Friday, October 26, 2018

Armenian Madzoon Abour (Yogurt Soup)

Doug and I are supposed to be on a bus trip today from our new community in SC to Lake Lure, NC. The idea of seeing the fall leaves, taking a boat ride on the lake, followed by lunch with a view of the lake sounded idyllic when we agreed to go a few weeks ago.

What a boat ride on Lake Lure, NC looks like on a lovely day.
Enter Mother Nature … She’s dumping rain throughout the Carolinas – all day - with temperatures in the 40’s (50’s, if we’re lucky). NOT our idea of a good time outdoors. 
Much to our disappointment, we cancelled. We decided that, at our age, comfort and safety are more important than traveling for hours in a bus, then sitting on a wet boat.

To appease ourselves, we decided it’s a great day for soup. The one that will soothe and satisfy us is traditional Armenian Madzoon Abour (Yogurt Soup) – also known as Spas, in some regions.

We’ll re-visit Lake Lure some other time.
Armenian Madzoon Abour (Yogurt Soup) with Lavash (Image from Hannaford; mine isn't done cooking yet!)

Armenian Madzoon Abour (Yogurt Soup)
Yield: about 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced 
1 medium garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoon Italian, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped (1 tsp. – or to taste - dried mint may be substituted)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 cup hulled whole wheat berries, (dzedzadz) – sold in Middle eastern stores (NOTE: 1 cup quick-cooking pearl barley may be substituted)
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (chicken broth may be substituted)
2 cups plain yogurt, (low-fat or full-fat yogurt may be used – NOT Greek-style)
NOTE: Purists only use yogurt; no broth! In which case you’d add 5 cups.
Garnish: Paprika, fresh mint leaves or dried mint, optional


1. If using whole wheat berries (dzedzadz), cook them in 3 cups of water until tender to the tooth. Drain and cool. Set aside until it is added in step #3.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently until softened, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, mint, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add broth. (NOTE: If using quick-cooking barley, add it now.)

3. Increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes or until soup just comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and let soup cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in yogurt. (NOTE: If using cooked wheat berries from step 1, add it now.) Heat over medium heat until warmed through, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir well.

4. Garnish with a sprinkling of paprika and fresh or dried mint, if desired.

Serve immediately with Lavash!

Friday, October 19, 2018

It's Gouvedge time again!

Autumn has arrived, for the most-part, in South Carolina. After 4 decades of not being able to differentiate one season from the next in Florida, Doug and I are finally experiencing, and loving, the cooler temperatures and colorful leaves on the surrounding trees.

To mark the occasion, I decided to celebrate with a a big pan of Gouvedge. Not familiar with gouvedge? It's a heart-and-tummy-warming casserole of lamb, vegetables and LOVE!
Gouvedge - hot and ready to serve!

Serves Many!
Gouvedge ingredients ready to assemble: Cut vegetables, par-boiled lamb (still on the bone), lamb broth, and canned tomato products

2 lbs. meaty lamb neck bones, trimmed of fat
Lamb broth (See Day 1 preparation for details)
1-6 oz. can tomato paste
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes with the liquid
1 lb. fresh green beans, end trimmed
2 medium zucchini, cut into large chunks
2 medium eggplants, cut into cubes
1 lb. okra, optional (If okra is large, cut it into smaller pieces)
2 medium red or orange peppers, seeds removed, and cut into chunks
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
A small bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, washed
Note: Measure all - or some - of the following seasonings according to your taste: Dried oregano, salt, black pepper, paprika, Aleppo pepper, dash of cayenne pepper, ground coriander seeds, allspice, etc.

Day One Preparation:

Place the lamb bones in a large pot with enough water to cover bones. Bring to a boil, skimming any residue from the surface during the cooking process. Reduce temperature to medium-low; place a cover, tilted, on the pot. Cook for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender enough to easily be removed from the bones. Periodically check the water level; do not let it all evaporate. Add more as needed. You should end up with at least 2 cups of broth.
Remove bones from the liquid and place on a plate. Once cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones; place meat in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until the next day.
Strain the liquid from the pot; discard any unwanted particles. Place strained cooking liquid in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
While the lamb cooks, cut all of the vegetables as noted above. Store the vegetables in separate plastic food storage bags and refrigerate.

Day Two Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350°- 375° F (ovens vary). Lightly oil a 9” x 13” baking pan.

Remove the layer of fat from the surface of the chilled lamb broth; discard fat.

In a large bowl, dilute the tomato paste with the lamb broth (there should be about 2 cups). Stir in the diced tomatoes and its liquid. Mix in the seasonings to taste. Add the lamb and vegetables – EXCEPT for the okra. Gently toss to combine.

Evenly spread the lamb-vegetable mixture in the prepared pan, cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil. If using okra, add it now. Mix okra into the gouvedge and bake an additional 45 minutes.

While gouvedge is baking, make rice or bulgur pilaf to serve as a side dish. 
Crusty bread is required for dipping!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Easy Date - Pistachio Crescent Cookies

In preparation for next spring's Food Festival, I was asked by the Chair of St. Sarkis’ Women’s Guild to prepare a cookie – specifically one with a date filling - for the members to sample. (It's never too early to plan for such a special event!) 

