Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter dinner

For a traditional Easter dinner, you could well try a roast lamb. I’ll just repeat the note in our third blog: Lamb Roast: There are similar basic recipes in every general cookbook (whether Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, New Tenth Edition, or either Joy of Cooking - here's the link to Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006); we stud the lamb with garlic as well as smear it with crushed garlic, sprinkle salt and much black pepper over it. Serve on the rare side. It’s rather odd that, though Papa and I rarely eat meat, when we do it must be carnivorously rare (or at least medium rare). Or you could use a basic recipe for baking a ham.
With the lamb, we usually eat on the side sautéed carrots or green beans. So, again, I’ll just repeat what we’d written on our first blog post: Here is a simple tasty dish to enhance any meal – a Sautéed Carrots recipe. We first tasted these deliciously simple carrots when we lived in England for a year and visited friends the Hagopians in Branbury Cross near Oxford; the recipe stems from their teaching days near Paris in the decade after World War II. Green beans are also excellent cooked in this way. The ingredients: 1 pound fresh carrots, peeled, halves or quartered long-ways (depending on size of carrots), and cut into 2 or 3 inch lengths; 2 cloves of garlic, squeezed or minced; 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Steam the cut carrots for 10 minutes. When done, heat oil and garlic together in a frying pan, under high heat. Add the carrots and stir fry until the edges of the carrots show small signs of browning, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve these savory, slightly caramelized carrots (or green beans).
Also with lamb roast, Armenian Souboreg is a delicious cheese and noodle dish that compliments lamb, ham, or any meat, and can be eaten as a side dish with an Easter dinner, or with a salad, or as a wonderful vegetarian meal. This can be made ahead and baked at dinner time. Ingredients: 12 oz. wide egg noodles (Mrs. Weiss’s Halushka noodles or De Cecco’s papardelli);  12 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese; 12 oz. small curd cottage cheese (either 2 % or full fat is fine); 3 eggs, beaten; ½ cup Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, finely chopped; 4 tablespoons sweet (unsalted) butter; 1 teaspoon salt; freshly ground pepper to taste; a pinch of ground nutmeg, if desired. Boil the noodles in salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water. The cheese mixture: mix coarsely grated jack cheese, the cottage cheese, and the beaten eggs together. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Put half of the cheese mixture in a separate bowl and mix in parsley to it. In a buttered 9x13 inch oven-proof (such as Pyrex) pan, put half the noodles, then the parsley-cheese mixture. Then add the rest of the noodles to cover, and over this layer, on top, spread the remaining cheese mixture (the one without parsley). Place dabs of butter evenly over the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown on top. As a delicious side dish, this serves 8; as a main dish, this will serve 4 to 6 people.
In my old Armenian cookbook, a version of this recipe is listed as “mock sou-boreg.” This would be akin to listing any recipe using dry pasta as mock spaghetti. There is nothing “mock” about it. Of course, our grandmothers did make the dough from scratch; alas, some made it well, while others made it doughy. At least the noodles we purchase provide consistently good quality. (Here, by the way, are links to two fine Armenian cookbooks: The Armenian Table: More than 165 Treasured Recipes that Bring Together Ancient Flavors and 21st-Century Style and The Cuisine of Armenia by Sonia Uvezian.)
California Sweets: Here is a recipe for a wonderful, healthy, yummy cookie – easy to make, too. Ingredients: 2 large eggs; 8 oz. chopped dates; ½ cup raisins; 2 ½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts; 1/3 cup sugar; 1 tablespoon flour. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Pour into a 9 inch square pan, greased or lined with parchment. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. When cooked, cut these luscious and simple cookies into 25 squares.
Next: Chocolate Chip Cookies – as good as they get.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Matzo Ball Soup, finally!

Matzo Balls were for a long time the only food that was too intimidating for me to make. I had tried puff pastry and all manner of sweet and sour yeast breads (I even taught a class in Gingerbread House Making, staying one step ahead of my class: things worked out). But matzo balls? Perhaps I had heard one too many stories about how difficult it is to make light matzo balls. Fearing that they would be heavy and sink to the bottom, I never tried to make them until about five years ago, when I learned from a step by step photo recipe the ridiculously simple secret to making the light fluffy matzo balls: don’t overwork or compress the batter as you work. When I mentioned my discovery to a friend, she frowned: “I don’t like light fluffy matzo balls,” so I assume she compresses her batter as she works. In either case, then, light and fluffy or compressed and heavy, here is the recipe.
Matzo Balls (yield 10 balls – don’t double the recipe; for more, simply make another batch). Ingredients: 4 large eggs; ¼ cup canola oil (or melted butter); ¼ cup water (or plain seltzer); 1 teaspoon salt; ½ teaspoon sugar; ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; 1 cup matzo meal; ¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley; a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg (optional).
In a large bowl, beat eggs, and mix in oil (or butter), water, sugar, salt, and pepper (plus nutmeg, if used). Add matzo meal, stirring until thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least one hour. When ready to shape the balls, mix in parsley.
Bring a large pot of water (salted) to boil. Meanwhile, moisten hands with cold water. Take a walnut-sized amount of batter in your wet hands and lightly roll into a ball – don’t compress or overwork it if you want your matzo balls to be light and fluffy. Put it on a large plate. Make the remaining balls in the same way – you should have 10 or so approximately one-inch matzo balls.
Drop the matzo balls into the boiling liquid. Cover the pot, lowering the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes. Then remove. (For the firmer matzo balls, pack batter more tightly and roll repeatedly between palms, you should cook them uncovered.) Then remove with a slotted spoon, and place directly in delicious warm chicken broth. Here is the recipe:
Simple Chicken Soup: I like to make my chicken soup the day before I make the Matzo Ball Soup, so I can chill and defat my broth. Here is a good basic recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, which is my favorite basic cookbook (there is also a revised edition).
Ingredients: 3 to 4 pound chicken (whole or cut up – a cut up chicken will cook faster); 1 large onion, cut in fourths; 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, both roughly chopped; ½ teaspoon thyme; ½ cup Italian parsley; 1 teaspoon salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Place all the ingredients into a large pot, and add 13 to 14 cups water; heat on high. When the water is just about to boil, lower heat to the point where only a few bubbles at a time rise to the surface. Skim off any foam that accumulates, and cook gently until the chicken is done, 45 minutes to an hour, partially covered.
Cool the soup slightly. Then strain with a colander while pressing the meat and other solids with a spoon to extract more flavor into the soup. Put the chicken aside and use as you wish (for enchiladas, chicken sandwiches, etc.). You can use the stock immediately or refrigerate (skim the fat that forms on the surface before using). Use refrigerated stock within 3 days, or freeze stock for up to 3 months.
For matzo ball soup (6 to 8 servings): In about eight cups of your chicken stock, simmer 4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks, until tender (about 20 minutes). When the matzo balls you made are done, remove them from the pot of boiling water with a slotted spoon, and gently place them in the soup. Ladle into individual bowls.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Armenian Lavash (updated version) and Eastern Mediterranean Hummus

In our introduction to Mama and Papa Metafora’s blog, we mentioned that over the years we have simplified our cooking. Well, lavash is not one of those simplified recipes, though it’s not impossibly complex, either. It is an Armenian flat bread, yet it contains yeast – hence bubbles. Along with crumpets (good quality ones are not available in Cleveland), we cannot buy Lavash here, at least not the 20 inch rounds. We recently had several packages mailed to us by an excellent lavash bakery in Fresno, California; for double the cost of the bread, they promised special packaging so the bread, which resembles huge crackers (though it’s a totally different experience), would not fall to pieces in the mail. The bread arrived in pieces. So it is worth baking it yourself. For a picutre and more information about lavash, see below - at the end of the blog posts.
When I was teaching fifth grade, I shared lavash with my class – first dry, then wet – calling it the bread that “can be washed.” I briefly ran it under the classroom sink, placed it in a tea towel for a few minutes, and then spread butter and jam over it. The kids loved it. “Any more ‘lawash,’” they kept asking until the end of the year. But my favorite memory of lavash is from the 1950s: wetting it (but no tea towel treatment) and topping it with a few thick slices of tomatoes from my Dad’s garden, grown to perfection in the San Joaquin Valley sun, and then adding from last night’s barbeque a slice of eggplant and roasted jalapeno – and finally back to the garden for a little handful of Mom’s purple basil (she called it Armenian basil) topped with a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper, and coarsely ground black pepper. This was an open-faced sandwich on bread which was crispy yet slightly moist. Yum!

If you are into yeast breads, this is a fairly straightforward recipe. I use my Kitchen-Aid to mix, but our lavash-expert son prefers the “zen” of hand mixing. The annoying part is rolling out the yeast dough, which thinks it is the ocean and wants to come back on itself. This recipe makes eight wonderful 11-inch rounds (rather than the much harder-to-handle 20-inch ones), though I usually make four at a time and freeze the other half of the dough after first rising. Homemade lavash tastes just as wonderful but is thinner and crispier than bakery lavash. It keeps for up to a month in a cool, dry place.
