Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Multi-Purpose Apple Cider Vinegar!

High up on my list of "pros" for Armenia, as mentioned in my article for The Armenian Weekly, is the availability of the farmer's markets, or shugas. In Canada I had to go to so many shops and even supermarkets before I could find a well-made and genuinely unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. In Armenia, in just under 15 minutes, I can walk to the closest shuga, choose from over 15 people selling it, ask those directly making it all the annoying questions I have, be invited to see where it is made, and leave satisfied after spending about 300 drams on a half litre.

Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is always in my house. There are lots of reasons, and I will go over just a few. Of course a tasty and nutritious addition to any salad or dressing, it livens up the flavour and also helps out our digestive system. ACV mimics stomach acid, or HCl, much like lemon juice, and helps break down food--especially proteins, easing the burden on our bodies. You can even drink it diluted with water in preparation for meals beforehand to avoid any indigestion.

It can also be used on hair - about a month or so ago I officially jumped on the "no shampoo/conditioner" bandwagon and have been using ACV as my conditioner, again, well diluted with water. It works great by detangling my hair, and keeping it clean and shiny. The smell isn't fantastic, but as your hair dries it gradually disappears (if anyone thinks I smell like ACV speak now please). Again, a much better alternative compared to conditioners loaded with chemicals that strip away our hair's natural oils and replace it with headache-inducing "flower" fragrances (gross imported Russian conditioners, I'm looking at you).

I recently noticed that ACV is packaged nicely in supermarkets as well here in Armenia, but unlike the ones I find at the shugas, they are too 'pretty' - like kombucha, you always want to look for the ones with the "residue" or strands at the bottom of the bottle - showing that they have not been over-heated/filtered and therefore still contain all of the beneficial enzymes and bacteria. Just give the bottle a gentle shake before using to distribute all of the good stuff!

Here is a very simple and delicious dressing incorporating ACV into your salads or grains:

-4 TBSP of ACV
-1 TBSP tahini
-a couple of pinches of dried herbs (dill, parsley, cilantro)
-hot pepper

Mix them all together, adding more ACV depending on the consistency you want, and enjoy!

For my braver blog readers, make sure to google "apple cider vinegar mother" to check out what the bacteria looks like!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ոսպով Քիւֆթէ (Vospov Kufteh) or Lentil Burgers

I mentioned in my first Armenian Weekly article that vospov kufteh was one of my favourite "vegan-by-default" Armenian foods. Yet, I have only featured vospov chorbah on this blog. It's time to put an end to that madness.

Vospov kufteh is not only delicious, it is a complete protein with iron, vitamin C and B6, and besides the lentils, it is a raw dish as well, so it is ideal for the warmer weather. It is also very simple to make, it just involves a waiting period for the lentils to cool down.

My good Argentinian friend Alin is back in Armenia and after postponing a dinner date too many times to count, we settled on yesterday and set it in stone by being dramatic. I finally had an excuse to make one of my favourite dishes, and had all the ingredients already.

What you need:
-Red lentils
-Bulghur (there tends to be 3 different sizes for the grain, always opt for the smallest one)
-Spring onion
-Red pepper or paprika

I forgot to take photos of the entire preparation process because I forget how to blog sometimes, so I will write the directions down and include a photo of the final product:


-RINSE THE LENTILS. Rinse until the water is clear - if you missed my initial scary warnings, check out this post immediately before you think about skipping this step. Rinse well, add enough water to just cover the lentils, and keep a kettle with hot water near-by in case you need to add a little more. Remove the foam bubbles too of course!

-The lentils should become quite mushy and there should be no water left. It can be a little tricky in terms of making sure there is enough water to cook but not over-doing it and being left with too much. You can always drain the water out but this will of course remove some of the flavour. Once they are cooked and mushy, just set them aside - they need to cool down significantly (this is the "waiting period" my attention span is too short for).

-Rinse a few cups of bulghur (doesn't need to be as hardcore as with the lentils) and put just enough water so that they are covered - but the idea again is for the bulghur to absorb all the water, so make sure not to put too much. Draining the water here could eliminate some B-vitamins since they are water-soluble and I also found it quite hard to do since the bulghur is so tiny. Set the bulghur aside - it should be done in about 30-45 mins (until the grains are softened).

-Once the lentils have cooled off so they are lukewarm, we can begin the mixing. The reason we don't add the bulghur to the hot lentils is because the bulghur would then cook. We keep it raw by soaking it and while it provides substance and protein, it should not be the main flavour of the dish, and having them cooked would dramatically change this peaceful understanding and co-existence with the lentils. Add the bulghur gradually, while mixing, until the ratio is about 3:1 in favour of bulghur (again, since it is not cooked, the flavour will not overpower the mighty lentil even in higher amounts).

-Add the finely chopped spring onion and parsley (doesn't have to be as fine as in tabouleh) - but make sure to have drained the water out after washing them. Proceed with the mixing.

-Add generous amounts of cumin powder (in terms of spices, the cumin flavour should reign supreme) and add the red pepper for colour as well as spice. Add the salt to your liking. Mix it all up and taste it - if it needs more cumin/red pepper/salt, add it before you begin the kufteh-making.

-Grab about a spoonful of the mix, squeeze it in your hands to create an oval-esque shape, and place it on a new plate. Do this until the mixture is finished. Make sure to have a good playlist ready before you begin or you will get kufteh particles all over your computer trying to click "replay" for Bob Dylan songs (true story).

-Optional: make it pretty by decorating with a few more sprinkles of red pepper and some springs of parsley. This is for my more elegant blog-readers.

That's it! As you can see, the "hardest" part of this recipe is simply waiting for the lentils to cool down and the bulgur to soak up all the water, so as long as you have some other tasks to do within this time period, it really is an easy and quick recipe. The final product is worth it, and you can make a lot and keep it in the fridge for some surprise snacks for the following days. This is way my mother makes the dish, and my father said in Jerusalem they would flatten the kuftehs like patties and cook them on a pan with some flour and oil until crispy. I have yet to try this, but summer BBQs - watch out!
Mother's style - I didn't have any parsley leftover for garnishing
So there you have it, one of the best Armenian dishes ever and it is suitable for vegans. For those who are gluten-free, although I have not tried it, you could always substitute the bulghur for some quinoa (but I imagine you would need to cook it VS sprouting it for 3 days).

Since it was a complete protein, I decided to pair it with some greens and made a simple salad with romaine lettuce, cucumbers, grated carrot and toasted sunflower seeds. The dressing was a mix of tahini, apple cider vinegar and a dried dill/parsley mix I bought in Artsakh. Here is the pair in all of its "Lena-can't-use-cameras-very-well" glory: