Saturday, June 29, 2019

Armenian Food Products - in a Gas Station? You bet!

Back in 2012, Doug and I discovered a gas station in Stuart, FL that housed a Middle Eastern grocery store and surprisingly terrific café. What a find!

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, May, 2019 in Indian Land, SC. As Doug and I were driving toward Charlotte, NC, we passed an Exxon gas station with a yellow and black sign which caught our attention: Eastern European Foods.  

We stopped in to discover an array of food products from Russia, Georgia, the Ukraine – and – Armenia! 

Besides the shelved groceries, there are refrigerated compartments with cheeses, perogies, cakes, sausages, and more.

The Armenian products included a variety of fruit nectars, jellies, preserves, and grape leaves – and, the best part, it's only a 10 minute drive from our home. Naturally, we bought a bunch of things - Noyan grape leaves, Apricot Nectar, Eggplant Caviar, to name a few. 
Two of our purchases from a local gas station in Indian Land, South Carolina.

On a second visit recently, we noticed the largest package of lavash we’d ever seen, Armenian Lori cheese (actually, a product of Tbilisi, Georgia), and – drum roll, please – basterma (basturma)– in a gas station!

We bought the lavash and cheese; basterma purchase would have to wait for another visit.

Lavash and Armenian Lori cheese - our latest  gas station finds. 
I wasn't familiar with Lori cheese, so I did some research. First, I went to the company’s website – you can read the findings below.

The following explanation about Lori cheese comes from the manufacturer’s website: ABOUT PRODUCT : Rennet cheese. Pulp of color from white to light yellow. Has a dense, brittle structure. Throughout the volume of the cheese body are small holes. Without a peel. Taste - milky, medium salty, sometimes with sourness.

Next, I reached for my copy of Irina Petrosian’s book, ‘Armenian Food: Fact Fiction and Folklore’ for more details. 
Ms. Petrosian notes that Lori cheese, ‘a traditional Armenian cheese, has a short fermentation period, is aged in brine, is salty and not fully aged. Its firm texture is due to the curd being heated twice. Lori cheese has irregular holes formed from gases produced during the curing stage.’

After tasting a tiny piece of the cheese, it reminded me of a cross between a good Parmigiano-Reggiano and Feta cheese.

For cheese-lovers who like a rather tangy, salty cheese, it’s good on its own. When grated or crumbled, Lori cheese would be a lovely addition to soup, salad, pasta, or in a filling for cheese boregs. Serve it with fruit, fresh greens (scallions, fresh herbs), fresh tomatoes – but don’t forget lavash! 
For cocktail hour, why not pair Lori cheese with wine? (Sorry, I can’t suggest a wine – not my department).

For those who prefer a less salty cheese, I have it on good authority from Sonia Tashjian, that Lori cheese can be cut into pieces then immersed in cold water to reduce the saltiness.

The next time you're driving past a gas station, stop inside; you might be surprised at what you'll find.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Spinach Borani (Burani), a Persian Dip or Meal Accompaniment

For Father’s Day weekend, Doug and I spent time in Greenville, SC, a vibrant southern city. We’d heard a lot of wonderful things about Greenville and were thrilled to find that the city lives up to its reputation as a recreational and ‘foodie’ destination – accent on ‘foodie’!

We stayed in the heart of Greenville at a hotel on the Reedy River, within walking distance to a host of sights and dining options.

Dining in Greenville- from simple to sublime!

Our meals were truly memorable. For Father’s Day dinner we dined at Halls Chophouse, featuring an upscale, all- American menu with aged steaks and  really terrific seafood. Much to our surprise and delight, the tab was picked up, long distance, by our daughter and son-in-law! We couldn’t be together, but they were with us in spirit. Thanks, kids!

The previous night we dined at Pomegranate on Main, a Persian restaurant – that’s right, Persian food in South Carolina – and it was delicious!
We ordered the 'Tour of Persia' for two which included 2 appetizers of our choice, an entree to share with 3 skewers of kebab - filet mignon, chicken, and shrimp, two different rice recipes, grilled tomatoes, and tea. Sadly, there was no room for dessert!
My homemade Spinach Borani
One of the appetizers we selected was Spinach Borani (also spelled Burani), that was so tasty I decided - on the spot - I’d make it as soon as we got home – and I did. 
It’s really easy, too.

