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Coincidentally, this is the second Armenian
cookbook to appear this summer, joining only a handful of titles
on the topic. Ghazarian's paternal grandparents emigrated from
Turkish Armenia to Massachusetts, and she visited them often.
But her interest in the cuisine wasn't sparked until she married
an Armenian man from Aleppo, Syria (together, they started Mayreni
Publishing, which specializes in Armenian topics). The simple
recipes presented here are mostly classics, with a few of the
author's own creations. Victoria Wise's The Armenian Table features
contemporary takes on many traditional dishes and a variety of
innovative recipes, but Ghazarian stays closer to authentic Armenian
home cooking, making it a good companion.
Judith Sutton, New York City
"Simply Armenian" by Barbara Ghazarian
Barbara Ghazarian's cookbook is a wonderful collection of recipes that originated in an ancient culture. I enjoyed reading about her family and how Armenian food remains a large part of the communal family experience. These foods from the Mediterranean region are exciting, flavorful, and easy to make. Barbara's emphasis on bulgur wheat -- a staple in the Armenian diet -- is particularly important, as this whole grain product has stood the test of time. It might even be considered the gold standard of healthy, easy-to-prepare grains.
"Simply Armenian" gives Americans a way to incorporate whole grains, meats, and vegetables into a healthy meal that family and friends can share. While I read the book, a line kept running through my head: "Our grandmothers were right." They cooked with simple, whole foods that provided excellent nutrition and variety from recipes handed down from mother to daughter. "Simply Armenian" allows us to cook like our grandmothers and provide the same healthy choices for our modern families.
Just one of the many offerings of Armenian cuisine.
I'd be hard put to find a strictly Armenian
restaurant in the Bay Area, although Armenians have long lived
in California. That's one good reason to check out Barbara Ghazarian's
book Simply Armenian, which is firmly rooted in the cuisine while
modernizing some dishes to make them lighter and less caloric.
The book encompasses 150 dishes from peasant fare to banquet
dishes. My favorites were the bulghur (cracked wheat) and lentil
dishes; kebabs; homemade yogurt and not-too-sweet cakes. Armenians,
who are Christian, have 180 fasting days a year, so vegetarian
dishes are a staple. They shine in this book.
96.5 KOIT - San Francisco
"Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made
Easy" (Mayreni Publishing. $17.95) by Barbara Ghazarian.
Barbara Ghazarian of Pacific Grove has assembled over 150 recipes that ethnic cooking aficionados and those of Armenian heritage will want to sample. Titled Simply Armenian (Mayreni Publishing, $17.95), this inexpensive paperback will take the stress out of preparing an authentic Armenian meal. Begin with an appetizer of Feta Cheese-Topped Eggplant Rounds followed by Sesame Salmon Fillets with Tahini Sauce with a side dish of Potato-Spinach Kibbeth and you'll set out a meal your family won't soon forget.
The specialty crop quince is paid homage in the recently released cookbook, Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy. Pacific Grove, CA-based Barbara Ghazarian authored the cookbook. Ms. Ghazarian's second self-published cookbook is enjoying strong reviews from some notable admirers, including Michael Orlando - chairman of the Whole Grains Council - and Library Journal Review.
Simply Armenian features a dozen quince-based recipes and showcases fresh quince on the cover.
In the United States, most of the quince sold commercially is grown in California. Reedley, CA-based Ballantine Produce Co. Inc. is the largest commercial grower of quince. Its harvest runs from the end of August until about mid-November. John Kaprielian of Ballantine Produce said that in 2003, the company handled 55,000 boxes of quince, typically 25 pounds each.
If lamb and eggplant are high on your list of favorite foods, "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy" (Mayreni Publishing, $17.95) by Barbara Ghazarian is a cookbook you will want to invest in.
A Monterey resident, Ghazarian has brought together more than 150 traditional recipes that draw on the ancient culinary traditions of the Tigris and Euphrates river basins. Whether it be authentic appetizers like Armenian Meat Jerkey (Soujouk) or Stuffed Mussels (Midya Dolma) you are looking for, or a main course featuring lamb and eggplant, you'll find the recipe here.
From special spreads like Hummus with Tangy Yogurt Sauce (Fatte) to vegetables and rice, Ghazarian offers a wide range of options. You might wish to try something fairly simple like Spinach Casserole, or a Cucumber, Tomato, Feta Salad before you graduate to Baked Stuffed Meat Pie (Sini Kufteh) or Braised Lamb Shanks Wrapped in Eggplant.
No matter what you decide to try, Ghazarian's easy-to-follow instructions will enable you to create a very special meal that will introduce your family or friends to the culinary delights of Armenia.
Barbara Ghazarian draws upon her years of experience writing a weekly culinary column and teaching culinary writing to adults to author Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy, a superbly presented anthology of more than 150 ethnic Armenian recipes that range from inexpensive peasant fare to gourmet palate pleasing specials. Of special note to vegetarians is that more than half of these "kitchen cook friendly" recipes are meat-free. From Toasted Pumpkin Seeds; Fried Zucchini Pancakes; Zahtar-Spiced Pasta Salad; and Barley Mash with Chicken; to Lamb Stuffed Grape Leaves; Flap jack Skillet Bread; Chilled Yogurt Drink; and Quinces Stuffed with Walnuts in Syrup, Simply Armenian would be a welcome and confident recommended addition to any kitchen cookbook collection.
Library Bookwatch, October 2004
Hungry? Craving delicious, authentic, traditional Armenian food? Well, don't run to the closest Armenian deli, be adventurous, make your favorite Armenian foods from scratch. Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooing Made Easy, a new cookbook by Barbara Ghazarian, is here to guide you through the steps to making delicious Armenian delicacies.
Simply Armenian contains every recipe you can think of and is divided into sections and subcategorizes for your convenience.
The first section is titled "Appetizers and Spreads" and has specific areas focusing on those two subjects. Under "Appetizers" you will find recipes for Armenian staples, such as, Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves (Yalanchi) and Pickle Fresh Vegetables (Tourshi) along with less traditional, but still Middle Eastern influenced items, such as, Feta Cheese-Topped Eggplant Rounds and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Pine Nuts. Under "Spreads" one finds recipes for Hummus, Zesty White Bean Dip, and Black Olive and Yogurt Cheese Spread, to name a few.
After indulging in hors d'oeuvres, one is ready for the first course. Under the section titled "First Courses" one finds subcategorizes dedicated to Grains and Vegetables, Salads, Soups and Stews, and Stuffed Pastries (Boreks). "Grains and Vegetables" offers recipes from Bulgur and Rice Pilaf to egg plant dishes to a spinach casserole recipe. There are salad recipes titled Parsley Salad (Tabouli), Cracked Wheat Tomato Salad (Eetch), and Four Bean Salad. Recipes for Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup, Tomato and Bulgur Soup, and Lamb and Rhubarb Stew are found in the Soups and Stews sub category. Craving Cheese Borek or Spinach Borek? You can find these and other Borek recipes in the stuffed Pastries (Boreks) subcategory.