The Apricot Crescent Cookie recipe I posted ages ago came to mind. I immediately got to work making the cookies, switching the apricot filling for one made with dates.

After the cookies were sampled at last week's meeting,I was invited to include my recipe to their dessert line-up. (I guess they liked it!)

You don’t have to wait until spring to make these. My easy version takes hardly any time to prepare and they'll make an impressive addition to any holiday meal!
My Easy Date-Pistachio Crescent Cookies

Easy Date - Pistachio Crescent Cookies

For the dough:
2 commercially-prepared pie crusts, such as Pillsbury

Filling Ingredients:
1 ½  cups (give or take) commercially prepared date paste (sold in Middle eastern stores)** See recipe below for creating homemade date paste
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water, optional (sold in Middle Eastern stores and Whole Foods)
1-2 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. orange zest
¼ cup unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, finely chopped
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten
Garnish: additional chopped pistachios and/or coarse sugar, optional

Filling Directions:
In a mixing bowl, combine the filling ingredients –EXCEPT for the nuts - until smooth and spreadable. If the date mixture is too stiff, stir in warm water a little at a time without making the filling too watery. Stir the pistachios into the date mixture until evenly distributed. Set filling aside.

Dough Directions:
Work with one prepared crust at a time. 
On a lightly floured work surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the pie crust dough into a fairly thin large circle.

Assembly Directions:
Rolled pie crust spread with a thin layer of date-pistachio filling
Spread half of the filling on the dough, leaving about ¼ inch of the dough exposed around the edge.

Cut, as you would a pie, into 12 wedges – or more - depending on how large or small you want the cookies to be. (A pizza cutter makes this step very easy!)

Start rolling each wedge starting at the wide end toward the small point. Using your fingers, turn the ends downward to make a crescent-shape. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.

Brush the cookie surfaces with egg wash. Sprinkle additional chopped pistachios and/or coarse sugar, if you wish. Gently press toppings so they adhere.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool cookies completely on wire racks. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Any leftover cookies can be wrapped and stored in the freezer.

You can make date paste at home. It’s really easy! You just need dates and water. Pitted Medjool dates work extremely well for this.

**Directions to make about 1 cup of Date Paste:
Soak about 12 to 13 pitted dates in warm water (1 to 2 – or more cups, depending on how dry the dates are) for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Scoop the dates out of the water (don’t drain it; you’ll need some of the soaking water) and place them in a blender or food processor with some of the soaking water. (Start with ¼ cup of the soaking water.)

Puree until the mixture is soft and fluffy. If it’s too thick, add a little more of the water.

Store the date paste in a jar with a lid. This should keep in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Alphabets and Apples

A few months after Doug and I moved to South Carolina, we bumped into an old NJ friend at the St. Sarkis Food Festival in Charlotte, NC. What a surprise it was to see our friend Andy, whom we hadn’t seen in 50 years!

It turns out that Andy and his wife Linda live just a few miles from us - but just across the state line. We’ve gotten together several times sharing good (Armenian) food and stories of decades gone by.

Recently, Doug and I were invited to their home for a delicious lunch and a tour of the nearby Alphabet Museum, a  truly interesting place!

The museum traces the history of the world’s alphabets in an array of very impressive displays. You can imagine how delighted we were to see the Armenian alphabet exhibit featuring Mesrob Mashdots! His greatest achievement was inventing and systematizing the Armenian alphabet in 406 AD.
A bust of Mesrob (Mesrop) Mashdots at the Alphabet Museum, Waxhaw, NC
After our outting, we headed back to Andy and Linda’s for dessert and coffee. Since it’s officially apple season, my contribution to the meal was an apple galette – a French version of an apple pie. I realize it’s not an Armenian recipe, but at least it was made by one!

Here’s how I made it …
Apple Galette

Quick and Easy Apple Galette
Serves 6 to 8

1 commercially-prepared refrigerated pie crust -or- one sheet of puff pastry (I used the pie crust)
4 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch chunks (I used a combination of Honey Crisp and Fuji apples)
1/3 cup sugar (use more- or- less depending on the sweetness of the apples, and, your own preference)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½  to 2 Tbsp. cornstarch or flour
Egg Wash: 1 beaten egg
Garnish with a sprinkling of sugar, if you wish

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Roll the pie crust dough or puff pastry dough into a thin, 12-inch circle. Place it on an ungreased baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meantime, mix together all of the filling ingredients, tossing gently to coat apples.

Remove crust from the refrigerator and uncover. Arrange the apples in a mound in the center of the crust, leaving a 2-inch border of dough.

Gently fold the dough edge over the apples, pleating loosely as you go. Leave the apples in the center uncovered.

Brush dough surface with egg wash. Lightly sprinkle sugar over the crust and apples, if you like.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

Cool galette on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, then carefully slide it onto a wire rack to cool completely. Carefully transfer the galette onto a serving platter.

To Serve: The galette is delicious on its own, but may also be served with freshly whipped cream or a good-quality ice cream.