Lavash recipe (revised version). Ingredients: 1½ cups warm water (110-115 degrees); ½ teaspoon active dry yeast (preferably not rapid-rise); ½ teaspoon granulated sugar; 2 ¾ to 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (can use up to half whole wheat flour, if you’d like); 1 teaspoon salt; and 2 tablespoons honey.
First proof your yeast, in order to avoid heartbreak of inactive yeast (which in over 55 years of baking has never yet happened to me, though it could). Pour ¼th cup of the water into a small bowl, stir in ½ teaspoon of sugar, and sprinkle the yeast. After a minute or so, stir to dissolve the yeast. In the next couple of minutes, yeast should grow thicker and bubbly (if it does not, discard and try again). In the MIXER version, pour in rest of water, yeast mixture, honey, and mix with the paddle beater. In a bowl whisk together the flour and salt, and add half to the mixer and beat until smooth. Replace paddle beater with the dough hook, and gradually add the rest of the flour mixture; you may not need it all, or you may need a little more flour, in order to make the dough smooth and elastic, just like hand-kneaded dough. In the HAND-KNEADED version, mix in a deep bowl the flour and salt. Mix well in center and pour in yeast mixture plus the remaining cup of water. Mix with a large spoon until ingredients are well blended. Add flour as necessary, until firm dough is formed. Knead on lightly floured surface for ten minutes, sprinkling occasionally with just enough flour to keep from sticking. The goal is a smooth and elastic dough (ideal consistency should feel like one’s earlobe).
Now, in EITHER VERSION, the next step is to gather the dough in a ball and place in a lightly oiled or buttered bowl, turning it over to coat the dough. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel, and place the bowl in a warm place free from drafts (about 85 degrees) for about 2 to 3 hours, or until dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down, and divide in 8 equal parts. You may now freeze some of the individual balls, and thaw them out when you want to proceed to the next step. Place the balls you plan to roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. With a rolling pin, make each ball into a flattened round, working on two pieces at a time. Roll out first piece on lightly floured surface (circle desired) as far as it wants to go, usually 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Set aside this piece, and give the second piece the same treatment; return then to the first piece and roll out some more until it seems to go as far as it wants to, and again return to the second piece – alternating until you have “round” (or oval) approximately 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Gently place the dough on a thin (not insulated) cookie sheet, ungreased. With a fork, prick the top of the dough in 6 or 7 places. Continue making the next pair of lavash in the same way, up to the number you desire. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes (turning cooking sheet around at the half way point). The lavash is done when the rounds are slightly browned and puffy; watch closely to prevent burning – for these cooking times can vary widely due to ovens and thickness of breads. Cool this excellent flat bread on a rack, and store in a cool dry place. 
Here are some ways to serve lavash. CRISP: Just break the dry crackery rounds apart to eat in a size you like – it is great with cheese, peanut or almond butter, hummus, etc. MOIST: Sprinkle lavash lightly with water (or very briefly hold it under running cool water) and immediately shake off excess and wrap in a clean (of course) kitchen towel for a minute or more, depending on how soft you’d like it to become. All kinds of sandwiches can be made from here, leaving lots of room for creativity. Perhaps spread it with cream cheese and add lox on top, then roll up. Or make a great Italian sandwich with cheese, salami, tomato, etc. Wonderful shish kebob sandwiches can be made (as described earlier in the post). It’s also great with falafel or chopped liver or egg salad. The everything bread. Sometimes I sprinkle my dough rounds at the end with sesame seeds or “sev gundigs” (black seeds in Armenian, Nigella seeds in India); if seeds are added, sprinkle at the end and go over the raw rounds once with a rolling pin before baking.
Since Hummus is so good with lavash, there seems to be a true multicultural spirit at work, and so what better place for Papa’s recipe for hummus. Here it is.
Hummus recipe. Ingredients: 1 can of garbanzo beans (i.e., chick peas – appx. 15 ounces – if you wish, of course, you may want to soak a bag of dried garbanzos overnight); 1 large clove of garlic, boiled or microwaved in water for 45 seconds and crushed (this is our method of making garlic easier on our stomachs at this point in our lives!); juice of half a lemon (about 1½ tablespoons); 1½ tablespoons of water; 1½ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil; 1½ tablespoons of tahini; ¼ teaspoon salt; ground cumin and cayenne pepper. Drain the garbanzos and rinse them; put them into a food processor along with the crushed garlic, lemon juice, water, olive oil, tahini, and salt. Process for two or three minutes until it is quite creamy (the best texture). If the mixture seems too dry, add a little more olive oil and lemon juice. Spoon out the mixture into a bowl and dust lightly with cumin and cayenne (to taste – and tolerance). This tasty hummus goes well also with oil-cured black olives.
My next post will offer recipes for Easter and Passover goodies, including the “Secret to light Matzo Balls.”