Ready for the main course? What will it be? Lamb, Pork, Fowl, or Fish? You will find recipe featuring these foods under "Main Courses." The sub category, Lamb, features recipes for Shish Kebab, Armenian Tartare (Kheyma), and Lamb Stuffed Grape Leaves (Sarma) and many others that are sure to fill your tummy.
There is a section of the cookbook titled "Armenian Basics." It is divided into the following topics: Flatbreads, Loaf Breads, Pizzas, Tea Breads, Eggs Sauces, Dairy Basics and Drinks. So, if you want to make your own Armenian Cracker Bread, Lahmejun. Choreg, Madzoon or Tahn, Simply Armenian is where to turn.
Everyone loves dessert! Recipes for Cakes and Pastries; Cookies; Fruits, Spreads and Candy; and Quince lie in the Sweets category. Who needs the bakery? Make your own Pakiava!
Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy is by Barbara Ghazarian of Hartford, Connecticut. She loves to cook and hopes to have created an easy way for cooking ethnic cuisine. Ghazarian states, "The journey into a foreign cuisine is not necessarily an easy one. Armenian cooking can be intimidating for the novice."
After looking over Simply Armenian, I can tell you the recipes are laid out in away that seems to be easy to follow and that is important no matter how experienced a chief you are.
So, be adventurous; take Armenian Cuisine head on. It will be fun, filling and will make Grandma proud! Happy eating!
Sarah Soghomonian, Staff Writer
In my normal capacity as a columnist, I do not review books for my readers. However, I am making an exception with regard to the following piece of literary work, written by a former West Hartford resident.
It is my belief that a community must recognize and highlight the positive contributions of its own and although I do not know the author personally, I feel it is important to spotlight a work that is so first-rate.
"Simply Armenian, Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy" is a new book authored by Barbara Mooradian Ghzarian, a graduate of Conard High School, class of 1974. She has compiled a beautiful soft cover, easy to read and easy to follow book of Mediterranean specialties. After sorting through her own family's beloved recipes, she chose to give the American reader some of her favorites that would translate to their own kitchen table in an easily accomplished manner.
In my own capacity as a woman who prides herself on her own
specialty cuisine in her kitchen (thanks to the likes of Grandma
Susie, Mom Betty and special Aunties), I can
Although Mooradian Ghazarian does not live in West Hartford now, she does have family members who still live in town. Presently, she splits her time between Monterey, Calif. and Newport, R.I. She is a product of West Hartford Public Schools, followed by Wellesley College (class of 1978). There may, in fact, be some of her Conard classmates who experienced AP Biology class side by side with Mooradian Ghazarian who may be interested in reading her work. This, I might add, is her third book. She has also authored a long-running weekly culinary column for a Los Angeles newspaper and has years of experience teaching culinary writing to adults in the Boston area.
She describes her recipes with simple, whole foods that appeal to the non-vegetarian and the vegetarian alike, as more than half the recipes are meat-free.
When I was a young girl, my family enjoyed the luxury of eating both American food as well as Mediterranean food since I am of the Lebanese heritage. For those who may not be familiar with Middle Eastern food, it is an extraordinarily healthy cuisine. Of course, when we were youngsters and eating foods such as humus, stuffed grape leaves, yogurt (which we called labine) and pita bread (we called hibuz), we never understood how wildly this cuisine would "catch on" among other Americans. I vividly remember my Dad one day telling the family that we really should market our own yogurt and tabouli and the rest of us thought it was a ridiculous idea. "If only " as they say!
In the author's own words: "Armenian Food is easy to make, inexpensive, abundant, and good for you. And now, with the focus on olive oil-based diets, eating Armenian fits right into a low-carb regimen."
When I called the author in California to tell her that I was writing about her cookbook, she relayed to me that the cuisine was extremely popular in that area of the country and that if readers here were interested in securing a copy of her book for the holidays, they could through Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com.
Mooradian Ghazarian shares her passion for food with her readers in her book as well as what she has learned about the history of her own family; something many of us should be lucky enough to do.
Published by Mayreni Publishing (Mayreni means mother-tongue in Armenian, I read), the specialties of the author's ancestors' table are shared with readers in a way that honors her family. Additionally, in this day and age of people striving for a healthier way of life, I would certainly recommend owning this culinary treasure.
Additional ordering information: Enfield Books, P.O. Box 699, Enfield, N.H. 03748; 603-632-7377; or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cindy Basil Howard
More and more I find that authentically ethnic recipes are naturally healthy, regardless of the culture. It is when we monkey around with the traditional foods that they become unhealthy. The American palate has become dangerously unhealthy with hidden sweeteners at every crook in the road. As Barbara Ghazanan proves amply in the pages of "Simply Armenian", hidden additives are not necessary for an excellent dining experience.
For instance, there is not a better appetizer than Ghazarian's Zesty White Bean Dip with toasted squares of her Savory Dill Bread. It should be on the table at one of your holiday parties for sure! Also, her classic Parsley Salad (tabouli) is perfect with pita, as well as beautiful on a serving table. There are lamb recipes galore in this book as well, as lamb is traditional Armenian fare. However, don't get so hung up in main courses that you miss the wonderful breads and desserts in this book. Hats off to Barbara Ghazarian for bringing this wonderful cuisine to my attention. You can pick up a copy of this book online with this link: Simply Armenian
IF YOU'VE ever experienced real Armenian cooking in the bosom of a large Armenian family, you'll never forget it. Happy childhood memories of a summer day with Armenian friends in Fresno included eating a feast under a grape arbor in their back garden. Between courses I was given a tour of an honest-to-goodness cool, dark root cellar by the grandmother. The feast included homemade Armenian cracker bread, my first experience of Lahvosh, which was astonishingly large in circumference and amazingly thin.
Barbara Ghazarian, a Pacific Grove resident, has written "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy" - all about the olive oil-based cuisine - in which she combines a little history, a lot of nostalgia, and more than 150 recipes. Ghazarian, an author and lecturer, wrote a culinary column in a Los Angeles newspaper for years and has taught food writing in the Boston area. The 296-page paperback, published by Mayreni Publishing, Monterey, sells for $17.95. The author will appear at a 1p.m. booksigning and tasting Sunday, Dec. 5, at Bookworks, 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove.
Margot Petit Nichols
Bookworks, Pacific Grove's beloved bookstore, welcomes Barbara Ghazarian, author of Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy El/ink Cooking Made Easy, for a food tasting and book signing on Sunday, December 5 at 1pm.
Simply Armenian ($17.95, trade paperback) draws on ancient culinary traditions to reveal the secrets of the naturally healthy Armenian table. The book explores over 150 recipes ranging from inexpensive peasant fare to more elaborate special occasion dishes. Passionate about Armenian food, Barbara has carefully selected the best authentic dishes to share. More than half are meat-free, including many dishes that feature bulgar (cracked wheat), lentils, eggplant and flatbread. Also included are many lamb dishes, as well as a variety of soups, stews and stuffed pastries known as "boreks." A wide range of desserts includes an easy to make quince coffee cake that will wow your family and friends for the holidays. The book showcases fresh quince on the cover.
