Saturday, December 29, 2018

Two Traditional Armenian Recipes to ring-in the New Year

To get you into the spirit of a new year, I felt it appropriate to re-post two traditional Armenian recipes: Anoush Abour (literally meaning 'sweet soup') and Daree Hats ('year bread').
Savor the arrival of the New Year and Armenian Christmas with your loved ones with these sweet, fruity, nutty delicacies.


Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!
Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont!

Anoush Abour
#1. Anoush Abour by Joy Callan
Ingredients:
1 cup gorgod (skinless whole wheat – sold in Middle eastern stores)
3 ½ quarts water
1 cup sugar
1 cup California apricots, finely chopped
1 cup raisins (currants or yellow raisins)
½ cup pistachios
1/3 cup pine nuts

Garnishes:
¼ cup finely chopped filberts (hazelnuts)
½ cup slivered almonds
½ toasted pecans or walnuts
Ground cinnamon, to taste
Pomegranate seeds

Directions:
1. In a 6-quart pot, combine wheat and water. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Cover and let rest overnight.

2. Remove cover. Return to simmer. Simmer gorgod until water begins to thicken. The lower the simmer, the “whiter” the pudding will remain. After about 1 ½ to 2 hours of simmering, add the sugar and continue to simmer. The pudding will begin to take on a thicker consistency.

3. While wheat is simmering, combine fruit, pistachios and pine nuts in a small saucepan with water. Bring to a gentle simmer and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Thoroughly drain. Add to pudding when pudding is cooled so that fruit will not bleed color into pudding.

4. Pour into serving bowl. Garnish with filberts, slivered almonds, pecans or walnuts and cinnamon.

5. Pomegranate seeds could either be incorporated into pudding uncooked or served separately as a garnish.

#2. The Daree Hats (pronounced ‘da-ree hots’) recipe is from my friend in Yerevan, Sonia Tashjian. In addition to the recipe, Sonia provided some background information so you can appreciate its meaning.

Sonia's Daree Hats from the Sassoun region in Western Armenia

Daree Hats 

From Sonia:
            "Daree Hats is an Armenian traditional bread prepared for the New Year and is served on New Year's Eve. When the family gathers around the holiday table, the grandmother cuts the bread and serves it to the members of the family. The family member who receives the portion of bread with the coin, is granted good luck and fertility during the coming year.
            The tradition of Daree Hats (other names are Dari, Grgene, Kloj, etc...) began centuries ago. In the springtime, the first man prepared the bread using the last of the dried fruits and decorated the bread with seeds. The bread was dedicated to his gods in the hope of a fertile crop for the coming year."

Daree Hats, an Armenian New Year Bread Recipe

Ingredients:
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (if desired)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot water
1 cup chopped dried fruit and raisins
1 cup chopped nuts
½ cup linseed or sesame seeds
** a coin**

Directions:
           Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and cinnamon (if using). Add the oil and hot water;  mix well.
           Add the dried fruit, raisins, and chopped nuts. Mix, then place in a non-stick round pan.
           Wrap the coin with foil, then insert it into the dough. Rub water on the surface of the dough and sprinkle linseed or sesame seeds on top.
           Preheat the oven at medium temperature (approx. 350° F) and bake 40-45 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies by Mrs. Alice Vartanian

I must admit that I’ve never eaten a persimmon.
As I’d walk to class at Chico State (CA) back in 1969-70, I’d see numerous persimmon trees which studded front yards of homes near the campus. I was curious about the fruit hanging from those trees, but not curious-enough to taste one.
Persimmons - they look like tomatoes, but they're not!

My loss. According to Sheri Castle, writer, recipe developer,  cooking teacher, and public speaker,the silky pulp of persimmons tastes like a patchwork of fresh apricot, dried peach, guava jam, roasted pumpkin, and a speck of spice or nuts.”  Who could resist something that sounds so luscious?

New Year’s resolution is this: The next time I come across a persimmon tree or at least a persimmon in the store, I promised to myself to try one!

