Friday, November 1, 2019

Nashville, TN: Home to Country-Western Music, the Grand Ole Opry, Chef Hrant Arakelian, “Lyra” restaurant, and Chef Hrant’s recipe for Armenian Manti!

You read that correctly, folks! My husband, Doug, is a master at researching. For decades his research was related to journalism and authoring books. Now he focuses on places for us to explore in the south and area restaurants in which to dine.
 Hrant Arakelian, Chef/Owner of Lyra restaurant in Nashville, TN
That’s when he found a restaurant called Lyra, operated by chef/owner Hrant Arakelian in, of all places, Nashville, Tennessee. Upon examination of Lyra’s menu, Doug and I couldn’t get over the fact that Nashville is home to an Armenian-with Southern roots- restaurant, and that there is an Armenian community in the area as well!

Chef Hrant’s background is quite fascinating, too. Please click here to learn more about him. 

When I reached out to the chef due to professional curiosity, I mentioned The Armenian Kitchen website and asked if I could share one of his recipes with my readers. 
Much to my surprise, he responded swiftly and wrote that, in fact, he already knew about the website and that he had referred to it many times in researching recipes for the restaurant. So, he felt it would only be fair to give one back.
Well, if that didn’t make me blush!!

More importantly, he would be happy to share his Manti recipe.

How they selected the name Lyra for their restaurant:
I asked how he and his wife, Liz, selected the name ‘Lyra’ (pronounced ‘LIE-rah’) for their restaurant.

He said they wanted a name which was appropriate for Nashville, a progressive, musical, southern city. Another factor was their son’s appreciation for astronomy. One evening, while on a camping trip, they found the constellation Lyra which represents the lyre and music.

They felt the name Lyra was a good fit between Nashville’s love of music - and - astronomy, something their family enjoys. Plus, Chef Hrant says, it’s easy for people to say and to spell when they look it up.
Without further ado …


Chef Hrant's Manti as served at his restaurant, Lyra, in Nashville, Tennessee. Traditional Armenian Manti has a 'canoe' shape. Chef Hrant chose to make 'star' shaped Manti to reflect the constellation 'Lyra'.
Chef Hrant Arakelian’s Armenian Manti Recipe
Yield: about 150 to 180 pieces
The Chef explained: We usually break down the Manti recipe in to three parts - dough, filling, and assembly.

Part 1 the Dough:
   The dough we make is very similar to a pasta dough, I have tried all the different recipes out there and found this one was the easiest and yielded the best result.
Ingredients:
3 cups of A/P Flour
2 whole large eggs
½ cup of warm water (it’s important that the water is warm 100 degrees is good)  
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
Directions:
Put the flour in a mound on the counter and make a well in the middle, crack the egg in a separate bowl (just in case any shell breaks in) then add it to the middle of the flour  add the oil, water and salt.
Use a fork whisk the liquids while slowly incorporating the flour from the sides. 
Once the flour is mostly incorporated use your hands to knead the dough for 4-5 minutes, you want a dough that forms a nice ball and springs back when you press your finger on the surface. If the dough is super sticky you can dust it with more flour as you knead. It’s always better to start off with a slightly wetter dough as you can easily add more flour but it’s very hard to add more water once you start to knead the dough. 
Once you have a nice dough ball wrap it with plastic wrap or place it in a zip top bag and let it rest on the counter for 30 min to an hour. This step is important to allow the starches in the flour to hydrate properly and to give you a smooth and slightly stretchy dough. 
If you want to make the dough a day ahead wrap it after you knead it and put it in the fridge for up to 2 days, anything more and the dough can pick up strange flavors. 
When you are ready to roll, place the dough on the counter for an hour to come to room temp.

Part 2: The Filling:

Ingredients:
¾ lb. ground very lean beef (this is important)
1 small red onion minced finely
¼ bunch flat leaf parsley minced finely
1 teaspoon baharat spice (this is our house spice blend, but a 7-spice blend - sold in Middle Eastern stores - works perfect as well)
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Try to find the leanest beef you can. Better yet, if you have access to it, grind your own from the top round cut. Too much fat in the meat will make the Manti soggy and fall apart when you cook them. Combine everything in a bowl and mix to incorporate, don’t over mix.

