This week’s cooking class was held in high anticipation by me. Middle eastern, ah, what a lovely cuisine and one I know a fair amount about, confirmed by the lack of knowledge of many of my classmates. However, we were learning Armenian specifically and that is not so similar to Lebanese, but still quite good. On the menu:
Vegetable Barley Soup
Hot Armenian Salad
Cracked Wheat with Noodles
Dried Fruit Compote
We started with the usual description of commonly used products and lifestyle of the region. Armenia is known for having a slew of fresh produce year round. Their produce is rich and diverse and thus their cuisine is considered to be the healthiest with their citizens living to nearly 100. They are most known for introducing their apricots and peaches to the world, as well as walnuts, and credit themselves to baklava, and not the Greeks. Louisse purchased the large lavash bread to eat as crackers throughout the night as well as to soak and use for dipping later with our meal.
We started with the barley soup which was light and delicious and I loved the chewy barley. This was pretty straight forward and adding the thyme and lemon juice right at the end of cooking really rounded it out. Next we started getting the dried fruit compote going. You first have to boil the syrup mixture which is water, lemon, honey, and a cinnamon stick. Once you got that going you simmer all of your fruits and nuts into the syrup for about a half hour. We used an amazing assortment of multicolored raisins, apricots, Northwest cranberries, blanched almonds, pine nuts, and figs. After that simmers awhile you let it cool and then you let it chill to set up a bit more. This was really tasty and I loved the hint of spice in it. She kept talking about how great leftovers go on oatmeal or vanilla ice cream and I would love to make some just to have on oatmeal!
The two salads were similar but different. The eggplant salad we started first because you have to first cook the eggplant. For this dish we physically cooked the eggplant directly on her gas stove to get that smoky char flavor. For about 10 minutes we rotated it on the burner on high heat until its skin was black and it was oozing its liquid. We split it in half, squeezed a lemon over it and set it aside to cool. After that you remove the seeds and skin and cube it before adding it to a colorful selection of tomatoes, green and red peppers, parsley, and a dressing of lemon, olive oil, cumin and cayenne. This was a great salad on the acidic side and I quite liked it. The other salad was like your typical fattoush salad. It was finely chopped onion, cucumber, tomato, and parsley with a similar dressing as the first but with more cayenne and paprika instead of cumin. This salad was fresh and crunchy and had a very nice hit of heat to it.
For our main dish we made cumin meatballs with a noodle-bulgur salad. The cumin meatballs were delicious and easy to make. With an added dose of cumin to them they are then gently shaped into small footballs before searing on the stove and then adding a tomato sauce to the pan to simmer them in, and then after removing the cooked meatballs, thickening the sauce in the pan over high heat to pour over the meatballs. The noodle dish first cooked broken vermicelli in butter on the pan until brown. You then add bulgur wheat to the pan and chicken broth and then cook like rice. This was a great and simple dish that I think would be a hit among many.
This was a really fresh and flavorful dinner that I quite enjoyed. I would have liked to do something a little more labor intensive or unique but I understand that this was probably very exotic to many in the class. And I still see myself recreating some of the dishes at home so it was indeed well worth it.