Fortunately, Mrs. Alice Vartanian, mother of my friend Christine Vartanian-Datian, knows about persimmons and offers us her recipe for Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies.   
Alice Vartanian
Fortunately, Mrs. Alice Vartanian, mother of my friend Christine Vartanian-Datian, knows about persimmons and offers us her recipe for Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies.   
Alice Vartanian's Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies

Persimmon Walnut Raisin Cookies by Mrs. Alice Vartanian
Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup persimmon pulp (from 2-3 persimmons), skins removed, pureed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves, nutmeg and ginger
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins or chopped dates
1 cup dark chocolate chips, optional

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets and set aside.

In large bowl, cream the sugar and the shortening until fluffy. Add the egg and mix to combine.

Add the flour, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, zest, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger, and mix to combine.
Add the persimmon puree, nuts, raisins (or dates), and chocolate chips, if desired. 

Drop by the rounded spoonful on baking sheet and bake until cookie top springs back when touched, for 12 to 14 minutes.

Remove cookies from oven and cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Alice Vartanian’s Notes
This recipe can easily be doubled. 
Also, once cooled, dip half the cookie in melted dark or white chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Dried cranberries, dried cherries, chopped pecans or almonds may be added to this recipe. Or use 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice to replace the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger for this recipe. Cookies may be glazed with orange or lemon glaze, if desired.

For health and nutritional information on persimmons, go to: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/persimmon-nutrition-benefits. For recipes, go to: http://www.californiagrown.org/blog/perfect-uses-for-persimmons/

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ladokoulouro: Greek-style Sesame Seed -Olive Oil Cookies

As Doug and I continue to explore Charlotte, NC and the surrounding around, we tend to seek-out Greek and Middle Eastern stores and establishments (meaning restaurants).

We stumbled upon a rather small Greek store called the Agora Greek Market on the east side of Charlotte which offers lots of goodies – spices, sweets, oils, cheeses, even family-sized packages of frozen pastitsio, moussaka, and baklava!

The cookies we bought at the Agora
We purchased a few items including a bag of Greek sesame seed-olive oil cookies called Ladokoulouro, a product of Crete. Once home, it was imperative that we sample the cookies right away. I put on a pot of coffee and opened the bag of cookies. We found them to be not too sweet – which we liked, with a gentle hint of cinnamon and cloves, and a pleasing crunch – just right for dunking into our coffee.

Since the Agora is a bit far from home and we won’t be going that way too often, I thought it wise to find a recipe for Ladokoulouro to make at home. I searched several recipes online and pieced one together that made sense to me.

Here’s the result of The Armenian Kitchen’s first attempt at making Ladokoulouro …

My version of Greek-Style Sesame Seed-Olive Oil Cookies - Ladokoulouro

Greek-Style Sesame Seed -Olive Oil Cookies
Yields about 30 cookies

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups olive oil (Note: I found this amount to be too much. Next time I’ll cut it down to about 1 cup.)
¾ cups sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice PLUS ¼ cup water to equal 1 cup liquid
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cognac, optional (I chose not to add cognac.)
4 - 5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375° degrees F.

Zest an orange before juicing; set aside until ready to use.
Wet ingredients (L); Dry ingredients (R)
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves until blended.
In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, water, orange zest, sugar,   vanilla and cognac (if using) until well- incorporated.
Whisking together the wet and dry ingredients.

Add the flour mixture a little at a time stirring with a wire whisk to combine. At this time you may add additional flour, but not more than 5 cups total.

If the mixture becomes too thick to mix with the whisk, use your hands to combine.
Folding-in the sesame seeds.
Fold-in the sesame seeds using a rubber spatula and mix until combined. (NOTE: Alternately, before baking, you could dip the shaped cookies into the sesame seeds, pressing so seeds adhere, but this will be more time-consuming.)