Barbara Ghazarian combines the information a cook needs with the wisdom of generations of grandmothers and the cheerful generosity of a good neighbor.
Armenian food is easy I to make, I inexpensive abundant, and I good for you, says the author, and now, with the focus on olive oil based diets, eating Armenian fits right into a low-carb regime.
Barbara Ghazarian is an experienced cook and a natural teacher with a gift for storytelling. Simply Armenian is her second book inspired by her Armenian heritage, following the publication of Descendants of Noah: Stories of Armenian Christian Faith and Heritage in 2002. Barbara authored a long-running weekly culinary column for a Los Angeles newspaper and has years of experience teaching culinary writing to adults in greater Boston. Today she splits her time between Pacific Grove and Newport, Rhode Island, and she lectures from coast to coast on Armenian-related topics. For more information, visit the publisher's website. www.mayreni.com.
Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin, Wednesday, December 1, 2004
A Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cuisine
More than a decade ago Harvard research scientists came out with a study praising Middle Eastern food as the most naturally healthy of all world cuisines. More recently, best-selling author and cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Agatston, offers a tip for his low-carb dieters in his book, The South Beach Diet: "If you're going to cheat a little.....you can have hummus on pita bread, which is a big improvement over white bread and butter, and more flavorful, too."
In her cookbook Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy, Pacific Grove author Barbara Ghazarian says that "Armenian food is easy to make, inexpensive, abundant and good for you."
"And now with the focus on olive-oil-based diets, eating Armenian fits right into a low-carb regime," Ghazarian adds. Although her cookbook is not solely vegetarian, more than half of the dishes are meat-free and fifty-five recipes meet vegan standards.
According to Ghazarian, "Low-carb gurus say that if you're
going to eat grains, eat good, whole grains." Overnight,
bulgur (pre-cooked cracked wheat), the staple grain of the Armenian
kitchen, has become a good carb choice. Put another way, if home
cooks across the U.S. exchanged their dinnertime servings of
rice or potatoes for bulgur pilaf -
Many Weight Watcher dieters already know about the benefits of bulgar. In the Weight Watcher point system, 1 cup of cooked bulgur counts as 2 points. The same amount of brown rice is 4 points and white rice is 5 points. "I don't know about you," says Ghazarian, "but when Weight Watchers says I can eat a mountain of bulgur versus a molehill of rice the choice seems obvious."
Betsy Slinkard Alexander
"Do not add garlic to your hummus."
No sooner did the words drop out of Barbara Ghazarian's mouth, that very loud, shocked gasps emerged from the audience at the incredulousness of hummus without garlic.
But Ghazarian, author of "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy," has a reason.
Garlic overpowers other flavors, especially that of the chickpea in the hummus spread, she said.
The audience, about 50, listened intently, ready to give its opinions at the Glendale Central Library Wednesday evening where Ghazarian, half Armenian and half Irish-English, came down from Monterey to talk about her book.
But it wasn't just garlic's strong bite that the audience, mainly of Armenian descent, offered its opinion on. Responses were thrown in about cooking lamb versus beef and how to get rid of the lamb's smell while cooking.
Ghazarian expected it. "Armenian food is village food," she said. "I call myself the diva of village food. It's very social food." That was part of the flavor of Armenian food, Ghazarian said. It is easy to cook and its healthy. Suzanne McLay, a dietetic intern, at Glendale Community College, agreed on the benefits of the Armenian diet.
"They use a lot of lamb, dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, which has a lot of friendly bacteria, olive oil, lemon juice, spice and vegetables. So in that respect, it is a very healthy diet," McLay said. "But they also rely on a lot of pastry, filler dough and butter. It is a little high on saturated fat."
But, most importantly, it adds color and camaraderie to the kitchen, Ghazarian said.
It adds color to the kitchen during the chopping of tomatoes and cucumbers, the mess of ground meat and the opportunity to cook it with a friend.
"It's chaos, it's chaotic," she said. "Perhaps that's what we need in our kitchens - more color, more fun and much bigger messes in order to get us to eat correctly."
Armenian food is diverse. Armenians are spread all over, the Middle East with significant populations coricentrated in Iran, Turkey and, of course, Armenia. Armenians, in these different regions, have developed their own ways of cooking different dishes and have assimilated various dishes from their Arab neighbors, such as hummus and "tabouli" salad--a finely chopped mix of parsley, tomatoes and onions. Although Armenian cooking is not vegetarian, the book claims more than half the recipes are vegetarian, a result of strict Armenian fasting requirements.
The recipes in the book took about 10 years to put together, she said, and have been tested for success.
But despite being half Armenian, Ghazarian didn't really try her hand at anything until she married her Armenian husband, Vatche, who is from Syria.
"Once we were married, I realized he wanted to eat the food that smelled and tasted like what his mother made," she said.
The book is aimed for people like her, Armenian-Americans going back to their roots. One of them was Debra Jigamian of Los Feliz, half Armenian and half American, who is rediscovering her Armenian side.
"I've always loved Armenian cooking," she said. "Cooking is an easy avenue to go back to one's culture."
A gifted storyteller, most of the yarns in the book begin with an anecdote, an explanation or a cooking tip.
Ghazarian has also compiled "Descendants of Noah: Stories of Armenian Apostolic Faith and Heritage," a collection of spiritual stories.
There are several recommendations from her book. She mentions the pickled carrots, the ground lamb and beef casserole, stuffed peppers, and of course, hummus - without garlic.
By Rima Shah
If one of your New Year's resolutions was to eat healthier, you might want to check out "Simply Armenian," a cookbook by Barbara Ghazarian, formerly of Barrington. Inspired by her mother and grandmother, Barbara learned to cook. But, after years in this country, the menu had become decidedly mixed. "My family's Armenian identity was melting into the American pot," she said.
Then, because her Armenian husband enjoyed the classic dishes, she began to cook Armenian.
The Ghazarians lived in Barrington for a year and a half, before husband Vatche's job took them to Monterey, Calif., in December of 2003. But, they divide their time between California and Middletown, where they have a condo, and they still subscribe to the Barrington Times.
Barbara, who is half Armenian, credits her Barrington neighbors for providing a sounding board as she chose recipes for the book. She wanted dishes that would appeal to the American family and that would be easy to understand and prepare.
"During the final stages ... my neighbors were my primary taste-testers," she said, and three former Primrose neighbors, Lisa Fucile, Betsy Gould and Diane Kelly, are mentioned in the book's acknowledgments.
Barbara said sharing is an important part of enjoying cooking and food. She recommends inviting a friend over to cook and doubling the recipe, so you each have a dish to enjoy or serve your family.
"Sharing cuisine on Deerfield Drive was not a one-way street," Barbara said. "My daughter, who was weaned on hummus, enjoyed her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a neighbor's house."
Lisa Fucile, who has 10-year-old twins, a boy and girl, Samantha and Cameron, turned Barbara's daughter on to peanut butter; actually, "Peanut butter and rocks (peanut butter and mini-mini-chocolate chips). It's the healthy version of a peanut butter cup," Lisa said, laughing.
