Saturday, September 29, 2018

Belgian Endive with Roquefort, Walnuts and Cranberries, by Chef David Vartanian

Way back in 2011, I introduced Christine Vartanian-Datian to the readers of The Armenian Kitchen. In the story I mentioned that Christine’s love of cooking was passed down from her grandmother and mother. Another family member, Christine’s cousin, David Vartanian, also inherited the ‘cooking gene’. He is a highly regarded chef  at The Vintage Press in Visalia, CA.

 David Vartanian ,The Vintage Press, Visalia, CA, named one of America’s Best Chefs

I haven’t been to the Fresno, CA area in almost 50 years (yikes!), but if I ever do get back there, I will certainly pay a visit to Chef Vartanian’s restaurant. (Please read the full details below.)

Christine offered the following recipe from Chef David for The Armenian Kitchen to share. Please enjoy!  
Chef David's Belgian Endive with Roquefort, Walnuts and Cranberries

Chef David Vartanian's Belgian Endive with Roquefort, Walnuts and Cranberries
This salad with crunchy walnuts is for real blue cheese lovers.  Pair with a grilled steak or lamb chops and boiled baby red skin potatoes for a classic steak house meal.
Serves 4.
Ingredients for Roquefort Dressing:
1/4 cup Roquefort cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 limes, juice of
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch black pepper

Ingredients for Salad:
4 heads Belgian endive
1/2 cup cranberries, dried
1/2 cup California walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Roquefort dressing, prepared

Preparation for Roquefort dressing:
1. Melt Roquefort cheese in the oven or in a pan on top of the stove, being very careful not to scorch. Let cool.
2. In a bowl, combine the melted cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk, juice of two limes, Worcestershire Sauce, cayenne, red wine vinegar, and black pepper; mix well until all ingredients are combined. If desired, add an additional 2 ounces of Roquefort cheese for an even more intense flavor.

Salad Preparation:
1. Trim the base of the endive using a diagonal cut, then separate the leaves.
2. Toss the cranberries, nuts and Roquefort together in a bowl, being careful not to break up the Roquefort too much.
3. Spoon the mixture into the endive leaves and garnish with the watercress.  For advance preparation: Fill the Belgian endive leaves up to three hours before, cover and chill.  Garnish just before serving.  Drizzle with Roquefort Salad Dressing, as desired.  

The Vintage Press Restaurant, in Visalia, California is one of Central California's most elegant dining experiences. Since 1966, the Vartanian family has welcomed local residents, visitors and dignitaries alike on many special occasions.  Wine Spectator writes that the Vintage Press has "one of the best wine lists in the world," while Fodor's raves it is "The best restaurant in the Central Valley.”  The L.A. Times applauds the Vintage Press as "a bastion of culinary merit."  With four distinctive rooms and classic menus that reflect the current season, the Vintage Press invites you to join them at your earliest opportunity. The Vintage Press is renowned for its outstanding food and service.  Critics believe this is the best restaurant in the Sequoia region and a true fine-dining experience, with white tablecloths, plush red leather banquettes and exceptional service.  The Vintage Press serves classic beef, lamb, seafood and specialty dishes. The exceptional menu encompasses a wide range of influences, meaning you could order the excellent lamb kebobs while your companion feasts on spicy chile relleno.  Classic American dishes and pastas are well done, especially the restaurant’s famed filet mignon. The wine list is similarly superlative. 

"Best Place in Visalia!”

“The VP, as it's commonly called, is the finest restaurant in Visalia. The food is always amazing. The service is impeccable. And the atmosphere provides an elegant feeling. Outstanding restaurant!”
- Trip Advisor, 2016

"A Favorite for Everyone”
“This fine dining establishment is a favorite for everyone in the area as well as for many who drive long distances to enjoy a fabulous meal. You can't go wrong whether you choose from the menu or from the always interesting list of specials for the day. The chef, David Vartanian, should have a TV show about farm to table ingredients as well as unusual takes on the familiar. From comfort food to exotic fare, he is a master.”
- Trip Advisor, 2017
216 N. Willis St.
Visalia, CA 93291
Phone: (559) 733-3033
Featuring upscale, classic cuisine with a creative twist and farm to table sensibility.
Open for Lunch, Dinner or Sunday Brunch.

Friday, September 21, 2018

CHICK BRTUJ (Meatless Kyufta) from Sonia Tashjian

Today is Armenian Independence Day! To help celebrate,
Sonia Tashjian, my go-to food expert in Yerevan, offered her recipe for Chick Brtuj - Meatless Kyufta (Kufteh) to share with you.  
Sonia Tashjian's Chick Brtuj (Meatless kufteh) with Onion-Tomato Dipping Sauce

Traditional Kufteh is made with fine bulgur mixed with finely ground meat for the shell, and then stuffed with a spiced meat-onion filling. It's sometimes shaped like a small football (my maternal grandmother's style), or flattened on the bottom with a rounded top (my paternal grandmother's style) - somewhat like a flying saucer -at least, that's what we thought, as kids.

Sonia's meatless kufteh is perfect for a vegetarian or Lenten meal.

Sonia explains:

"'Chick' means "chga" - or - 'there is none - or - without' and the Armenian name of such kyuftas is 'brtuj', which means a portion prepared in the palm.
(other synonyms are sekhem & jankig).....
Therefore, chick - brtuj (or chick kyufta) means this is a meatless dish.

This recipe is the everyday version of uncooked meat brtuj, or chi kufteh. 
(Nowdays when we say chick kyufta, we understand it to be the meat version; but in the old books, there is mention about this non-meat kyufta)."

Sonia's recipe:

1)- Mix 1 Tbsp. of red pepper paste into 1 cup of fine bulghur; set aside.
2)- Finely chop 1 medium onion + 1 tomato + 1 green or red pepper.
3)- Mix together, knead it by pouring olive oil; season with red & black pepper, cumin & lemon juice.
4)- Blend it in a food processor if necessary.
5)- Mix in chopped mint leaves & parsley;
6)- Shape brtuj to resemble little sausages using wet hands. 

Serve with onion - tomato sauce.

To prepare sauce:
Dilute some water into 4 Tbsp. tomato paste until it can pour thickly from a spoon. Mix in finely chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

And then came Hurricane Florence

Please see update below ...

Would you like to hear a not-so-funny story?

Doug and I moved to inland South Carolina 6 months ago after a 40-year run in south Florida. Our reasons for leaving included the excessive heat, humidity, and annoying hurricane seasons. We’d had enough!

Our new location suits our needs: an Armenian church in Charlotte, proximity to a major airport (so we can visit family and travel to exotic locations), and to avoid the impact of  hurricanes.

And then came Hurricane Florence - barreling into the North and South Carolina coasts! We’re pretty far inland, but  Florence is headed our way as a tropical storm ready to dump A LOT of rain. Power outages are imminent as is major flooding.
So, I’m trying to write and post this before the lights go out.

Are we prepared? You bet. Bottled water, gas grill, canned food, batteries, flashlights, board games, etc.
Right now we’re eating whatever is in the freezer so these foods won’t go to waste.

Freezer foods we must consume!
I don’t know what my neighbors are chowing-down on, but here’s what Doug and I have to consume from the freezer- and fast:
Lahmajoun, kufteh, basterma, lavash, fillo dough (you know, the usual!) and a few other goodies.

I’ll end here so that I can get cooking before it’s too late. I’ll be back after the storm leaves and power is restored.

Until then …

Update: Florence will be a tropical storm when it reaches us. This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods; it just means the winds won’t be as fierce. The rain is another story.
After I posted the original piece, I got busy in the kitchen and whipped up a tray of spinach pie with the on-hand ingredients (recipe follows). Since the oven was on I heated up some lahmajoun as well. A mini side salad, parsley and onions completed our 'hurricane' lunch. Not a bad meal under the circumstances!
Out of the freezer and into the oven - while we still have electricity!

The Armenian Kitchen's 'Hurricane' Lunch

Easy Spinach Pie

1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1-15 oz. bag frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry (This is very important!)
1- 4 oz. container crumbled Feta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. Greek-style plain yogurt
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Salt, pepper, dried dill, dried oregano, to taste (Note: Go easy on the salt as the Feta cheese provides plenty!)
Fillo dough sheets (I used 5 sheets for this.)
4 Tbsp. melted butter for brushing

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease an 8” x 11” baking pan.

In a skillet, sauté the sliced onions in olive oil, until onion is softened, but not browned. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combined all of the ingredients except the fillo dough and the brushing butter.

Open the fillo pkg. and remove the sheets, covering them with a lightly dampened tea towel and plastic wrap to prevent the sheets from drying out.

Working with one sheet at a time, place in the baking dish so that the sheets hang over the 2 long sides. Brush each sheet with butter until the 5 sheets are used.

Spread the spinach mixture evenly over the fillo sheets which cover the bottom of the baking pan. Fold the hanging fillo sheets toward the center, brushing with extra melted butter, if necessary. Make sure the fillo dough covers the spinach filling. Brush additional butter on the top fillo layer.

Using a sharp knife, cut through the layers into serving pieces.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup by Christine Vartanian Datian

It might still be pretty hot outside, but cooler days are on the horizon. Pumpkins and gourds are already on display in supermarkets, and believe it or not, Christmas decorations are hitting the shelves in certain stores!

It’s safe to say that a good soup recipe is always appropriate to post. Here’s the latest contribution by Christine Datian to both the Armenian Mirror-Spectator – and – The Armenian Kitchen. (Thanks, Chris!)

Enjoy, everyone!!
Christine Datian's Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup

Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup
by Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 6-8


2 - 16 oz. cans reduced sodium garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2-3 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped (white, brown or yellow)
2 stalks celery (and top greens), chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium baking potato or sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound spinach, rinsed, stems removed, and chopped*
8 cups reduced sodium chicken, beef broth or vegetable broth (to taste)
1 8 oz. can reduced sodium tomato sauce or tomato juice
1 -14.5 oz. can stewed or crushed tomatoes or 1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
1/4 cup fine bulgur
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried crushed mint
1 bay leaf
Salt, black pepper, dash of allspice
Crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, smoked paprika, basil, oregano or Aleppo pepper (to taste)
Olive oil
Garnishes: Chopped fresh mint, basil or parsley


In a large Dutch oven or pot, sauté garlic, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, and peppers in olive oil or butter for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add garbanzo beans, broth, tomato sauce or juice, tomatoes, bulgur, lemon juice, and tomato paste, stir and bring to a full boil; add spinach, mint, bay leaf and spices and stir to combine.  Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 45-55 minutes or until tender.  Stir soup occasionally and add more broth or spices as needed.

Remove bay leaf.  Mash beans and potatoes if a thicker consistency is desired.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with choice of mint, basil or parsley.  

Drizzle with olive oil and serve with pita bread, garlic bread or bread sticks.

Spinach may be pan-fried in olive oil and garlic and added to this soup.  Garnish with Armenian or Greek yogurt or sour cream.  Or you can add 1/4 cup chopped dried dates or apricots to this recipe, if desired.

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