Tuesday, January 23, 2018

St. Sarkis Day - Armenia’s version of St. Valentine’s Day

St. Sarkis Day is this Saturday, January 27! 
Not familiar with this celebration? It’s Valentine’s Day -Armenia style.

Click here to read all about St. Sarkis, the warrior, and a special tradition young adults in Armenia follow to find that someone special.   

Please take time to watch this sweet, 7- minute, made-in-Armenia film, 'Paper Valentine or Happy St. Sargis Day', depicting their St. Sarkis (Valentine) tradition.

Some traditional recipes prepared to mark this special occasion are Sonia Tashjian's Kumba Cake, Aghablit - Salty Wafers, and St. Sarkis Halva, a recipe from the mother of Armand Sahakian of Nory Locum

Salty wafers aside, Kumba cake and St. Sarkis Halva will make this day especially sweet!

Sonia Tashjian's Kumba Cake
The Armenian Kitchen's Aghablit - or - Salty Wafers
Mrs. Sahakian's St. Sarkis Halva

Friday, January 19, 2018

I was wrong in thinking a bit of bad news would spoil my appetite for dolma. Really, nothing could!

I’ve been slacking in my consumption of Armenian coffee lately, so I’m moving slowly. That’s the best excuse I have for not writing sooner about Azerbaijan’s claim to victory over Armenia in the quest for international dolma supremacy.

Stuffed grape leaves, also known as sarma, yalanchi, yaprakh ...
Our friend Lucine Kasbarian passed along news a few weeks back that UNESCO, the UN’s cultural arm, had included Azerbaijani dolma on its cultural heritage list. I replied at the time that it's a good thing I didn’t read her email before dinner or I’d have lost my appetite.

I’m ready to argue with anyone who thinks dolma isn’t Armenian, although I’ve more often argued with Armenians who have different ideas about dolma.
The Armenian Kitchen's Eggplant dolma
When Mom said she was cooking dolma for dinner, I expected stuffed baby eggplants. Sometimes she’d stuff peppers, too, or zucchini or even cucumbers. Armenians will stuff just about any vegetable fat enough to be hollowed out and small enough to be tucked in a pot and covered in broth.

It’s all good, and its even better the next day.

The dolma Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tussling over in recent years  is the stuffed grape leaf variety, which no one I knew called dolma. It was sarma or yalanchi or yaprakh or . . . well, the list just seems to go on.  

Don’t bother to tell me that this name is Turkish or that one’s Arabic, or that the Greeks call their version dolmades while the Persians call theirs dolmeh. As I said, it’s all good.  

So I’m not going to get into a stew about Azerbaijan’s boast but I do think the outcome raises an important point for Armenians to consider before we move on to the next dispute over culinary origins—and make no mistake: there will surely be a next dispute.

Simply put, international recognition can be both sweet and sour.

After all, Armenians celebrated this same group’s recognition of lavash as an Armenian heritage food just a few years ago. Reading through the cultural heritage list, it’s clear to me that the honors aren’t necessarily based on science.

Read the text closely and you’ll see that UNESCO does not conclude that Azeris invented dolma. It basically recognizes dolma’s rolling-and-stuffing ritual as a national tradition. Yet that’s also clearly the case within the borders of any country between Iran and Hungary.

It’s also important not to get too wrapped up (so to speak) in the varied naming protocols noted above. The folks at UNESCO did just that and wound up taking a wrong turn before cresting the Caucuses.

The UNESCO citation states that the word dolma is derived from the "Turkic word" doldurma, meaning stuffed. I don't speak Turkish, so I won't dispute their root.

But to accept that explanation you'd have to believe the Azeris and their Turkish cousins came up with a name identical to ours by sheer coincidence before ever encountering an Armenian.

In fact, Armenian scholars note that our word tolma (remember that Eastern Armenian transliteraion reverses the "t" and "d" sounds) dates to our Urartuan ancestors, long before the first Turkic nomads arrived in Asia Minor. It is derived from the name for Armenia's wild grape vines, toli. 

You can read more about this but I'm satisfied that we're right. I'll be even more satisfied by a large bowl of dolma with a portion of lavash for dinner.

(Note to Robyn: I'll get the pot on the stove if you make sure there's plenty of madzoon to go with it!)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Braised Lamb Shanks with Vegetables

We’re finding it harder and harder to find American lamb. So when Doug and I were strolling through the meat department at BJ’s, we were delighted to see various forms of American lamb – ground, chops, and shanks.

We opted to purchase a package of ground lamb and a twin-pack of shanks. Ground lamb can be used for so many recipes – lule kebab, various meatball recipes, lahmajoun topping, kufteh, kufteh balls, lamb burgers, etc.

One lamb shank is often a hearty meal on its own. The two that we purchased were meaty enough to feed a small army!

My sous chef, Doug, chose to make braised lamb shanks with vegetables – a two-day process.

Our lamb shank and vegetable dinner!

Here’s what he did:

Day 1: Doug parboiled the shanks in a large pot in lightly salted water for about 2 hours. By doing this, he cut down on the cooking time on serving day, and ended up with a large bowl of lamb broth for future recipes – soup, lamb and string bean stew, or whatever we were inspired to prepare.

NOTE: The broth was allowed to cool a bit, then placed in a large bowl with a cover. He refrigerated it overnight. Next day, he skimmed any fat that rose to the top. Some broth was used to prepare the shanks; the remaining broth was stored in smaller containers and placed in the freezer for future recipes.

Day 2 – Serving Day:
Lamb shanks and vegetables ready to serve
First, Doug sautéed 1 medium onion - chopped, 3 chopped carrots, 2 stalks chopped celery and 2 chopped garlic cloves in 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large pot. Then he added the shanks, 2 bay leaves, 2 cups of the lamb broth, and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.

He placed a cover on the pot; brought it to a boil, then reduced the heat to simmer -at this point the pot cover was tilted. The shanks simmered for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours while Doug checked periodically to make sure there was still enough liquid and that everything was cooking without burning. He checked to see if the seasonings needed to be adjusted.

Once done, the tender, falling-off-the-bone lamb, was served in individual bowls over a bed of cooked noodles (rice or bulgur pilaf would be great side dishes, too!) with plenty of the veggies and cooking liquid from the pot.

Crusty bread (for dipping into the juices) and salad accompaniments helped make this a most-satisfying meal!

By the way, one shank fed the two of us!

Some of the meat from the second shank was shredded and added to a string bean stew, while smaller bits of leftover meat were turned into a breakfast hash with over-medium eggs on top!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lamb Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze - a tasty holiday appetizer!

Armenian Christmas is almost here!

Two recipes which are must-haves for Armenian Christmas Eve and Armenian Christmas Day include Nevik (spelling varies!) and Anoush Abour.
Nevik, an Armenian Christmas Eve specialty
Anoush Abour, literally meaning 'sweet soup' which is traditionally  served on Armenian Christmas Day - January 6th.
For a delicious addition to your celebration menu – or anytime, you might like to try these lamb meatballs with pomegranate glaze as an appetizer. This recipe was adapted from one found in the NY Times. For a little something extra, prepare a minty-yogurt sauce to serve as a dip.

The Armenian Kitchen wishes you and yours, Shnorhavor Nor Dari yev Soorp Dznount – Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!
Lamb Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze (Photo from the NY Times)

Lamb Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze

1 pound ground lamb
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried mint, crushed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
 Olive oil, for cooking

Glaze: 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (sold in Middle Eastern stores, or you can make your own)
Garnish: finely chopped fresh mint, parsley, and/or pomegranate arils, if desired


In a large bowl, gently mix together the lamb, garlic, lemon zest and juice, crushed dried mint, salt, and pepper until combined. Form into 1-inch meatballs.

Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange meatballs so that they are not touching. Cook on all sides until browned on the surface and cooked through in the center. (About 7-10 minutes.) NOTE: If meatballs begin to get too brown, reduce heat to prevent burning.

Place cooked meatballs on a paper towel-lined plate to remove any excess grease.
Arrange meatballs on a serving dish and brush with pomegranate molasses. 

Garnish with chopped mint, parsley, and/or pomegranate arils, if desired. 
Serve using frilly toothpicks for a festive touch!

Minty Yogurt Sauce
(Make this at least one hour before serving so that flavors can combine.)

3/4 cup plain yogurt
dash of kosher salt
3 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped, or 1 tsp. dried mint, crushed

Mix the ingredients together until blended. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.