Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cauliflower Mash/Cruciferous Party!

Pretty cauliflowers had been catching my eye lately and after getting a food processor, I was finally tempted enough to try making cauliflower mash (like mashed potatoes but BETTER!). I bought some and noticed there was broccoli right beside it as well and decided a cruciferous vegetable dinner needed to take place.

For the cauliflower mash, I didn't have a recipe, but had IDEAS. I planned on boiling it until softened, then cooking it with some garlic, spring onions, spices and oil before letting it cool off so I could process it into a hmoz-esque mush. I decided to add cumin, hot pepper, black pepper, paprika, salt and turmeric to it and see what would happen. DUN DUN DUUUUN!
I actually think I forgot to add the cumin which would only be embarrassing if the dish didn't end up being SO GOOD!
I decided I would boil the broccoli as well with some zucchini and then mix it with some quinoa to pair it up with the cauliflower mash. Even though it is summer and therefore the best time to incorporate more raw foods and meals, cruciferous vegetables fall into the "better cooked than raw" category because of their goitrogenic aspect when eaten raw, which can adversely affect the thyroid. Other examples of cruciferous veggies include Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, bok choy, etc. 

I began with boiling the cauliflower until soft and tested it with a fork. Once softened I let it cool off and blasted some music so I would not get bored and give up on it and decide annoying the house-cat was a better way to spend my time.
I chopped up some garlic and let it sit for reasons that can be found here, and cut the spring onions and dill as well. I stir-fried them with the broccoli and the spices and ended up adding a little bit of soy sauce as well (for some kick and also to mimic gravy). 
It smelled really good by this point
While it cooled off again I focused on the broccoli aspect and I just boiled it and the zucchini until soft, cooked the quinoa, combined them and added Georgian spices this time and sprinkled some sesame seeds on top. My dinner guests came over and Arpine brought us a surprise dessert from Italy I had never heard of and she was very excited about it:
It will be known as "hard cloud" sweet thing from now on
Once the cauliflower dish cooled down, I put it in the food processor and added a little tahini too. It took a while to process because there weren't any liquids in there, so next time I will save some of the cauliflower "broth" and add a little to keep it going. It eventually became the mush I had imagined earlier in the day, and it was dinner time. 
I cannot express with mere words how tasty it was - I was so impressed with it. So flavourful and it had the kick I was hoping it would - via the garlic and the soy sauce. I definitely recommend it and all I would change would be adding some of the liquid to make it a little easier to process.
Arpine's plate was the only one that did not look gross as a result of mixing. She is so classy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Almond-Date Squares!

So remember I mentioned in this blog post that my super cute friends got me a food processor for my birthday? I had used it to make hmoz so far and my sweet-cravings finally inspired me to make a dessert with it. I wanted something that could be a delicious power-snack but that could also act as a filling quick breakfast.

I remembered the crust recipe for this delicious raw dessert, and decided to do something similar. I couldn't find the raw cacao I brought with me (I really have no idea where I could have put it) so I decided to make an exception and un-raw it up by including some dark chocolate. The dates combined with the bitter chocolate would satisfy anyone's sweet tooth!

What you need:
-Almonds
-Dates (the softer/fresher the better)
-Flax seed powder
-Sesame seeds
-Salt
-Dark chocolate
-Coconut flakes (optional)
-Cinnamon powder (optional)

Only the dates were a little hard to find - there are options of course, but I've been fortunate enough to have tasted good dates, so dried up little raisin-wannabes don't really cut it. Usually I can find really good ones from Iran but this time I made a semi-compromise and bought a small box of them at a supermarket since the market didn't have any, and there were enough 'okay' ones to make it work.

Directions:
-First grind the flax seed powder. For more information on the wonderful little powerhouse that is the all-mighty flax seed, check out this post. I also mention there why grinding them is important.
-Put the almonds in the food processor and process until they become a coarse powder.
-Remove the seeds from the dates and add as many as it takes to get a slightly sticky consistency going. The fresher the dates, the less you will need.
-Add sesame seeds, salt, coconut flakes, cinnamon powder, flax seed powder and process so it is all mixed together well. Add some of the dark chocolate and process until it is all blended in together.
Looking at the photos, it was (apparently) no-pants Wednesday at our house so only hand pictures for this post!
-Place mixture in a lasagna-esque glass container or tupperware and flatten it out. Since it is not a crust this time I kept it relatively thick.
-Sprinkle on a little more sesame seeds for decoration
-Because of the flax seed powder, best to keep it in the freezer.

