What are you thankful for this year?
One of the things I am thankful for is surviving my first six months as a blogger! I have to admit it is a teensy bit more work than I had imagined, but it is so much fun at the same time. I’d like to take a minute to thank those who have helped me from the start.
First, my husband and children. My husband reads the blog every week and regularly sends me cute notes of encouragement. My girls have also been supportive and enthusiastically recruited their friends to “like” The Kitchen Scout on Facebook! Lorell Gifford of River Visions who designed my website, taught me how to use it and consistently calmed my nerves. My friend, Deedo Painter who took my photo for the site and who tried out the Chicken Parmesan Meatballs way back in January. And my friends and family who took an early look at the blog, provided feedback and helped me tweak it before it was launched. Thanks for encouraging me and telling me to “just do it”. You are all incredible – you know who you are – and I love you all!
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has subscribed to receive The Kitchen Scout emails at 7:00 AM every Friday or who has “liked” The Kitchen Scout on Facebook! I hope you are having as much fun as I am!
And now, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Next week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving which for some people is the equivalent of the Culinary Olympics, right?
While I appreciate those who want to bring a new twist to their side dishes or amp up the flavor of their turkey, I like to keep things pretty predictable in our house on the big day.
When I cook on Thanksgiving, our meal is an East meets West feast. Turkey and traditional pies are served. In between are reflections of my Armenian heritage (rice pilaf and fassoulia – string beans simmered with tomatoes and onions), and my husband’s traditions (mashed potatoes and creamed onions). Whipped butternut squash and stuffing (both vegetarian and with sausage, the way my mother made it) will round out our meal. Our college girl has requested a salad this year, filled with the things she can’t find in her school’s cafeteria like roasted beets, avocado and pomegranate seeds. I am debating that one, but it might be an opportunity for a recipe test!
None of these dishes are particularly fancy, but they represent history. You know that saying, “they are here in spirit”? That’s what I hope we feel when we sit down to dinner – all the people who can’t be with us for this holiday meal. That’s the magic of food and why it’s important for my family to just stick with the script. Reinventing the wheel is what every other day of the year is for, after all!
Another part of our “home for the holiday” script is Meze or appetizers. Even though my husband is not Armenian, he would say this is a non-negotiable part of our meal as well. And while I am capable of making some of these apps at home, I do allow myself to take a shortcut from the store, especially when I am making an entire Thanksgiving meal. Hello?
So, let’s go on a field trip to the Armenian and Middle Eastern markets in nearby Belmont and Watertown, Massachusetts and I will show what I purchase for our Meze and share some other fun facts…
My family has been shopping at Eastern Lamejun since I was little so it’s generally my first stop. Lamejuns are thin crust Armenian “pizzas”, traditionally made with finely minced lamb and lots of spices. No cheese! I will only purchase my lamejuns from this shop – they are the best and although there are non-meat varieties available which I hear are delicious, I stick with the traditional lamb version. Warm them in the oven and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice. I ate a lot of these growing up and we still love them for a quick lunch or dinner…
Bulk rice, lentils and bulgur wheat (fine, medium and coarse) are among the many items available for purchase…
All kinds of dried fruits and imported jams and pastes are also available…
As well as nuts, seeds, bulk spices, pastries and dips such as hummus, ich or metch (bulgur wheat salad) and baba ganoush. Below is a picture of a dried vermicelli that is used as the base for either rice or bulgur wheat pilaf. It’s crushed and sauteed in butter until toasted and browned. Rice or bulgur wheat is added and simmered in chicken broth until done. Pilaf is Armenian comfort food and a staple in our house. Yum…
For my Thanksgiving meze platter, I loaded up on string cheese with salt and Nigella seeds. Do not purchase the kind without salt or there will be no flavor! My job as a little girl was to prepare the cheese by unbraiding it, and pulling it apart with my fingers until the pieces are the size of angel hair pasta. It’s a tad tedious, but someone has to do it (now my daughters are in charge).
I also picked up our favorite, Basterma which is a highly spiced, dried beef that is sliced paper thin. It has an intense flavor that we love. Leftovers (there won’t be any) can be served with eggs. And even though I can make them at home, I purchased a package of Yalanchi which are grapeleaves stuffed with rice, dill and allspice. Some gorgeous dried Apricots (and a package of meat Lamejun) and I was ready to check out.