"Barbara makes it pretty easy," Lisa said of the cookbook. "She really does cook like a regular person. It's not like gourmet cooking where you have to be afraid. Even her daughter eats all of it.
"I was a taste-tester. My whole family was. She would have us over to taste recipes and ask our opinion." Barbara would prepare the recipe with different seasoning amounts and keep perfecting it.
This is Barbara's second cookbook. The first was "The Kindred Kitchen," published in 1995. An experienced cook with a laboratory science background, she also wrote a weekly culinary column for a Los Angeles newspaper and taught culinary writing in Boston. She lectures from coast to coast on Armenian-related topics and also is the author of "Descendants of Noah: Stories of Armenian Apostolic Faith and Heritage."
Her attempt to make Armenian cooking more accessible is a hit. The book has garnered good reviews and sales. It's popular with dieters because the recipes utilize lots of vegetables and olive oil instead of butter. Plus, bulgur (pre-cooked cracked wheat) is a whole grain that has fewer carbohydrates than rice or potatoes.
"I have taken the intimidation factor out of Armenian fare, but not the taste, smells and exotic look of the food," Barbara said. "It's time to learn the magic of creating a feast out of a basket of fresh vegetables and a handful of bulgur."
Barbara Ghazarian's cookbook is easy to read and simple to follow. All of the recipes are easily prepared by someone familiar with a kitchen, and they range from quick and easy to a two-day process to make spiced jerky.
* The 7x9-inch soft-cover book contains 296 pages and more than 150 recipes, including appetizers and spreads, salads, soups, stuffed pastries, main dishes, breads, pizzas, drinks, desserts, and fruits and candies.
* Because Armenian cuisine relies heavily on vegetables and grains, more than half of the recipes are meat-free. And, the Armenian Orthodox calendar has 180 fasting days a year, so Lenten dishes are marked.
* Included are classics from stuffed grape leaves, hummus and baba ghanoush to dishes familiar to most Americans, such as rice pilaf, shish kebab, lentil soup, roast lamb, paklava (baklava is the Greek name) and other sweets.
* Recipes include not only a list of ingredients, but also if any "special equipment" is needed; although, this includes items most modern kitchens have (or can easily buy), such as a food processor, blender, wooden skewers, cake pans of various sizes and a candy thermometer. The least-owned item is probably a mortar and pestle. And, there are mail-order sources listed in back if you can't find some of the herbs and spices locally. And, for the more exotic ingredients, substitutions are usually suggested.
* Lamb is the preferred meat, but beef can be substituted everywhere. Other staples are chicken, eggplant, nuts and fruits.
* For the gardener, the cookbook is an inspiration to plant
purslane, mint, Swiss chard and flat-leaf parsley.
By Lynda Rego
Ethnic cookbooks are worth their weight in gold because they are usually treasure troves of family recipes.
Such is the case with Barbara Ghazarian and her Simply Armenian:
Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy (Mayreni, $17.95).
Ghazarian developed an affection and appreciation for the
ingredients (bulgur and lentils), food combinations (stuffing
vegetables with rice) and common practices (drenching pastry
with thick sugar syrup).
By Gail Ciampa, Journal Food Editor
With revised federal health guidelines advising Americans to eat more whole grains, you may be trying to add bulgur to your diet.
But cooking bulgur isn't as simple as you may think, says Armenian cookbook author Barbara Ghazarian. She was in Fresno last week to meet members of the nonprofit Ani Guild, which supports elderly residents of the California Armenian Home.
I was glad to interview Ghazarian about bulgur. This grain hasn't been part of my kitchen since the time I tried to cook it with chicken broth, spinach and bacon. That dish is the only thing I've cooked in the past 41/2 years that my fiancé didn't like.
Lucky for me, Ghazarian is an expert on bulgur. Her latest book, "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy," details some of her experiments with different types: fine, medium and coarse. To buy the book, check Internet booksellers or call Enfield Books at (603) 632-7377.
Before you cook with bulgur, you need to understand what it is. "Bulgur, also known as cracked wheat," Ghazarian writes, "was originally developed as a preservation method in which the whole-wheat kernels were boiled outdoors in huge cauldrons and then dried in the sun. Essentially, bulgur is to the Armenian kitchen what pasta is to the Italian. It's a staple - rich in nutrition, fiber and history."
Because bulgur already has been boiled, cooks simply rehydrate it, Ghazarian says. And this is where we get into trouble. Improper techniques leave bulgur too mushy or too dry.
Take sini kufteh, a dish composed of a layer of spiced lamb sandwiched in a bulgur crust.
"It sounds easy," Ghazarian says, "but to get it right is really hard."
The secret is to cook the dish in a large, thin, 12-by-17-by-1-inch baking sheet. If you use a 9-by-13-inch pan, the sini kufteh will have the texture of meatloaf.
"It's supposed to be juicy and crunchy at the same time," Ghazarian says, "not like a meatloaf."
And beware of substituting different types of bulgur, as one woman did when she used coarse bulgur instead of fine bulgur in Ghazarian's recipe for eetch, a cracked wheat-tomato salad.
The bulgur didn't rehydrate properly and turned out crunchy, which ruined the texture of the eetch, Ghazarian says.
Even bulgur pilaf, a ubiquitous dish in Armenian cuisine, can be tricky for novice cooks.
Stir the bulgur too much while cooking, and it can turn mushy, says Ghazarian, who advises giving the pot of bulgur and boiling water only "one big stir."
Stirring too much was the downfall of my bulgur, spinach and chicken broth mess.
For more successful experiences with bulgur, try Ghazarian's recipes.
And take heart if you don't get them right the first time. Ghazarian, who is half Armenian, didn't always cook Armenian cuisine. She started learning in earnest after marrying an Armenian man who wanted to eat it all the time.
Ghazarian spent 10 years standardizing recipes from her grandmother, mother-in-law and other family members and Armenian friends. But the recipes - passed down through generations - really reflect centuries of tinkering by accomplished cooks.
When it comes to bulgur, such information is rare.
"There are not a lot of places in the United States where people cook bulgur," Ghazarian says.
Hopefully, her cookbook will change that.
By Joan Obra
ETHNIC FOODS not only introduce us to new flavors, they introduce us to history and stories. The food we carry with us carries our traditions. As Ghazarian's ancestors escaped from villages that were wiped out behind them, they recreated the foods of home to the Massachusetts mill town they settled in.
Ghazarian is an Armenian American, and grew up with both traditions, giving neither much thought. But when she married an Armenian from Syria she found her kitchen skills to be spotty, and she called on relatives to build her skills and repertoire. Between two cultures, she is an able translator of culinary traditions.
While many of her recipes are traditional, she has streamlined others for modem foods, and American kitchens, like Chocolate Chip Choreg, a traditional sweet roll with an American twist Ghazarian's rich selection of dishes ranges from familiar kebabs and tabouli to more hidden kitchen secrets like a whole chapter on sweets made with quince or Easter eggs dyed with the onion skins.