The dough may appear to be quite sticky to this point; don’t panic! Set it aside for 10 minutes or so. You’ll find that the dough will become quite workable.
Unbaked log-shaped cookies
Pinch-off walnut-sized balls of dough. Roll the balls into 4-inch logs and placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan. You can also create a doughnut-shaped cookie by taking the walnut-sized ball, placing it on the parchment-lined baking sheet, flattening it, and making a hole in the center with your finger. Personally, I liked the doughnut-shaped cookies better than the logs. They came out crispier - just the way I like it!
Unbaked doughnut-shaped cookies
Be sure to leave some room in between each cookie on the baking pan to allow for expansion.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the cookies become slightly browned around the edges and top.

NOTE: If baking more than one tray of cookies at a time, rotate the trays halfway through the baking time by switching the bottom tray to the upper rack and the top tray on the bottom. This will ensure even baking.

Place the cookies on wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an air-tight container.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt Soup

Doug and I witnessed a miracle this morning … our first South Carolina snowflakes!! We watched in amazement as they drifted down, disappearing before ever touching the ground.

All I could think about was whether-or-not I had enough ingredients on hand to make soup. After all, there was no way we’d be driving to the store in this weather! (Hey, we’re not used to this type of weather; please don’t judge!)

Fortunately, there was fresh broccoli and enough other ingredients to make Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt Soup. Served with a little lavash, we were all set for a very satisfying lunch.
Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt soup with Lavash (just visible in the background)

Broccoli-Parmesan-Yogurt Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 heads of broccoli (approx. 8 cups), rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth may be substituted)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions:
Broccoli soup ingredients
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Add the onions and carrots; cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli and cook 3 more minutes.
Vegetables sauteing
To the pot, add broth, salt, and pepper; cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until all the vegetables are completely tender. Turn off the burner.

Using an immersion blender, regular blender or a food processor, puree the broccoli mixture. (NOTE: If using a regular blender or food processor, blend soup in batches then return soup to the pot.) If the soup looks too thick, stir in a little water.

Once pureed, and with the heat still off, whisk-in the Parmesan cheese and Greek yogurt until well blended.

Turn burner on low heat. Gently heat soup before serving.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Pecan Date Balls

Last October I made Date-Pistachio Crescent Cookies to share with the Women’s Guild members at my church. The package of date paste was quite large so I only used a portion of it for the cookies. With so much paste left over, I figured I might as well make something else. 

With Christmas entertaining in mind I decided to make Pecan Date Balls based largely on the crescent cookie filling recipe. Think of this dessert as a healthy holiday treat - depending on how many you eat, that is! 


Pecan Date Balls

Pecan Date Balls
Yield: approximately 24 pieces (yield will vary depending on the size made)

Note: This recipe can easily be doubled.

Ingredients:
13 oz. pressed date paste** (sold in Middle Eastern stores)
[See below for making date paste at home]
1 to 2 Tbsp. water
1 cup chopped pecans, divided (chopped walnuts, almonds, or pistachio nuts may be substituted)
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water (sold in Middle Eastern stores) – or – 1 Tbsp orange juice (optional)
1 tsp. orange zest
 ½ tsp. ground cardamom

Directions:

If date paste is firm, cut into chunks; if soft and pliable, leave it as it is.

Place date paste and 1 to 2 Tbsp. water in a saucepan. Using low heat, stir until paste begins to soften and blend together, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Be patient!) 

Add ½ cup of the chopped nuts, orange blossom water (or orange juice) if using, orange zest and cardamom. Mix well. Remove from heat; cool.

When the mixture is cool enough to handle, break off tablespoon-sized pieces and roll them into balls. Coat each ball with the remaining chopped nuts, pressing so the nuts will adhere.

To Serve: Place each ball in a mini cupcake liner; arrange on a platter.

NOTE: Finely shredded coconut or powdered sugar can be used to coat the balls.


** Directions for making about 1 cup of Date Paste:


Soak about 12 to 13 pitted Medjool 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.