Sunday, November 27, 2016

'Beans-leaf Soup': Two suggested recipes, but is either one the real deal?

Whenever I receive a recipe request that leaves me baffled, I research my printed resources. When that fails, I ask readers for help. When I get no responses, I seek help from two of my trusted culinary consultants: Sonia Tashjian in Armenia and Ara Kassabian in California.

You might recall a request I posted from Linda D, who wrote: “I am looking for a soup recipe my grandmother made that was a favorite of mine. We called it Beans-leaf soup. The soup was chicken stock with onion and yogurt and prunes. The beans leaves were wrapped around farina-like dumplings that were about the size of a woman's small finger. That's all I can remember. Does anyone have the recipe? Thank you!”

Knowing very little about the recipe, or where Linda’s grandmother came from, made this effort rather tricky.

Neither Sonia nor Ara knew of such a recipe, but, boy, did each of them come up with interesting suggestions!

We don't know if either suggestion hits the mark. It's up to Linda to let us know. 

Sonia’s background: Sonia is currently living in Yerevan, Armenia. She has had a TV cooking program, although she insists she’s not a cook. Sonia has spent many years studying and researching all about Armenian traditional cuisine, gathering whatever information and traditional recipes she could from the various villages.  She is in the process of preparing a dictionary of Armenian foods.

Sonia's Tbuk Kyofta
Sonia’s suggested recipe:

"I guess that the recipe is TBUK KYOFTA from Digranakert's (Diarbekir) traditional cuisine, a mix one. Let me describe it, TBUK comes from the word TUB (which) is a common name given to grape leaves.

It's a soup - its whole name is TTABUR & TBUK KYOFTA: ttabur means ttu = sour + abur = soup. So it must be sour, & I think that her grandma had prepared it with matsun, added dried plum (as in aveluk or in other soups, in lent dolma, etc...) to make it sour.

The ingredients of ttabur are - spinach or chard leaves, coarse bulghur, lemon juice, chopped & fried onion. First cook the leaves & bulghur in water, add the lemon juice & fried onion, set aside.

The ingredients of tbuk kyofta are - drained chickpeas, flour, salt, black & red pepper, mint.  Grind the chickpeas, mix the flour & spices, prepare flat & round circles, dipped in extra flour & cook in salty water.

Then add the kyoftas in the soup, boil it & serve.

I have prepared it once; it might be like this:
The dumplings might be the kyoftas, (KOLOLAK).
The bean leaves might be (used) instead of chard leaves.
Matsun & plum might be used instead of lemon juice.

Of course this is only a (guess); it's my opinion. I suppose it looks like the soup that I suggested.
I will not be surprised, if one day, we discover that grandma's recipe in the books....
who knows????"

Here’s Ara’s contribution:

He wrote: "I read the post on your blog but I have never heard of anything remotely like it. The closest thing is the recipe for "Caesaria manti" (kaiserli manti or bokhcha manti in Turkish), which is the version of manti that resembles tortellini and is cooked as a soup in tomato sauce.

The recipe does have familiar elements: the use of yogurt, prunes, and the fact that the dumplings are wrapped in a vegetable leaf. My guess is that it is a local village recipe, which is very exciting. I am guessing the dumplings were prepared separately and added to the broth at the last minute in order to prevent them from falling apart.

The trick is this: if you wrap anything in leaves and drop it in a boiling soup, the package is going to unwrap. However, if you wrap grain (say, bulgur) in bean leaves, stack them up neatly in a pot, pour water over it, and cook, you could then serve it in a shallow bowl with lots of broth and yogurt. To someone unused to Armenian dishes, it would look like a soup. So, my guess is that your reader was describing sarma/tolma made with bean leaves (or possibly grape leaves; she may not have known) and bulgur.

Although grape, cabbage, and Swiss chard leaves are most commonly used to make tolma, people used to make them with other edible leaves, like strawberry, beet, and, apparently, bean leaves, which are indeed edible (thank you Wikipedia). Also, prunes and other dried fruit are commonly used instead of tomatoes as a sweet/sour agent in tolmas outside Cilicia.

Even in Cilicia, you use tomatoes in leaf tolmas sparingly. My mother never used tomato when stuffing grape leaves (though she did use it for chard leaf tolmas). And, since there was onion in the broth and since the reader referred to the dumplings as "farina-like", I am guessing the stuffing was bulgur. Usually, you use the large size of bulgur for tolma. 