Ghazarian begins the book by describing the cuisine, its flavors created by food combinations rather than with sauces or an extensive array of spices, and its use of ingredients like yogurt Armenian foods feature plenty of marinated and grilled meat kebabs, but also dishes of grains particularly bulghur lentils, rice, vegetables, and yogurt in pilafs, soups, and salads that are truly satisfying and healthy.
Some of the recipes will be familiar, overlapping with Greek dishes like spanakopita, Arab flavors like almond and quince, Turkish boreks and universal dishes liked raised and griddle breads, long simmered stews, and sharp grilled meats. Yogurt appears in every guise and course, from a yogurt cheese appetizer to a chilled yogurt drink called tahn. But others are particularly Armenian. Mention Soujouk to an Armenian-American and tears may come to his eyes.
Many of the recipes are made in quantity Butter Layered Flat Bread, Pagharch, calls for a bit more than 16 cups of flour, that's a five pound bag, and makes six loaves. Some of the dishes are wroth making in large quantities, especially familiar dishes like tabouli that become fresh with Ghazarian's traditional treatment and careful attention to detail. The recipe here for Tabouli will remind you what it is really meant to be, a Parsley Salad. Ghazarian's proportions are perfect, with the parsley dressed with bulghur rather than the other way around. After a bit of upfront chopping, and a gentle dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, the salad is a delicate blend.
On the other hand, Spinach Casserole tastes a little too good for you. Savory and hearty, it would be a great addition to potluck casserole table, or just the thing after a day of heavy work. It is a dense melding of lentils, bulghur, shot through with spinach, and bound with eggs and cheese. I'd make this again, because the flavors are so good, but I'd fiddle with the proportions.
Breads can be more mysterious. They are the kind of dishes that if you didn't grow up eating them or learning to make them at your mother's elbow, can be sometimes hard to tell where you're headed by just following a recipe. Cracked Wheat Bread is somewhat familiar you might have had a supermarket version, but homemade it is a moist loaf, with the bulghur lending a gentle chew.
Borek may also be familiar, similar to Greek spanakopita or tiropita. With store bought phyllo, Ghazarian's boreks are a breeze and a nice change from familiar spinach and feta. Her mixture of Muenster and cottage cheese is salty and savory, and plenty of chopped parsley adds color and flavor.
Desserts continue the books mix of familiar dishes and traditional recipes. Walnut cake, apricot squares, and even paklava will be familiar. But a Tahini Paklava will be a new flavor. And what could be more Armenian American than Molasses Tahini Cookies.
Ghazarian has gathered the dishes carried by generations and sharing them here, they become the flavors we eat today.
For Barbara Ghazarian, writing her cookbook was originally a way to help satisfy her husband's desire for meals from his Armenian heritage.
Instead, "Simply Armenian" became filled with her collection of family recipes, and also looked at the rich Armenian history of immigrants who made their way to Whitinsville. Mrs. Ghazarian calls it "a culinary memoir."
"The reason I did it was because I was trying to feed my husband, who is 100 percent Armenian, and second, I consider myself a storyteller, and so I was looking back into my heritage and the Armenians who have been in Whitinsville for more than 100 years," Mrs. Ghazarian said.
Nominated for the Julia Child Award by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Mrs. Ghazarian took 10 years to complete the cookbook as she gathered the stories and tested the recipes. Detailing the early history of her maternal great-grandfather from the village of Pazmashen in the Ottoman Empire during the late 19th century, to his arrival in Whitinsville to work at the Whitin Machine Works foundry, Mrs. Ghazarian discusses many of the recipes' origins.
"It's important to say this is village food, and Whitinsville is a village too, so it is from one village to another," she said. "All through the book, there are recipes from the many families, my family, my husband's family, rooted back to Armenia," she said.
Immigrants had few utensils, so over time, recipes also evolved. Mrs. Ghazarian said early in the 1920s, many families gathered and held picnics cooking meats and vegetables on skewers over an open fire, known as shish kebab. She said she took her scientific background as a molecular biologist and kept each recipe in the tradition of the family, while making it fit modern kitchens.
"I thought that I had a way, as someone who was half Armenian, to givea voice to each recipe," she said.
Mrs. Ghazarian said it took a long time to finish the book because she took great care to make a smooth translation, since many of her family's recipes were not made using modern kitchen utensils.
While some recipes might get lost in the translation, others are impractical in the age of convenience.
"My grandmother made bastegh, which is grape roll-up. It is simple to make, if you have the ability to clear out a room in your house, lay down a white sheet, pour the fruit mixture on the sheet and let dry for 10 days," Mrs. Ghazarian said. "I have no idea how my grandmother made this."
She didn't give up too many of the traditional recipes in the book. One she describes as the most popular takes two days to prepare and a month before it is ready to consume. Soujouk is the Armenian version of beef jerky and made in early fall in order for it to dry out.
"I was in a bookstore in Beverly Hills and a woman came up to me and asked, 'How long do you think it will take to dry in Beverly Hills?' which was funny because I didn't consider that weather," Mrs. Ghazarian said. She now lives in northern California.
The Armenian culture also embraces the Christian religion and more than half of the recipes are considered vegan, made without animal products because of the fasting required at Lent.
Mrs. Ghazarian said she wrote each recipe with the step-by-step instructions for those who wanted to attempt ethnic cooking or are somewhat intimidated with complex processes.
Ingredients are available at some international markets, such as Reliable Market on Chandler Street in Worcester. She wanted to encourage cooks to take one of the recipes and make it their own.
"This captures the soul of Armenian cooking. You can find out about culture and enjoy cooking," she said.
The book is available on Amazon.com and from Enfield Books, PO Box 699, Enfield, NH, 03748, 603-632-7377.
By Susan O'Neill
Pilot Club selling
cookbooks Tuesday at Taste of Home
Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, April 5, 2005
Turkish versions of Armenian cuisine aren't as widespread as they once were.
In a small deli, Richard and Gerry Hagopian cling to a fading cuisine.
Gerry Hagopian stands over a bubbling pot of tomato broth to stir kufta, meatballs of spiced, ground lamb encased in a crust of bulgur and beef. She then mixes the toorshi, plunging her hands and arms into a large vat of cabbage and carrots pickled in vinegar.
And she shows off a package in the dining-room freezer. It's sou bourag, a dish with 12 to 15 layers of thin noodles, butter, cheese and parsley. Making the noodles is so time- consuming that hardly anyone cooks them from scratch anymore. But Gerry Hagopian still does.
This is Turkish-Armenian cuisine, made from the recipes of those who survived the Armenian genocide and fled to the United States. A handful of central San Joaquin Valley shops still offer this type of food, including Hagopian's International Deli in Visalia, Uncle Harry's restaurant in Reedley and Valley Lahvosh Baking Co. in Fresno.
For these old-timers - direct descendants of genocide survivors - cooking their parents' meals defies the Turks' destruction of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Though Turks still deny the genocide ever happened, Armenians say the ruthless campaign started 90 years ago, on April 24, 1915. These Valley cooks also have another reason to preserve their versions of Turkish- Armenian food: Their cuisine is different from the food of genocide survivors who settled in the Middle East, says Barbara Ghazarian, the Monterey author of "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy."
