Five Things About Me: 16 17 18 19 20.

16. I will always think of myself as a New Yorker.

17. English is my second language, though now I speak so little Armenian the point is pretty moot.

18. I think moot is a great word.

19. I can be very impatient.  This is a flaw, and I’m working on it.

20. I can’t help but mentally redecorate or renovate almost every room I walk into.  I also immediately look for the exits, in case of an emergency like a fire or zombie attack.  (Have I mentioned yet that I’m obsessed with zombies?  No?  Next week then…)

Advertisements

CSA, Week Two.

The contents of this week’s CSA box were way more nerve-racking than last week’s. I mean, then all I had to think about and research were turnips and parsnips (which I did end up doing in a purée, by the way, with some baby purple potatoes, garlic and thyme;it was delicious). This week, what’s got me stressed are those bright pink radishes.

Just to make it all clear, this week we received:

  • Two heads of lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Radishes

The salad greens were easy — I added them to the ingredients I happened to have on hand: sliced strawberries, broken-up pecans and crumbled chèvre. Then I whisked together a really quick balsamic vinaigrette while I caramelized several cloves of minced garlic for a lemon-garlic sauce to toss with tortellini. (Really quickly: I can’t even remember the last time I had tortellini. And you know what? It was so good, especially once I mixed in some chopped parsley.)

The bok choy, too, were simple. I made a citrus sauce, half of which I used to steam the bok choy; I drizzled the remainder over a piece flank steak cooked with sesame oil, garlic and chilis, then sprinkled a handful of toasted sesame seeds over everything. It really couldn’t have been any more effortless.

What’s really getting me, though, are those damn radishes. I’ve actually never even tasted one, in spite of the fact that my dad has always loved to eat them raw, dipped in salt. I’m kind of bouncing around the idea of pickling them, but seriously — I’m not a huge fan of pickled items, so what am I going to do with some pickled radishes? I bet they’d be really pretty to look at though, even pinker and vibrant.

On an unrelated note: English is technically my second language. The first things I ever said were in Armenian, but, truthfully, it’s gotten to the point where my first word could have been pineapple, for all intents and purposes. Regardless, I keep on discovering that there are items whose English names I’ve never known. I don’t mean in the sense of learning a new word such as edacious (adjective, meaning greedy or avid) — I mean in the sense of knowing what an item is, but not in English. For example, I never learned the word trivet until the past five years or so; I had always just known it as its Armenian name. The same for radish. That one I first encountered in high school, and to this day it makes me think, What else is out there?

I’ll keep you posted.

Citrus Sauce, from Whole Foods (with slight adaptations)

1 ½ cups freshly squeezed orange juice (about 3 oranges)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus one tablespoon (about 2 lemons)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus one tablespoon (about 3 limes)
¼ cup chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine the ingredients in a heavy sauce pan over high heat. Boil until slightly syrupy and reduced to one cup, about fifteen minutes. Add more liquid and scrape sides of pan as needed.

Medz Mama’s Cookies, aka Armenian Butter Cookies.

Was it really so long ago that I went to Eastern Lamejun and bought some mahleb, with the intention of baking cookies? Honestly, where has the month gone? Oh, right — I remember now.

Regardless, with Easter around the corner (where has the month gone?!) I have shifted gears into a sort of terrifying overdrive — we’re expecting fourteen people over Sunday, and rumor has it they all expect to be fed. I’ve been trying to stay organized by preparing as much as I can ahead of time, and that includes desserts. Hopefully, a mostly-cookie spread will help me keep a firm grip on my sanity, even as shelf space in both my fridge and freezer dwindles. Thus far I’ve gotten two different types out of the way, as well as the mahleb cookies I’ve been wanting to bake for a while.

These cookies are traditionally made around this time of year but, in all honesty, seasonality has nothing to do with my desire to make them. After all, do I need a holiday simply to make a batch of cookies that are lusciously buttery and nutty, that are fun and easy to make, and that remind me of my grandmother?

I grew up eating these cookies, the recipe for which my mom cajoled out of my father’s mother. To this day, we still call them Medz Mama’s cookies; in Armenian, medz means big. To a child, that sort of logic makes perfect sense, no? Not that you have to be a child to enjoy this delicious little treat.

Medz Mama’s Cookies

img_2203.jpg2 sticks butter, melted
4 cups flour
½ cup sugar (add up to 3/4 cup if you prefer sweeter cookies)
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons nigella seeds (caraway seeds are acceptable)
½ teaspoon mahleb
1/4 cup Mazola oil (I used olive oil)
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

img_2213.jpg1. Preheat oven to 325°. Mix the first eight ingredients (up until the egg) until they are all totally incorporated. The resulting dough will be somewhat on the oily side; if you find it too oily add a little bit more flour.

img_2214.jpg2. Pinch off about one tablespoon’s worth of dough. On a clean surface, roll dough into a wreath, a twist or any other shape and set on baking tray. Repeat with remaining dough. Though the cookies will not expand much during baking, try to keep them about two inches apart. Brush with cookie tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.img_2230.jpg

3. Bake for approximately thirty minutes or until the cookies turn a nice deep golden color. Let cool, then store in an airtight container. I’m not quite sure how long the cookies keep for, because they don’t last long around me.

Arabic Comfort Food.

