Friday, July 28, 2017

Florida Watermelon Slices with Balsamic Syrup, Mint Oil, and Feta Cheese

Confession: I cannot take credit for the following recipe.

As a resident of Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve community, I am often able to purchase locally-grown ingredients directly from the farmers' fields. In addition, a wonderful website, ‘Fresh from Florida’ provides some great recipes in which to utilize their home-grown dandies!

With our incredible summer heat, I’m always looking for something to serve that's tasty, refreshing, and doesn't require much - or any - cooking. 

To me, summer is synonymous with watermelon. Served plain or fancy, it's the way to go! 

Watermelon is a refreshing fruit on any given day, but sometimes it’s nice to jazz it up. So, today, I share with you ‘Fresh from Florida’s’ Watermelon with Mint Oil, Balsamic Syrup and Feta Cheese.

If Florida watermelons aren’t available near you, use whatever watermelon is sold in your neighborhood.

Florida Watermelon with Balsamic Syrup, Mint Oil, and Feta Cheese (Photo from 'Fresh from Florida')

Florida Watermelon Slices with Balsamic Syrup, Mint Oil, and Feta Cheese

6-12 slices of fresh Florida watermelon
4-6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Mint Oil:
1/2 cup olive oil
20-25 fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Sea salt to taste

**Balsamic Vinegar Syrup:
1 ½ cups balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons natural Florida sugar

**Robyn’s Note: Commercially prepared Balsamic Reduction may be substituted for the balsamic vinegar syrup. It contains the same ingredients as the balsamic vinegar syrup recipe, but without the work!

Watermelon Slices:
Arrange slices of watermelon on individual plates or a large platter. Drizzle small amounts of mint oil and balsamic syrup over the watermelon slices. Add the crumbled feta cheese to the top of the sliced melon. Serve cold. 

Mint Oil: Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. 

Balsamic Vinegar Syrup:

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine vinegar and sugar. Bring ingredients to a boil and turn down the heat so the vinegar won't boil over. Continue to cook for about 20 minutes until the syrup coats the back of a spoon. You should end up with about 1/3 of a cup of syrup. Let cool to room temperature. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Grilled Zucchini with Za’atar

Summer means it’s time for bumper crops of seasonal vegetables – zucchini, tomatoes, you name it!

Here’s a quick and tasty recipe to help use an overflow of zucchini. This recipe can be made on an outdoor grill, indoor panini-style grill, a stove top grill pan, or broiled in the oven. The cooking method is entirely up to you.

This is an excellent accompaniment for grilled meat, poultry or fish. Add a salad and pilaf to round-out the meal!  
Grilled zucchini with za'atar, ready to serve

Grilled Zucchini with Za’atar
Serves 4 


2 to 3 medium-sized zucchini, washed and cut on a diagonal about ½ inch thick

2 to 4 Tbsp. za'atar, or to taste (Note: Za'atar can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores - or homemade)

2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, depending on the amount of zucchini you use

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish options: chopped parsley, crumbled Feta, diced tomatoes

Diagonally cut zucchini
1. Place cut zucchini in a large bowl, coat evenly with olive oil, za’atar, salt and pepper to taste.
Zucchini coated with olive oil, za'atar, salt and pepper
2. Select your method of cooking. Grill/cook/broil for about 6 to 8 minutes in all, turning halfway through, or until zucchini is browned and tender.
Zucchini cooking in a stove-top grill pan
NOTE: If grilling outdoors, cook on medium-low heat. If cooking in a stovetop grill pan, use medium heat. If using a panini-style grill, there’s no need to turn the zucchini, as it cooks the food on both sides at once!

Garnish as desired.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Just in time for summer - Christine Datian’s latest recipe from The Armenian Mirror-Spectator: Garbanzo Bean and Pepper Pies with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce

Christine’s timing is impeccable! Just as I was trying to decide what recipe to post this week, she emailed me her latest recipe submission for The Armenian Mirror-Spectator and asked if I’d be able to post it.

I am always delighted to share Christine's recipes. In fact, I am happy to share favorite Armenian family recipes from any of my readers - hint, hint!

This recipe can be oven-baked or made on a grill. Either way, it's one we hope you'll enjoy! 

Garbanzo Bean and Pepper Pies with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce
By Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 4.

4 pocket-less pitas, any variety
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 small white onion, minced
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 each medium green and red bell pepper, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon each paprika, sea or Kosher salt, and black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Olive oil

Serving Options: Crumbled Feta cheese, sliced red onions, roasted red peppers, lemon wedges

Yogurt Cucumber Sauce Ingredients:
2 cups plain yogurt
3 medium Persian cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
Juice of one large lemon and the zest
Salt, black pepper and dried dill to taste
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Preheat oven to 375°F. (** Too hot to turn on your oven? See grilling instructions below.)

Prepare the sauce: Combine all ingredients for the Yogurt Cucumber Sauce in a medium glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare Garbanzo-Pepper topping: In a food processor or bowl, mash the garbanzo beans until soft; add the onion, tomato, bell pepper, tomato paste, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil, and mix to combine.  Add the parsley, and season to taste.

Place the pitas on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread about 1/4 cup of the bean- pepper mixture to cover each pita; drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Bake pitas for 10-12 minutes or until crisp and golden brown, and remove from oven.

Serve with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce.

To serve: Top pitas with crumbled Feta cheese, sliced red onions, and roasted red peppers, if desired, and fresh lemon wedges on the side.