Possibly, the reader's grandmother ran out or else she preferred to use the smaller size--or the reader could not tell the difference. Postulating that the dish is tolma also explains the size: bean leaves are small and any tolmas made with them will be, indeed, the size of a woman's small finger (though, if her grandmother was a good cook, she would have made all her tolmas that size, with the exception of cabbage tolma).

So, here is my postulated recipe:

2 cups #2 or #4 bulgur
1 small onion, minced finely
1/2 cup chick peas, cooked (or from a can), peeled and split (ha ha, yes you can!)
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped finely (optional)
1/4 cup golden sour prunes, pitted and chopped finely
1/4 cup olive oil (or less, to taste)
Salt, pepper, Aleppo red pepper (or smoky paprika, or a mix of red pepper powder)
1 tsp dried basil (I am guessing on this one; you can use other herbs, like tarragon or dill). If you use fresh herbs, increase the amount.
1 cup water

Bean leaves from the garden (good luck finding them in a store). Choose them young and as round as possible. Cut out any big veins (though I doubt bean leaves have large veins).
You could substitute with grape leaves, fresh or brined, strawberry leaves, etc. I think this recipe would do well with chard leaves as well.

Water, to cover (see below)
Juice from half a juicy lemon
A handful of golden sour prunes
1 onion, sliced in thin crescents
1/4 cup olive oil or more, enough to cover the bottom of the pot

1-2 cups of yogurt (pick one that is thickened naturally, without tapioca, pectin, or starch)
1-2 teaspoons mashed garlic (or to taste). This is optional.

Prepare the stuffing by frying the minced onions in the olive oil until they are caramelized. Add the rest of the ingredients minus the chickpeas and the water. Stir fry until well coated. Add the water and par-boil the stuffing (it should be al dente to slightly crunchy). Add the chick peas at the last minute and stir them in gently to avoid breaking them apart.

If the leaves are tough (should not be if they are bean leaves), blanch them in boiling water. Remove the large veins, if any.

Take a large, rather flat pot and set it on the fire. The pot should be wide enough to hold all the stuffed tolmas when arranged in a wheel. You are going to stack them up and you should have no more than 8 or 10 layers.

Add the olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the sliced onions and the prunes. Fry them a bit until the edges of the onions start to turn brown. Remove from the fire and keep at hand.

Place a bean leaf on a cutting board and add a teaspoon of stuffing. Arrange the stuffing in a thin line and wrap the stuffing. There is a trick to doing this and I suggest checking out YouTube videos if you have never done it before. There is also a gadget that makes them, but I don't know if it would work with something as delicate and small as bean leaves.
Place the stuffed packages in a wheel pattern in the pot, placing them right next to each other to prevent them from moving while cooking. Add water to just barely cover. Squeeze the lemon. Add an inverted plate on top to keep the pile firmly in place. Drizzle more olive oil. For extra credit, you can arrange a layer of bean leaves at the very bottom of the pot (you are not going to eat them, so you can use the ones that were torn or had a lot of veins, etc.).

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for about half an hour or until the leaves and the stuffing are cooked (no more than 45 minutes, at a guess).
Let it rest for a bit, then gently pour out the broth, holding the tolmas in place with the inverted plate. Place a wide flat plate on top of the pot, invert the whole thing onto the plate (this is why the pot has to be flat, so you have no more than an inch or two between the top of the tolmas and the lip of the pot).

Make the dip by mixing the mashed garlic and salt into the yogurt. If you don't use garlic, then just beat the yogurt until it is smooth.

Serve in shallow bowls with lots of broth and a dollop of dip on top. Alternatively, you can mix the yogurt with the broth and heat GENTLY, stopping short of boiling in order to avoid curdling the yogurt.

P.S. All amounts are estimated, so some experimentation may be necessary."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Two Easy Recipes for Your Thanksgiving Table!

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just days away. If you haven’t finalized your menu here are two easy recipes you might like to prepare for your loved ones this year.

The first, Cucumber, Onion, and Chili Salad, is from Christine Datian, her latest recipe to appear in The Armenian Mirror - Spectator.

The second, Eggplant Pomegranate Relish, is best made a day or two in advance for a more flavor-packed punch! It’s great as an appetizer, or as an accompaniment to your meal.