In the Middle East, foods such as hummus, a chickpea dip, and baba ghannouj, a spread of roasted eggplant and sesame-seed paste, crept onto Armenian tables.
The regional cuisines stayed separate until the 1970s, when civil war erupted in Lebanon. Once again, Armenians escaped to the United States, bringing the tastes of Middle Eastern-Armenian dishes.
And as this Middle Eastern influence grows in the Valley and elsewhere, Turkish- Armenian food from the time of the genocide becomes more rare. The survivors' children, now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, are aging.
"We're really limited in Armenian restaurants with recipes from the old days, recipes from people at the turn of the century," says Harry Horasanian, owner of Uncle Harry's. "Since the massacres, a lot of Armenians were living with a large Arabic influence and seasoning food differently."
Wars change a cuisine
It's not the first time a war has transformed the food of Armenians. Said to be descendants of Noah, Armenians populated the area between the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean seas - the trade route between East and West. Conquerors in Europe, Asia and the Middle East constantly fought over this territory, subjecting Armenian kingdoms to their rule.
Amid this turmoil, Armenian food changed again and again. In A.D. 301, Armenians became the first people to adopt Christianity as their official religion. Decades later, when Armenian church leaders were centered at Constantinople, the flavors of the Byzantine Empire colored their cooking.
"The combination of rice, currants, onions and pine nuts is a legacy from that era, a legacy which, in fact, belongs to those of the Orthodox faith, be it Armenian, Greek or Eastern," writes Tess Mallos in "The Complete Middle East Cookbook."
In the 13th century, the Mongols invaded India, Afghanistan, Persia, Armenia and Russia, introducing pasta and noodles, Mallos adds. As a result, mante - an Armenian dish of small pasta pockets filled with spiced meat - has Russian and Turkish variations.
By the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks had conquered most of Asia Minor and Armenia. In the late 1800s, economic and religious differences between Turks and Armenians led to mass murders, then the genocide.
Valley Armenians share terse stories of this time.
Horasanian talks about the years just before the genocide, when his paternal grandparents gradually helped their children leave the Ottoman Empire - before the Turks killed them.
Richard Hagopian's father was a third-grader when the Turks shot his father and brother. They pushed the young boy on a death march into the Syrian desert. Of his family, only three people survived.
Even after years of living in the United States, genocide survivors didn't reveal many more details of the murders.
They "didn't like to talk about it much," Richard Hagopian says.
Lamb, vegetables and more
Wars aren't the only factors that shape Armenian cuisine.
For these deeply Christian people, vegetarian dishes are a must. The Armenian Orthodox Church requires its followers to fast for 180 days every year.
"When they broke the fast at sundown," author Ghazarian says, "they were not allowed to eat any animal product."
The fast days are one reason Armenians in the Middle East adopted the vegetarian dishes of their new countries, she adds.
The mountainous, landlocked terrain of Armenian lands also influenced the food.
"Even today, you can be completely cut off due to blizzards," Ghazarian says of rural Armenian towns. Foods that kept well became staples, including bulgur, the flat cracker bread called lahvosh and spicy meat jerky called bastirma and soujouk.
"Basically, you're living off the land," Ghazarian says. "So the canning, the pickles, all that stuff -- that's about surviving the winter."
Lamb, the traditional meat, also figures prominently in the cuisine. In addition to shish kebab, lamb appears in kheyma, a dish of finely-ground, raw meat kneaded with spices and bulgur. Ground, spiced lamb also tops lahmajoon, a thin Armenian pizza. It forms the filling, and at times the crust, of the stuffed meatball called kufta.
Yet despite tradition, Armenians born in the Middle East are more likely to eat beef.
"Beef is the meat of preference for most Armenians born in the Middle East because they say the lamb available there 'smelled' odd," Ghazarian writes in "Simply Armenian."
Similar, yet different
These tenets of Armenian cuisine play into the food prepared by the Valley's old-time cooks.
Vegetarian dishes such as yalanchi sarma -- grape leaves rolled around a filling of rice, onions and tomato -- are popular at Hagopian's International Deli.
At Uncle Harry's, customers clamor for Horasanian's fried eggplant slices or his roasted-eggplant spread flavored with liberal amounts of red-wine vinegar and olive oil. It's similar to the Middle Eastern baba ghannouj but doesn't contain the sesame-seed paste in that dish.
Indeed, many of the Turkish-Armenian dishes from the early 1900s also appear in other cuisines. The variations lie in flavorings and spices. And even among different regions of the Ottoman Empire, foods can taste different.
For example, when Horasanian mixes his version of kheyma, he flavors it with tomato sauce, black pepper and paprika. But when Ghazarian makes it, she reaches for cayenne, cumin and cinnamon.
Ghazarian's family was from the Harpout region, which is now in the Elazig province in central-eastern Turkey. By contrast, the dominant culinary influence in Horasanian's food comes from his father's family, who hailed from Tomarza, a city in a mountainous region west of Harpout.
The differences continue at Hagopian International Deli. There, the kufta is made by Gerry Hagopian, whose family lived in Chomaklou, a village in the Kayseri province of central Turkey and known to Turks as Comaklu. Her kufta filling of spiced, ground lamb is different from the pomegranates and nuts used in Erzurum, the city in Eastern Turkey that was home to Richard Hagopian's family until the genocide.
Over the years, these cooks have introduced other changes. Beef is widely used now, partly because lamb is expensive and partly because Americans prefer beef to lamb.
At Uncle Harry's, the kheyma is made with ground beef, as is the lahmajoon topping. And at Hagopian's International Deli, beef forms the crust of the kufta.
But these differences are slight. For the most part, Valley cooks stay true to their parents' food.
"It's been 90 years since my father came from the old country," Horasanian says. "These recipes haven't been changed in about 100 years."
The more things change
The food may remain the same, but the rise and fall of Fresno's Armenian Town shows how much has changed since the genocide.
The neighborhood started in the early 1900s, with Armenians who escaped the Ottoman Empire before the genocide. In 1914, these new Fresno immigrants built the existing Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church at M Street and Ventura Avenue. And in 1922, Gazair Saghatelian opened the California Baking Co. at M and Santa Clara streets.
"You had the church and the bakery," says Janet Saghatelian, Gazair's daughter. "Those were the two most sacred things in Armenian culture."
The neighborhood grew, eventually filling the area between Inyo, O and Los Angeles streets and Broadway. From the late 1920s to the early 1940s, this neighborhood was the hub of Armenian life in Fresno, Janet Saghatelian says.
"Then all the boys went to war," she adds, "and families started moving out."
The bakery lived on. Janet Saghatelian took it over, and now her daughter, Agnes Saghatelian, handles day-to-day operations.
Time brought other changes. The bakery expanded to become the Valley Lahvosh Baking Co. The Saghatelians now sell their lahvosh throughout the United States and Canada. Also, the lahvosh no longer is made by hand. Machines shape and bake it into a variety of sizes and shapes.