** Grilling option:
Prepare bean-pepper topping and yogurt sauce ahead of time.
Lightly oil the grill grates. Turn grill on to medium-high. Lightly brush olive oil on each pita; spread garbanzo-pepper topping on each, covering the surface.
Place the pitas on grill grate; close grill cover and grill for about 5 minutes. Check periodically to make sure pita crusts aren’t burning. Serve immediately with yogurt sauce and optional toppings.

*Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee Newspaper, Sunset Magazine, Cooking Light Magazine, and at

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sweet or Savory Cherry Compote

Sweet, dark cherries, and my cherry pitting tool
I bought a cherry pitting tool; don’t ask me why. But since it was sitting in my kitchen drawer and I’d just bought a ton of sweet cherries, I felt compelled to use it.

Without thinking, I began pitting the cherries without wearing food-handling gloves or spreading newspaper on the counter. My fingers, counter, and everything within 2 feet of my work space was spattered with the prettiest cherry juice color.

Once I cleaned up the mess, I decided it was just plain easier to use a good-old paring knife to pit cherries - while wearing gloves, protecting the work space, and wearing an apron. 

My plan for these cherries was to make a compote. (Definition of 'compote' from ‘Food Lover’s Companion’: a chilled dish of fresh or dried fruit that has been slowly cooked in a sugar syrup - which may contain liquor or liqueur, and some spices.) 

Here are two cherry compote variations – one is sweet to serve as part of a dessert, the other savory, to serve as a meat or poultry accompaniment.
Sweet Cherry Compote over Greek-style plain yogurt

Sweet Cherry Compote
4 cups of pitted, halved cherries
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
3 to 4 Tbsp. white sugar, depending on sweetness of cherries
2 teaspoons water
a pinch salt

Note: A sprinkle of cinnamon, cardamom, or a few drops of liqueur will add a nice touch to this!  

Step #1
1. Heat the cherries, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until cherries are tender and sauce is thickened. (The sauce should coat the spoon.)

2. Stir in salt, and if using spices and/or liqueur, add it here. Heat gently for 2 to 3 minutes more to incorporate the additional flavorings. 
Ready-to-serve compote

Serve warm or cold over plain cake, vanilla ice cream, or plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt.

Savory Cherry Compote:

For a savory cherry compote to serve with roasted or grilled meat or poultry, follow the above recipe with these changes:

Use less sugar, or omit it completely, add 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary to the cherries as they cook, and finally, add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (optional) and black pepper after compote is removed from the heat.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

An Armenian-inspired menu for a very American Fourth of July celebration!

Clean your grills; it's time to prepare for the Fourth of July!

Instead of serving the usual hamburgers and potato salad, why not celebrate America’s independence with their Armenian-inspired counterparts instead? Your family and guests will thank you for it!

Entrée: Lule Kebab (seasoned ground lamb shaped like a sausage) with Yogurt-Garlic Sauce
Side Dish: Nanny’s Armenian Potato Salad (no mayonnaise needed!)
Dessert: Watermelon with Armenian string cheese and fresh mint

Grilled lule kebab and vegetables.

Yields 5 or 6 kebabs - enough for 2 to 3 people (NOTE: You can double the ingredient amounts for a larger crowd.)

1 and 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 Tablespoon tomato paste - or - red pepper paste (available in Middle Eastern stores - or- tomato paste mixed with a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika may be substituted for the red pepper paste.)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste


**Gently mix all of the ingredients with salt and pepper (see note below) and shape the kebabs like sausages -- you don't have to get fancy or worry about making them perfect, but try to keep the thickness about the same so they cook evenly. 
(If you’d rather keep these hamburger-shaped, by all means, do so.)

Cook on the grill until done - which, to us, means well done, or about 15 minutes in all. Since these aren’t flat burgers, turn them periodically so they’ll cook through.

**NOTE: To check the seasonings, make a mini-kebab and cook it in a frying pan.

Tip: Toss some tomatoes, peppers and onions in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Grill them along with the kebabs. Serve with a salad and the pilaf of your choice.
Serve with lavash or pita bread, onions and parsley, and yogurt-garlic sauce on the side, if you like.


16 oz. plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt to taste

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well.
2. Chill until ready to serve, allowing flavors to blend. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

NOTE: If you want a thicker sauce, use Greek yogurt or labne - or - line a strainer with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Place the strainer over a bowl. Pour the yogurt into the lined strainer and place all in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Discard the excess liquid that collected in the bowl, and place the thickened yogurt in a separate storage container. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Armenian Potato Salad (Photo courtesy of Sonia Tashjian)

Yield: Serves 4
This recipe can easily be doubled.

1 to 1 1/2 lbs. potatoes, boiled, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp. red pepper paste, diluted with a little water (Note: Tomato paste mixed with a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika may be substituted for the red pepper paste.)
cumin, allspice, salt and pepper, to taste
about 2 Tbsp. olive oil
lemon juice, optional

1. In a small bowl, mix the red pepper paste with a little water to thin it out. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, parsley, diluted red pepper paste, and seasonings. Add olive oil; gently toss. Adjust seasonings, if needed. Add a little lemon juice, if desired.
3. Serve at room temperature, or chilled.

Watermelon with Armenian string cheese

For an effortless dessert, serve seedless watermelon – sliced or cubed. Served with Armenian string cheese or Feta cheese, garnished with chopped fresh mint, if you like. 
NOTE: Armenian string cheese is sold in Middle Eastern stores and in some Whole Foods stores.