Part 3: The Assembly:
  Divide the dough in to 5 equal parts and proceed to roll it out.
  Two options to roll the dough are by hand (roll with a lightly floured rolling pin to about 1/8-inch thickness) which is a great work out – or - by using a pasta machine. If you use a machine follow the directions for your machine and take it down to the third to last setting on the machine, on an atlas brand roller it’s the number 7 setting. You should be able to barely see light though the dough.

  Once the dough is rolled use a pastry cutter or pizza wheel and a ruler to cut the dough in to 1 ¼- inch (for canoe-shaped Manti) to 1 ¾-inch squares (for star-shaped Manti).

   Put a large chickpea size ball of the meat in the center of the dough square and bring up two opposite sides and pinch them leaving the center where the meat is open. It should look like a little canoe, with the meat ball nestled in the middle. (Note: This is the more traditionally Armenian shape, but at the restaurant we do a shape that more resembles a star by bringing two adjacent corners together on the top of the meat ball then following with the other sides, this forms a little pyramid shape that slightly resembles a star.)

  Note: When you are forming the dough and sticking the edges together, resist the temptation to wet the edges this just makes the dough super soft and hard to work with. I also find that dusting the fingers I am using to pinch the dough in a little flour helps the dough from sticking to me.

  Once all the dough is formed arrange it on a large skillet in one flat layer with a little space between each dumpling. Bake in a hot oven 400 until the edges of the dough start to brown slightly, about 6 to 8 minutes. You want a nice golden brown color on the dough to give it the distinct flavor that makes Armenian Manti better than any other.

  Once they are baked, remove it from the oven and pour on some stock just enough to come to the top edge of the Manti. Put it back in the oven for a minute or so to cook the dough and meat and to allow the liquid to absorb.

Special Note: Since Manti freezes well, you can let the baked Manti cool completely, place in freezer bags, and freeze until ready to serve.
  From this point you can serve it with any kind of sauce you choose. We like to do Yogurt Sauce.

Yogurt Sauce - with spiced butter (see below):
Ingredients for yogurt sauce:
1 quart of labneh yogurt or thick Greek plain yogurt (see Note)
3 cups of good chicken stock
2-4 cloves of garlic minced
1 lemon, zested
2 egg yolks
Salt to taste

Directions:
Heat the stock in a pan to a good simmer (185 degrees). While that is heating up whisk the yogurt with the egg yolk, garlic, lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Once the stock come to temperature slowly temper it into the yogurt mixture stirring to incorporate everything well. Pour the tempered yogurt mixture back into the stock pot and with a spoon or spatula stir the mixture in the same direction over medium heat until the mixture reaches 185 degrees. It’s very important that it doesn’t boil because this will curdle the yogurt and if that happens its lost. Also keep stirring so no spot gets too hot and curdles. Strain it through a fine mesh strainer and either hold it in a pan on a warm spot of your range or better keep it in an insulated thermos.   
Note: If you can’t find good labneh, Greek yogurt works well but the resulting sauce can be kind of thin so we would add 1 to 2 teaspoons of corn starch when we whisk the eggs into the yogurt.
Chef Hrant’s Special Note: "My mother told me that when she learned the recipe from my grandmother, her advice was to always stir the yogurt in the same direction. My grandmother's reasoning for it was that it kept yogurt from curdling. I have never found this to be true, but I still always stir in the same direction just in case it is. Also, my mother didn’t speak a lick of Armenian and my grandmother didn’t speak a bit of English so maybe something was lost in translation."

Spiced butter:
Ingredients:
½ cup butter (beef or lamb tallow is also fantastic)
1 teaspoon dry mint
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or chili pepper
1 teaspoon sumac

Directions:
Melt the butter slowly in a pan, don’t let it scorch or the milk solids burn. Add the spices and let it sit to meld the flavors.
We assemble the Manti by pouring the yogurt in to a warm bowl, topping with the Manti, drained of any excess cooking liquid, and topped with a drizzle of the spiced butter.



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