I was raised on what I suppose could be called a fusion diet. When I was growing up, most of the cooking was done by my Filipina mother, but a majority of the meals she prepared were Armenian, Lebanese or Middle Eastern in origin, to please my often-nostalgic father. Otherwise, we ate Asian dishes, and items like Italian-ish pastas, Spanish-y paellas and vaguely French chickens. Cuisine notwithstanding, I’ve come to realize that my mother is a completely intimidating force in the kitchen. She can bang out dinner for twelve as easily as she can for two, without ever compromising on taste or quality. Additionally, she has the ability to tease the most flavorful results from a new recipe, a skill I’m terribly envious of.

One of my favorite dishes from my youth actually has Arabic roots; I know I’m butchering it by attempting to spell it with the English alphabet but here goes: mejadara. I had to consult my dad to get the most accurate spelling; even he was uncertain as to what vowels and consonents to string together.

Mejadara is as easy to make as it is difficult to spell; literally all the cook must do is combined sweet caramelized onions, earthy lentils and nutty bulgur. Served warm, cold or at room temperature, it’s my equivalent of comfort food.

Mejadara
makes six generous portions

img_2184.jpg

Ingredients
1 cup lentils
1 cup bulgur
2 medium-sized onions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt, to taste

img_2191.jpg1. Melt butter over high heat. Add oil and continue to heat until the mixture is very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and immediately reduce flame to medium. Stir frequently, adjusting heat and adding oil as necessary so that onions do not burn. Continue until the onions are golden brown, approximately twenty minutes.

img_2187.jpg

2. In the meantime, combine lentils and three cups of water over medium fire. Add a pinch or two salt and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

img_2189.jpg

3. Add bulgur and three additional cups of water, as well as another pinch or two of salt. Mix well with lentils and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

4. Combine lentil/bulgur mixture with onions and serve.

Haul from Eastern Lamejun.

img_2171-1.jpg Keith and I went to Eastern Lamejun in Belmont to stock up on a few things, since our supply was running frighteningly low. This is a partial representation of our loot — oversize pita bread (which I grew up calling hahts, which means bread), choreg, peanuts rolled in sesame, pastries from a great patisserie in Montréal and the powder is mahleb, a spice made from sour cherry pits. We also got some dolma (stuffed grape leaves), manayeesh, bulgur, carraway seeds and a couple dozen lamejun, which everyone always describes as “Amenian pizza.” I suppose I understand why, but lamejun is so much better: ground beef (or lamb), spices, minced tomato and onion spread over a super-thin round of dough that’s baked until crisp and then drizzled with lemon juice. Try and tell me that doesn’t sound delicious.

There were two items I specifically wanted to get: the choreg, and the mahleb. The former because I love it, and the latter because it’s an integral part of an Armenian cookie recipe that I’ve been meaning to try for a while now. I’ll let you know how it goes once I’m able to bake them.

But the choreg… I love choreg. Admittedly, I’ve never been to convert anyone to choreg; Keith says it tastes like sawdust, and someone else once told me pencil erasers. To me, those two descriptions are completely insane. I love its mild sweetness and the familiar smell of it, which pervades even through its sealed plastic bag, and makes me think of my grandmother. I love how the mahleb gives it a faintly nutty taste and how, when you inhale deeply, it smells of butter. I love its slick exterior texture, from the egg glaze, and its soft, fluffy insides. Mostly, I love the way it feels in my mouth, as I chew it.

To all the choreg naysayers — you don’t know what you’re missing. In fact, I hope you never like choreg. More for me.

Eastern Lamejun
145 Belmont Street
Belmont, Massachusetts 02478
617.489.3224
easternlamejun.com

Dinner at Red Bones.

redbones3.jpg

My cousin Niki moved to Boston (and the States in general) from the Philippines in January, and I’m thrilled beyond the gills that she is obsessed with food, just like me. We’ve gone out twice now and have plans to keep doing so; unsurprisingly, most of our schemes involve eating.

Last night Keith and I took her to Red Bones, a barbecue joint in our old neighborhood. When we lived within walking distance we used to go down quite frequently; now that we’ve moved away it’s not nearly as easy to meander down the bike path for some ribs and pulled pork. When we have friends visiting from out of town — or relatives who are new to town — we almost always bring them to Red Bones. In fact, Keith first took me years ago, before I had memorized the subway system. That was my introduction to barbecue; I come from Armenian/Lebanese/Filipino/Asian stock, and the only barbecue I knew prior involved potato chips. (For the record, I only like Wise.)

For me, Red Bones is all about two things: corn fritters and barbecue hash. Dense and chewy, the corn fritters arrive in a bowl of maple syrup and are absolutely delicious. How could they be otherwise, with their pool of syrup? The hash has no syrup, but it does have a fantastic texture and an even better combinations of flavors — tangy, vinegary, spicy. I order both fritters and hash, in appetizer sizes, and make my meal out of that, without fail. Last night we also shared some hush puppies; whenever I eat these puffy cornmeal balls, I’m always surprised by how strangely well the taste goes with the sour vinegar dipping sauce.

Part of what makes Red Bones so fantastic is the atmosphere; it is laid-back and convivial to such an extent that it’s no wonder that the bar, upstairs dining room and downstairs space is always busy. On Monday night, every table in the black-walled basement was taken. And why shouldn’t it be thus? The cornbread is freshly baked, the beverages are served in Mason jars, the beer selection remains impressively diverse, and the barbecue is literally finger-licking good.

Red Bones
55 Chester Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
617.628.2200
redbones.com

RedBones on Urbanspoon