Spinach Borani
Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. fresh baby spinach, rinsed and patted dry
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek style- and - not low fat)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp. dried mint, crushed, or to taste, optional
Extra Virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Place spinach in a large skillet with ½ cup water; place lid on skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until spinach is wilted. This will only take a few minutes. Drain liquid completely; chop spinach and set aside.

Wipe the skillet and use it to sauté the onions and garlic in the butter until softened, but not burned.
Add the drained, chopped spinach to the onions and cook for about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove skillet from heat and allow mixture to cool.

Place cooled spinach-onion mixture in a bowl; add yogurt and dried mint, if using. Stir to combine.
Just before serving, drizzle a little olive oil on top.

This may be served warm or cold.

As a dip, serve with triangles of pita bread and/or vegetable sticks.
This can also be served as a side dish for kebabs, or any other meat, fish or poultry dish.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Nammoura - a (Slightly) Healthier Version - and two more recipes

I have to admit I haven’t been cooking as much as usual for the past week, and for that I have no excuse. But then we learned that our daughter, Mandy, would be here on a work-related trip, so Doug and I got busy in the kitchen. After all, we had to feed our one-and-only!

I baked a batch of my mother-in-law’s lavash – one of Mandy’s favorites, and Doug made 2 pots of dolma – meat and rice-stuffed peppers in one pot; the same stuffing wrapped in grape leaves in the other. Two more of Mandy’s favorites.
Sylvia Kalajian's Lavash 
Grape leaves stuffed with ground turkey and rice
Peppers stuffed with the same mixture as the grape leaves above.
A dessert seemed appropriate, so I made one I hadn’t prepared before, a healthier version of Nammoura, a Lebanese cake made from semolina soaked in a simple syrup flavored with rose water, and decorated with almonds, or in my case - pistachios. (See recipe below.)

Nammoura, a healthier version than the original, ready to serve.

Sometimes you just need a reason to go full steam ahead in the kitchen. Thanks, Mandy, for providing us with this special occasion!

Nammoura, a Healthier Version
(Recipe adapted from one found on
Yield:  24 pieces

1 cup semolina
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
A dash of salt
1 cup plain, fat-free yogurt  (NOT Greek yogurt)
1 to 2 Tbsp. rose water (Note: Orange blossom water – or- a combination of the two may be substituted)
1 tsp. vegetable oil, for greasing the pan
Garnish: 24 shelled pistachio nuts (Note: Blanched almonds are more commonly used in this recipe.)
Syrup Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 small cinnamon stick
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven at 350°F.
Semolina and the other dry ingredients mixed together; rose water and plain yogurt 

In a bowl, combine the semolina with the sugar, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt and rose water. Mix together with a wooden spoon, wire whisk or an electrical hand mixer.
Nammoura batter
Lightly coat an 8”x8” square pan with the vegetable oil. (I used an 8" glass pie pan.) Pour the mixture into the pan spreading it evenly with a spatula.
Nammoura ready to bake
Gently press pistachio nuts (or almonds) into the surface, leaving space between them. (Note: Each serving piece should have one nut in the center.)

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

While nammoura is baking, prepare the syrup.
Preparing the simple syrup
Syrup Directions:
Place the sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat stirring constantly until it starts to boil and sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice. Remove saucepan from heat; set aside to cool completely before using. Discard cinnamon stick.
Nammoura  -hot out of the oven!
To complete the recipe:
As soon as the nammoura is removed from the oven, spoon the cooled syrup over the entire hot surface so that the syrup will be absorbed.

Set the pan of nammoura on a cooling rack and allow it to come to room temperature.

To serve:
Wait at least 1 hour before cutting and serving.
When ready, cut it into 24 equal pieces, and arrange them on a serving platter.