What I love about this recipe is that any sugar the dates have is balanced out nicely not only from the fibre in the dates themselves, but also as a result of the the high-fibre (solube, too!) flax seed powder. Fibre helps release sugar gradually so our blood sugar levels don't spike. Since everything that goes up must come down, this spike causes fatigue, headaches, moodiness, irritability, grogginess, and much more. The mix of the nuts and seeds boosts up the protein content of this dessert as well. The sesame seeds are a great source of calcium, as long as you chew them thoroughly!
You can add different nuts or seeds too of course - sunflower seeds or walnuts would go in nicely!  I want to also try this recipe with some blackberries or raspberries in the mix - either to replace the chocolate or go 50/50.

So there you have it. I was very happy with the result and got the room mate stamp of approval. Vegan and almost raw, here is a close-up of my almond-date squares in all of their glory:
All photos by Allegra Garabedian <3

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 1 or "Unexpected Stopover" Part 2/2

To catch up on part 1/2, go here.

My sister and I head out on our uphill journey. After the path ends, there is a church and a great view of the city. But this is not the top.
I didn't even see the "do not ring" sign. Rebel without even trying.
Wish things on the way up
To get to the real top there were two options: the path option or the get-on-your-knees-and-hands option where you feel like you could totally fall off and die. I opt for the latter because I didn't see the path.
The road less traveled haha
I met a Turkish man on the way up who showed off his limited Armenian language skills and I showed off my limited Turkish language skills to even it out. Two men from the US popped out who specifically kept warning me about a difficult part up ahead that didn't exist.
You can see the US-ers being all well intentioned BUT I AM A MACHINE
When we all reached the top where a huge wooden cross was, the two men from the US let me know they had plans to visit Armenia the following year and asked me if there were really as many churches and monasteries as they had heard. YES SIRS. I gave them some tips and then we talked about Georgian food for way too long.
My pictures refuse to rotate again.
We headed back and I bought a tasty Georgian beer to celebrate and it hit the spot perfectly. We picked up Gohar and went to a small hidden authentic-looking restaurant by our hostel to eat some traditional Georgian food. It was very small inside and an older man came out greeting us in Russian and Gohar asked to see the menu and he proudly said I AM THE MENU. We asked for some things we wanted, he recommended things and it all sounded good so we sat down. He asked us where we were from and Gohar said Armenia and he of course let us know he was Armenian (Petrosyan) and that it was his Armenian family that ran the kitchen. We happily switched from Russian/Gohar translating to Armenian and got to know each other. He let his family members know and they greeted us with "barevs" and blasted Armenian music in the background while they cooked.

They brought us chai cups, a bean/dill dish, tomato/cucumber salad, an eggplant dish and surprised us with dolma (stuffed pepper style).
Beans + Georgia spices > everything else
Everything was delicious and I was glad my sister got to try some Georgian food even though we wound up in an Armenian restaurant. When we felt we had expanded enough we went in for the chai. There was a wonderful aromatic smell in the otherwise black tea and the woman let us know that they used local flowers for a little kick. We had about 4 cups each.
Before we left we chatted a little more with the family and one of them let us know that her son moved to LA but came to visit and just left to head back a day or so ago. She became teary-eyed when she talked about him since she said she gets so used to having him around and it is always hard when he leaves. Gohar said "mi dkhrir" (do not be saddened) and it made her smile. Gohar's adorable big cartoon eyes make everything better. They told us to come back so they could pull out the "real deal" in terms of food, which we had to assume meant meat.
View from outside
We decided to walk around the city to wrap up our nice night in Tiflis. I heard wonderful music at one point and looked across the street to see a man playing three instruments at once (including harmonica of course) and played all of them really well as he sang. We decided to cross the street so I could listen more closely but had to go with an underpass and I heard some really loud echo/wailing and when we came closer it was a younger guy with a small Georgian ukulele-esque instrument singing at the top of his lungs while a friend stood by him. It was punk-style singing over traditional music and it worked really well. We listened for a bit and went off to see 3-instrument man and I asked if I could take a photo:
We then saw some animal rights spray painting right by a group of boys with a beautiful husky. I wonder if the number is a vegan hotline or something.
We decided to head home about an hour and a half later to end our unexpected but very pleasant stopover in Tbilisi. While we are excited for the beaches, I don't think I will ever get bored of this city. On the way home we saw my boy, Chaplin:
This would be so much cooler if it was rotated properly
Kobuleti, we are coming for you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 1 or "Unexpected Stopover" Part 1/2

My sister, Gohar and I decided we would head to the Georgian beaches together while my sister was in Armenia visiting, with Gohar and I being Georgian beach experts as of last year.