Christine Datian's Cucumber, Onion, and Chili Salad
Cucumber, Onion, and Chili Salad
By Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 4.

3 medium cucumbers, peeled, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2-3 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 medium red or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
Toasted almonds or sesame seeds (optional)


Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss with the rice wine vinegar and sesame oil.  Taste to check seasonings. 
 Cover and chill overnight or 2-3 hours before serving. Transfer to a serving dish or platter and sprinkle with toasted almonds or sesame seeds, if desired.

*Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee, Sunset and Cooking Light Magazines, and at
*For Christine’s recipes that have been published in Sunset and Cooking Light Magazines, go to:

Eggplant Pomegranate Relish (Photo Source:
Eggplant Pomegranate Relish
Yields about 3 cups

1/4 cup Olive oil
3 small eggplants, unpeeled and cubed
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz. can plain tomato sauce
3 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. Aleppo red pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. dried mint, crushed
Garnish: ¼ cup pomegranate seeds, optional


In a large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat just until it shimmers. Add cubed eggplant. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 7 minutes. Add more oil, if necessary during cooking.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions; cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add minced garlic, and cook one minute more.

Add tomato sauce, pomegranate molasses, and Aleppo and cayenne peppers. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir.

Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Stir often until mixture thickens.

Remove from heat; stir in the dried mint. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Cover and refrigerate.

To Serve: Heat thoroughly and garnish with pomegranate seeds just before serving, if desired.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Love lahmajoun? You can make you own, but don't try to steal ours!

For many of us in America, lahmajoun is our go-to model of Armenian food.

We love basturma, we devour pilaf, we argue about the thousand-and-one  ways to marinate lamb. But when it comes to time to show off our favorite cuisine to odars, we pop a few “Armenian pizzas” in the oven.

When it’s done right, the crust is soft enough to fold but still crunchy around the edges. The meat mixture picks up heat from the seasonings and sweetness from the chopped peppers. Add a squeeze of lemon for a bit of tang, then double the fun by sprinkling on the traditional mix of parsley and onion slices.

No plates or utensils are necessary. Just wrap it up and chew. It’s all the good stuff quite literally rolled into one, which is why everyone loves lahmajun.

Who knew that would turn out to be a problem of international proportions?

Our friend Lucine Kasbarian recently alerted us to news reports that lahmajoun's growing popularity has touched off the latest food fight between Armenia and Turkey.

Armenia, it turns out, has been promoting lahmajoun as a showcase delight from our national cuisine. Turkish television reacted indignantly when lahmajoun turned up on a couple of restaurant menus in Russia labeled as an Armenian specialty.

Turkey insists that lahmacun (Turkish spelling) is a Turkish creation. Several regions in Turkey claim its origin, including Gaziantep and Sanliurfa. Armenians have as much trouble swallowing that explanation as they do in recognizing the modernized names of Aintab and Urfa.

We could settle this now by simply declaring that lahmajun is Armenian, but that might be considered poor table manners by many of our friends and neighbors.

The book Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction and Folk Lore notes that lahmajoun was introduced to present-day Armenia (where it’s called lahmajo) in the 1960s by repatriates from Aleppo, Syria. We can presume their families brought the tradition to Syria as survivors from Dikranagerd and other cities in Western Armenia but we can’t be sure.

We do know that variations on lahmajoun are popular not only among Syrians but Lebanese, who call it lahm bi ajin. The name suggests Arabic origins: lahm (meat) and ayin (bread). (Thanks to scholar Vartan Matiossian for adding that footnote to the original story from Al-Monitor.)

Where does that leave us? It would be accurate to say it leaves me hungry for lahmajun. But that’s a bit too flip considering the serious implications of this controversy, as well as its historical context.

The common ingredients and similar names of so many dishes from the Balkans to the Middle East have long provoked curiosity as well as arguments among devotees. In recent years, those disputes have turned serious as various countries have sought legal validation for their claims. 

There’s huge money at stake in Greece’s claim to feta cheese, for example, or the dispute between Lebanon and Israel over hummus. For Armenians, the stakes are often more emotional than financial—especially when the challenge comes from Turkey.

Consider that lahmajun may well have been created in an oven in Urfa, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an Armenian’s oven. Who could prove it now? The historic Armenian quarter of Urfa was reduced to rubble by German artillery under Ottoman command in 1915. The Armenians who lived there were destroyed along with their homes and hearths.

Lost culinary lore might seem a minor dimension of the Armenian Genocide, but it’s just one aspect of the immense cultural devastation that Armenians continue to suffer from. Survivors often escaped with little more than memories, and the memories of their familiar foods were among the most valuable.

Regardless of who invented lahmajoun, it was important to the Armenians who made the journey to and from Aleppo. I’ll remember them, and thank them, the next time I eat it. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Looking for a hearty soup to serve this winter? Try Lentil Soup with Meatballs!

I can’t take credit for this particular recipe, but I’ll happily share my source, and my rendition.

The source: The Washington Post featured this recipe which was adapted from “Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share” by Kathy Gunst (Chronicle Books, 2016).

See my rendition below: This recipe sounded so enticing, I just had to make it. By adding a few of my own ingredient preferences, and tweaking it here and there, the dish became more personal. 
Serve it with crusty bread and that’s all you and your tummy will need for a very satisfying meal!
Lentil Soup with Meatballs, ready to serve!
Lentil Soup with Meatballs
Easily yields 8 servings

Soup Ingredients:
1 large onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large clove minced garlic
1/2 tsp. dried Italian herb blend, or to taste
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and Aleppo red pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh mushroom, wiped clean and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch circles
1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1- 14.5 oz. can (no-salt-added) crushed or diced tomatoes, with their juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
6 cups chicken broth or stock, commercially prepared or homemade
1/2 cup packed chopped fresh parsley

Meatball Ingredients:
1-lb. ground turkey, lamb, or beef
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp. dried Italian herb blend
1 large egg, beaten
½ crumbled feta cheese, optional
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and Aleppo red pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Garnish options:
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Crumbled feta cheese

How to make the Soup:
Lentil soup simmering on the stove.
Gently heat the olive oil in a large pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes; add the dried herb blend, season lightly with salt and both peppers, and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and carrots; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add the lentils, tomatoes with their juices, and tomato paste, stirring until all the ingredients in the pot are coated. Increase the heat to high, add the chicken stock or broth and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to low and add the parsley. Partially cover; cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

How to make the Meatballs:
Shaped meatballs, ready to cook
Meanwhile, line a plate with paper towels and set aside.
Combine the ground meat (I used ground turkey), garlic, dried herb blend, egg, feta cheese (if using), bread crumbs and a sprinkling of salt, black pepper, and Aleppo red pepper in a medium bowl. With clean hands, gently mix the ingredients until well-combined. Form 3/4-inch to 1-inch sized meatballs until meat mixture is used up. Mine yielded 35 meatballs.
Browning the meatballs before adding to soup
Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the meatballs making sure not to crowd them. If necessary, cook in small batches. Cook meatballs on all sides for about 5 minutes until evenly browned. 
(Please note: The meatballs will not be thoroughly cooked at this point.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Finishing the Soup:
Meatballs and soup simmering harmoniously!
After the soup has cooked for 45 minutes, add the browned meatballs. Partially cover and cook for another 30 to 45 minutes or until the lentils and carrots are tender and the meatballs are cooked through. Stir now and then.
Taste; adjust seasonings if needed. If the soup thickens too much, add a bit more liquid and heat for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

Serving the Soup:

Ladle the soup into individual bowls; garnish with parsley and/or the feta cheese, if desired. Serve with crusty bread on the side!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Recipe Search: Trying to track down a soup recipe lovingly called 'Beans-Leaf Soup'. Can anyone help?

Linda D. made a recipe request which, quite frankly, has me stumped. Her recollection, being a bit vague, is making the hunt challenging. I’ve scoured my resources, and sent messages to my go-to foodie contacts in Los Angeles and Yerevan. While I continue to search, and hopefully receive more details from Linda, I am reaching out to you in the hunt for her lost family recipe.

Here is the description Linda provided:

“I am looking for a soup recipe my grandmother made that was a favorite of mine. We called it Beans-leaf soup. The soup was chicken stock with onion and yogurt and prunes. The beans leaves were wrapped around farina-like dumplings that were about the size of a woman's small finger. That's all I can remember. Does anyone have the recipe? Thank you!”

If Linda’s recipe rings anyone’s bell, please email me:

Once the recipe has been found, and I hope it will be, it can be posted for eternity!

Thanks, everyone!