But some things didn't change. Older Armenians still prefer the traditional 15-inch-wide lahvosh to the smaller rounds of cracker bread.
"Her generation doesn't want to mess with these small crackers," Agnes Saghatelian says, pointing to her mother.
It's these large rounds of lahvosh that inspired the term "breaking bread together," Janet Saghatelian says. At dinner, Armenian families would pass around the large lahvosh, and everyone would break off a piece.
These old-time Armenians also soften cracker bread the traditional way: They place water-soaked lahvosh between two damp kitchen towels for 45 minutes or until the cracker bread is pliable enough to roll.
There always was a supply of this softened lahvosh on Armenian tables, called dahnhatz, or "bread of the house," Janet Saghatelian says. Family and friends would tear off a piece and eat it with parsley, basil and homemade Armenian cheese.
Another of the company's traditional products is peda, a soft bread with a milk wash and sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It's still made from Gazair Saghatelian's recipe, which came from Moush, his hometown in Eastern Turkey that is called Mus by the Turks.
For Janet Saghatelian, one of the best ways to enjoy peda is with shish kebab, skewered lamb roasted over burning grape vines.
"A wedge of fresh peda would be used to pull the meat off the skewers," she says, "and that wonderful juice-laden piece of bread would be handed to our honored guest or fought over by children in the family."
It's a complex bread that takes eight hours to make, from mixing to hand-shaping to baking. And it's available only at the company's original bakery.
"You don't rush that peda," Janet Saghatelian says. "It's pretty complex."
She admits that she loses money on the bread, but she doesn't care.
Like other cooks of her generation, she has only one reason to continue making her father's dishes: "We do it because it's my heritage."
By Joan Obra
"Kick off the summer barbecue season with spiced lamb
patties Armenians call losh kebabs," suggests Barbara Ghazarian
in her new cookbook, Simply Armenian, a 2005 Writers Digest
Book Award winner. But lamb patties garnished with yogurt sauce
are jus the beginning of the icon wonderful and satisfying summer-time
dishes included among the over 150-award winning, easy-to-make,
classic Armenian recipes included in this cookbook that will
become a favorite on your shelf, even if you are not Armenian.
Ghazarian is an experienced cook and a natural teacher with a
gift for storytelling. Through sharing her family's Armenian
heritage as well as their cooking secrets, she combines the information
a cook needs with the wisdom of generations of grandmothers.
It's a rare cookbook, indeed, which provides enough tips and
instructions within the recipes to help those who are more "culinary
challenged" than cookbook authors.
Simply Armenian draws on ancient culinary traditions of the Tigris and Euphrates river basins to reveal the secrets of the naturally healthy Armenian table. For centuries, Armenians have been eating like sultans on what others considered scraps and pantry basics. Rather than rely on condiments, sauces or lots of seasonings, Armenian dishes depend upon the food itself, or combination of foods, to give fine flavor. The book explores recipes ranging from inexpensive peasant fare to more elaborate special occasion dishes. More than half are meat-free and all are delivered with the cheerful generosity of a neighbor. Beginners to experienced home cooks interested in successfully sampling a new cuisine without investing tons of time or money will appreciate these fail-proof dishes, guaranteeing friends and family will fight for seats at your table!
by Alec Franklor
Don't know much about this fruit? It's laden with history and has a unique spot in local ag.
Many local folks don't recognize the quince, a hard and often tart fruit that looks like a funny-shaped apple.
But a handful of growers know it well. Most of the quince's commercial production in the United States rests on a few hundred acres in Fresno and Tulare counties. Harvest begins around Labor Day and typically ends in mid-November, says John Kaprielian, a Reedley farmer who tends three varieties of this fruit: pineapple quince, Smyrna quince and golden quince.
It's a fruit that has fascinated local growers for more than a century. George C. Roeding, the horticulturist and parks commissioner who lent his name to Roeding Park, is credited with importing the Smyrna quince from Turkey in the late 1800s.
Despite the strong Valley connection to the fruit, shoppers may have a hard time finding fresh quince in supermarkets and farmers markets. Whole Foods in Fig Garden Village already is selling it, and it could appear on more market shelves as the harvest season progresses. But much of the quince grown here heads to Los Angeles, where ethnic groups such as Hispanics and Armenians buy the fruit. Or it's sent to the Middle East, where it's widely eaten.
Quince still is popular among "all the cultures that still place a high value on food," says Brian Keavy, who markets quince for Ballantine Produce in Reedley. "Our culture races toward convenience. One of our greatest challenges is to get people to slow down."
Quince was the original fruit used in marmalades. "The Portuguese word for quince is marmelo, and the quince jam in Portugal was called marmalada," states the 1987-88 catalog of the Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, a specialty fruit-tree nursery in Baroda, Mich.
In Armenia, cooks turn the quince into preserves, jellies and juice. In Iran, quince often is paired with meats such as lamb. And in Spain and Latin America, a quince paste called dulce de membrillo often is eaten with various cheeses, including the Spanish manchego and tetilla, or the Mexican cotija.
In the Valley, quince paste is easier than the fresh fruit to find in stores. The El Mexicano brand is sold at some stores that cater to Hispanics. At La Paella, a Spanish restaurant at Champlain Drive and Perrin Avenue, diners can order a dessert of Spanish dulce de membrillo with tetilla cheese and a glass of port or sherry.
"People had the [quince] trees at home," says Frank Vidal, the owner of La Paella and a native of the Spainish province of Galicia. "We used to make the membrillo at home."
Making the paste was a lengthy process, he adds.
Quince is widely perceived as a difficult fruit. Its tart,
chewy texture means it's rarely eaten raw. And cooking it requires
preparation. The skin has a light fuzz that must be removed.
Its core is particularly hard to cut. Cooking turns its pale
flesh into a beautiful red, ruby color - but it typically takes
a couple of hours of cooking for this transformation.
"Everyone says quince is hard to work with," says Barbara Ghazarian, a Monterey author whose cookbook, "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy," contains a chapter about quince. "But if you're a home cook who's willing to cook with apples, then you're a home cook who's willing to work with quince."
Commercial quince already is defuzzed, she points out. And if you happen to get the fruit from a backyard tree, rubbing it with a dish towel should take care of the pesky fuzz.
Most of the time, you can use a knife to cut through the quince. If it proves too hard, a food processor easily will slice it.
Like apples, the quince browns quickly, so plunge the slices into a bowl of water with a little lemon juice.
If you're looking for a quick dish, simply cook the fruit in cobblers or as you would an apple pie. The quince may not turn that deep red color, but it'll still taste good.
If, however, you're looking for the ruby hue, let the fruit simmer for a couple of hours to make preserves, Ghazarian says.
The color and cooking time depend on the variety. The Smyrna won't start to jell until it turns a deep red, she says. But the golden quince will start to set up once the flesh has turned a golden color.
You can identify the Smyrna by its irregular shape. The smoother golden quince, by contrast, "is just a really buff fruit. Huge and buff," Ghazarian says. "If the fruit was a guy, it would be Matt Damon, and I would marry it."