Our original plan was to take an overnight bus to Kobuleti, but since my sister had never seen Tbilisi, we decided to take a morning mashootka there, and on the way there, decided to stay overnight, and head to Kobuleti the following morning instead of the same day. Our driver was a slick and good-looking Georgian man who spoke fluent Armenian. The view during the ride was great and our driver seemed to have perfectly timed the pee stops so we were happy:
After our third pee!
When we arrive at the mashootka stop, since we decided to stay overnight, we try to connect to the internet to find some cheap hostel options and are doing a very bad job at this. A man across us asks me what my tattoo means and Gohar translated it into Russian for him. He and his two friends look confused but the older woman beside them nods her head and imitates a bull with her hands and I feel like she really gets it. We choose an option and take a cab, and the driver asks us if we like to drink of course. No sir.

We get to the hostel and arrange for the same taxi to take us to the mashootka stop early the next morning so we can have an almost full day by the sea. We decide to walk around Tiflis a bit, and I remember how bad-ass Mayr Vrasdan (Mother Georgia statue) is and what a cool city it is, and am glad we made the little stopover. I have usually been there only in winter so it is completely different in the summer. Tiflis has things in the middle of the city I would need to travel 1-2 hours in Yerevan to see. Waterfalls, mountains you can hike, monasteries on top of hills, etc.
We decide we should find the damn Parajanov statue I have never found any other time I was in Tiflis. Everyone we ask about directions gives us completely incorrect ones but with such confidence. It takes us a while to find ol Parajanov and on the way we keep making nerdy jokes about being "Parajanov's Angels" and at some point I feel like I am the only who still thinks it's funny but cannot stop making jokes about it. I had taken my sister to the the Parajanov museum in Yerevan, which is one of the few museums I actually enjoy, so the 3 of us were pretty committed to finding the statue. We did, but with no help from the overly-confident nonsense-direction givers. One of them, who also was wrong about where it was, said he liked Armenians a lot. Sweet, now just learn to say "I don't know" when you don't know where something is, son.
From the museum
Gohar's job in Parajanov's Angels is to take the photos
We decide to have coffee and an apple dessert thing filled with almonds for some energy before exploring any more. I feel like the coffee is a bit bad-ass for me, but Laura and Gohar will suffer more than I. My sister soon tells me she feels like I am an annoying student because the hyper-ness kicked in and I kept asking questions and answering them myself because allotting 0.001 seconds for someone to answer was just not fast enough. This is why I don't do drugs, kids.
Coffee was a mistake. This was not.
When we left we saw many signs advertising "pkhali" which is the best greens dish ever. I discovered it in a Georgian restaurant in Yerevan and am pretty much obsessed with it. It includes beet greens, spinach, walnuts, spices and dried pomegranates. There was however a pkhali "situation" in Kobuleti, but I'll get to that later.
What it looks like in Yerevan sans blurriness
We walk to a near-by market and see all the Georgian soujoukhs hanging (walnuts covered in fruit preserve) and I of course finally get to be pretentious about something Georgians do not do better than Armenians when it comes to food. Georgians win with every dish possible because they are the masters of spices. But I have never had a Georgian soujoukh I liked. Any time I have bought any, they were very dry and the preserve was not tasty, and apparently that's the way they are supposed to be. Armenians: 1.
Not even slightly tempted
We bought some figs and nectarines, the latter of which were heaven on earth. It wasn't the right time for figs so we knew we were taking a risk. The man who sold them to us asked me what my background was and I said Armenian, and then he asked where I was from and I said Canada and he was shocked which made me feel exotic. While we walked away we heard Armenian and a man came running towards us - the fruit vendor had told him there were Armenians around and he was Armenian so he gave us his number, told us he drives a taxi and told us if we need anything to call him. We realized we were standing right in front of the Armenian church that was being destroyed several years ago and he told us he was part of the movement to stop it and showed us where he used to come to protest. He called a woman across the street whose name was Lena and it became photo time:
This will not rotate no matter what
Right before going back to the hostel, we walked around another area that resembled the park near Opera in Yerevan. Someone told us there was political art up and to check it out since it was the last day it would be there. Good timing:
Putin being a charageegee
When we got back to the hostel, Gohar decided it was nap-time, and my sister and I decided to go up the hike to the fortress/castle Narikala, in the middle of the city of course. We stopped by the beautiful waterfall in the city first, and we saw bats which are even cuter up close, but squeak way too much not to be creepy:

Next up: the HIKE, meeting more Armenians INCOGNITO & the cool Georgian musicians