes and some juice into a baking dish to coat the bottom. Place the stuffed zucchini halves on top of the tomatoes in the baking dish. Pour the rest of the tomatoes and juice over the zucchini halves.

6. In a preheated oven, bake, covered with foil, for 30- 35 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake another 10 minutes, or until zucchini is tender and tops are golden brown.

Optional Garnishes: Crumbled Feta cheese -or- Parmesan cheese.
If using either of these options, bake zucchini boats for 30 - 35 minutes as stated above, then sprinkle zucchini tops with either the crumbled Feta cheese - or - Parmesan cheese; bake, uncovered another 10 minutes or until the zucchini is tender and tops are golden brown.

Serve with a side of rice or bulgur pilaf and salad to complete the meal, if desired.

Monday, August 1, 2016

How to make Midia Dolma using pre-cooked, frozen mussels with their shells, packed in brine ...

Our summer in the Catskill Mountains, to date, has been glorious and relaxing – well, up to a point. Remember, there is a wedding taking place near the end of August and we're busy with that. 

As mentioned in a previous post, grocery stores are few and far between in this region, and Armenian-Middle Eastern stores are even more elusive. We were able to secure a few items in town – Bulgarian Feta cheese, pine nuts, currants, and even jars of grape leaves. My sister and brother-in-law, thankfully, drove up from NJ to visit, bringing my shopping list of Armenian items – various sizes of bulgur, basturma, chorag, apricot leather, lahmajoun, and such.

Mandy, the bride-to-be, has requested that Midia Dolma be served at one of the pre-wedding gatherings. Problem – where do we find mussels in the mountains? Problem solved – at a grocers in Catskill, NY, about 40 minutes away. BUT, they’re not fresh; they’re in their shells, pre-cooked and frozen in brine. We bought what we could find.

We were forced to experiment in advance by altering our recipe for Easy Midia Dolma and crossed our fingers that it would be edible.

Here’s what transpired: 
The final product!
Midia Dolma (using frozen, cooked mussels in brine, in their shells)
Yield: about 30 pieces

Main Ingredient:
The mussels I used

1 - 1lb. pkg. frozen, cooked mussels in their shells packed in brine

Directions for the Mussels:

According to the manufacturer, the mussels are to be heated from the frozen state as follows:

A. Stovetop: empty contents of pouch into a saucepan and cover. Heat on high until mussels open, about 8-10 minutes. 
Cooked and drained

B. Microwave: cut a small hole in pouch. Place pouch in microwave with the hole facing upward. Heat until mussels open, about 5-6 minutes.

NOTE: Since there was no  mention of what power level to use for the microwave, I cooked the mussels on the stove and they came out great.
Once cooked, I removed the beards, and strained the mussel liquid through coffee filters into a bowl adding enough water to create one cup of cooking liquid for the rice.

Ingredients for the Filling:

1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
½ cup rice
1 cup water (or a combination of mussel liquid and water to yield 1 cup)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. allspice or to taste
½ tsp. cinnamon or to taste
½ cup dried currants
1/2 cup pine nuts
Juice of one-half lemon
Garnish: Lemon wedges

Midia filling
1. In a medium saucepan, sauté onion in oil until softened, but not brown.
2. Add rice and water to the onion. Add seasonings. Mix. Cover and cook until rice is tender (about 15-20 minutes).
3. Stir in currants and pine nuts to cooked rice. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.
4. Add lemon juice to the mixture.
5. Place about 2 tsp. of filling on each mussel. Arrange on a serving platter. 
Mussel shells being stuffed
6. Cover and chill until ready to serve. For best flavor, make a day in advance.
7. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Taste Evaluation: Mandy, our main critic, gave this version of Midia Dolma an enthusiastic 2 thumbs-up!!