For recipes such as stuffed quinces, the Smyrna would be a good choice.
"The Smyrna really holds its shape," Kaprielian says. "It won't get mushy or fall apart."
Kaprielian also offers a tip for ripening the quince: Simply let it sit at room temperature until it turns yellow and gives off an aromatic scent, a process that can take several weeks.
"A lot of times, a quince will get better after harvest," Kaprielian says. "It keeps ripening."
Once it is ripe, store it in a plastic container with a damp paper towel. Cover the container, but leave the lid slightly ajar. Kept this way, it will stay fresh for a couple of months in the refrigerator.
Kaprielian and Ghazarian, who are both Armenian, have ancestral ties to the quince. This ancient fruit was born in the Caucasus - the mountainous region between the Black and Caspian seas that now includes Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The quince has biblical, mythical and historical significance. It is said to be the apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Babylonians cultivated it. The Persians took it south, and the Greeks took it to the east.
It is the fruit that started the Trojan War, the conflict launched by a rivalry between three goddesses. Each hoped to win a quince destined for the fairest one. Their judge: Paris, the prince of Troy.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love, made Paris an irresistible offer. If he awarded her the quince, she would have the most beautiful woman in the world fall in love with him. Aphrodite won the fruit, and Paris won the heart of Helen, who already was married to the king of Sparta.
Helen left her husband for Paris, and her husband waged the Trojan War to bring her back.
Other peoples, such as the Romans, traveled with the quince, introducing it to areas such as the British Isles.
And when early European settlers came to America, they carried the quince, Ghazarian says. The first quince tree she tended likely was planted by settlers in Whitinsville, Mass.
"My family history with the fruit goes back to when my aunt and her family purchased a home with a fruit-bearing quince tree in the yard," Ghazarian writes in "Simply Armenian." "But it was my grandmother who cared for the trees. She watched the fruit for signs of ripening during the final days of September and labored in the kitchen for days afterwards, making her royal red quince preserves and jelly."
Ghazarian has noticed rising interest in the fruit, which has prompted her to collect more recipes and historical information for a cookbook devoted to quince.
"Quince is the up-and- coming thing," she says.
By Joan Obra
Barbara Ghazarian didn't set out to be on national TV, but when producers of a popular PBS show sought an expert on Armenian food, they didn't have to look far.
"I just happened to be in Worcester (Mass.) giving a talk at a book store," said Ghazarian, a former Watertown, Mass., resident who moved to Pacific Grove two years ago. "They said they needed somebody to film an Armenian food segment that week, so they called me."
The show, "Real Simple TV," is a news/lifestyle series that profiles simple yet effective solutions to everyday occurrences, from cooking to homemaking. The program is an extension of Real Simple magazine, a national publication that preceded the TV program.
It helped that Ghazarian's book, "Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy" (Meyreni Publishing), features 150 Armenian recipes culled from Ghazarian's family vaults, as well as her own concoctions. The book was released in August 2004 and the second printing was published in September 2005.
The book is both a cookbook and historical documentation of the cuisine and culture prominent in Republic of Armenia, a small mountain country bordered by Eastern Turkey, Jordan and Iran.
The book won the 2005 Writer's Digest Book Award. Its concept is described best in the subtitle: "Armenian cuisine that can be cooked up quick and easy for the time-starved, non-cooking set."
"For under $20, you can get 150 recipes that have been tested and re-tested by my family and me for generations," she said. "I wrote it so that you don't invest a lot of time, money or energy."
All of the recipes are written with the novice cook in mind, but are authentic in both the ingredients used and the preparation involved. Everything from lamb to yogurt to quince can be found inside the pages, and all in steps that fit in with the themes of both the book and television show.
And so it happened that the author of "Simply Armenian" and the producers of "Real Simple TV" simply crossed paths at the right moment. Ghazarian has made the most of it.
"It was just a case of right title, right place, right time," she said. "A lot of people in the culinary business are like 'How did you get in there?'"
The segment featuring Ghazarian, titled "What to Buy at an Armenian Market," will air during Episode 6 of the series. It is scheduled to run this month on PBS, including the San Francisco affiliate KQED. Check your local listings for exact date and times.
During the segment, Ghazarian explains the five items that are essential to good Armenian cooking. She lists them as such:
· Flatbread: "Everything is eaten with bread."
· Yogurt: "When in doubt, Armenians will put a dollop of yogurt on everything. It's just the way it is."
· Olives: "I'm not an olive lover, but in the center of any Armenian table, you'll find bread, Armenian string cheese and a plate of olives, both green and black."
· Pickled vegetables: "It's just easier that way, and you can have an assortment for all occasions."
· Sumac: "It's a spice. It's hard to find, but you can add it to anything, from green salad to steamed vegetables."
In her book, Ghazarian offers not only simple steps to follow, but a bit of family history that helps put the cuisine in a cultural and historic context. The book opens with a brief family history that traces her great-grandfather Sarkis' immigration to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century to her own honeymoon experience in Armenia more than 90 years later.
She also explains the religious influence of both the country and its cuisine. Ghazarian said Armenia is the oldest Christian nation in the world, having declared it as the national religion in 303 A.D. The Armenian Church recognizes 180 fasting days during the year, mostly during the time of Lent, when they are asked not to eat any meat or dairy products.
As a result of those practices, more than half of the recipes in "Simply Armenian" are vegetarian dishes. As an added bonus, more than 50 recipes meet vegan standards, something that happened on its own.
"Everything is tied up in this Christian theme," she explained. "I wrote this book for everyone, but if you happen to be Armenian, you don't have to buy a Lenten cook book."
Ghazarian's book has gotten plenty of praise from food historians and Armenian communities. In her former enclave of Watertown, Mass., which harbors a large Armenian population, feature stories have been written up in The Boston Globe. Likewise, the Fresno Bee has devoted some significant coverage; the San Joaquin Valley has a large Armenian presence as well, including many fruit farmers and agricultural workers.
"In Fresno, Armenians are very prominent in the fruit industry, particularly grapes and tree fruits," she said. "We have a strong presence in the San Joaquin Valley."
By Marc Cabrera
Armenian cuisine is all about celebrating abundance. The food is plentiful, simple, and packed with vegetables. It's also surprisingly familiar, since Armenian culture - which was scattered after hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported by the ruling Ottoman government in the early 20th century - has extended into the Middle East, North America, Europe, and many other lands.
Many basic Armenian ingredients - such as tahini, flat breads,
bulgur, and specialty olives - can be found in supermarkets around
the country. But if you're having trouble finding any Armenian
items, try ordering from Kalustyan's, in New York City (www.kalustyans.com);
Sunnyland Mills (www.sunnylandmills.com); and even Amazon's gourmet
food section (www.amazon.com/gourmetfood). Here, Barbara Ghazarian,
author of Simply Armenian (Mayreni Publishing, $18, www.amazon.com),
names the building blocks of Armenian cuisine and tells how to
www.realsimple.com, February 9, 2006