Here’s my meze so far…
One street over on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown is a cluster of markets, including Sevan (a lake), Arax (a river) and Massis (a mountain). Each one is a little different and you should visit all of them to see which one you like the best!
Sevan Bakery has an extensive olive bar and an amazing nut bar, both of which are self serve. I purchased some jumbo Greek olives (unpitted) and some roasted, salted cashews, a package of seeded cracker bread and some pita bread for my meze platter. I also grabbed a Kibbee to go. Kibbee is a “meatball” made with finely ground lamb and bulgur which has a filling of more ground lamb, nuts and spices.
I also picked up this beautiful, freshly baked Chorag braid because it looked so yummy and I knew my daughter would be so happy to see it! Choereg is a yeast dough made with eggs, butter, flour, sugar, milk and mahlab which is the ground pit of cherries. The texture is like a brioche and the flavor is rich and slightly sweet. It’s so delicious eaten freshly made, but you can toast it as well. I will be making some from scratch next week with my cousin, Karen’s, fullproof recipe.
Here’s meze now with my nuts, olives, cracker bread and pita looks after my visit to Sevan Bakery…
Next stop was Arax Market. Arax is not a market I frequent, but I wanted to show you all of them. They had the best selection of Mante in their freezer. Manti are almost like an Armenian version of a meat ravioli. Dough is wrapped around a lamb, or in this case, beef filling. The pastry is toasted and then served in chicken broth with some yogurt. It’s a hearty meal, perfect for a cold night…
I loved seeing these black grapes. My grandmother, coincidentally named Araxie used to serve these grapes for a post-dinner, post-dessert snack (the food never ended, honestly). She’d also offer walnuts that we’d crack open for its tasty interior, like the ones available at Arax, below.
My last stop was at Massis Bakery…
Massis had Za’atar bread for sale. Dough is lightly brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with za’atar and baked. Wonderful to serve slightly warmed with your meze platter, but I opted not to get any this trip…
All of the markets carry similar items and I would recommend you visit all of them, take your time to browse and see what appeals to you! You can find pretty much all of the items I’ve mentioned at all of the stores, and you can also find hand cut feta cheeses, all types of breads including lavash and mountain breads, oils, tahini and fresh vegetables as well.
On my way home, I stopped at Seta’s Cafe (since closed) back in Belmont which is owned by Seta Dakesian, a fellow Armenian. Her hummus is the best and her shop is filled with take away meze and beautiful pastries like this paklava (yes, that is a “p”)…
Seta is open for lunch and dinner, but I needed to get home to start my blog post so I took a falafel sandwich to go…
Here is my finished meze platter. I did make some ich (the bulgur wheat salad) to go with everything I had purchased…
But there is one thing missing from my platter which includes the traditional cheese and spinach triangles made with phyllo dough that we call beorag. A filling of cheese and spinach is wrapped inside a buttery envelope of phyllo dough and baked until golden and crispy. They are soooo good, but they are a lot of work and I wanted you to be able to make them easily for the next time you need a quick appetizer so this is what I came up with…
All the flavor of the traditional cheese beoreg, easily put together in mini phyllo cups which you can find in the freezer section of your grocery store. There are five ingredients here and you can improvise if you want. Mine have cottage and Muenster cheeses and spinach (you can use parsley instead of the spinach if you’d prefer). You can use Monterey Jack instead of the Muenster or give it a Greek twist by adding in some feta, scallions and dill. It is very flexible but my recipe has the flavor profile I remember from my mother’s beoreg so that’s how I decided to write the recipe today! I’ve shown them with the regular amount of cheese (on the left) and with a little extra Muenster added on top (on the right).
So, there it is. With a little help from the markets and a whole lot of work on Wednesday and Thursday, my girls and I are going to make a Meze platter and a dinner full of memories for Thanksgiving. I hope you have a wonderful holiday celebration next week and are able to share it with the people (and the food) that you love!
Let me know in the comments what you’ll be making (or bringing) to your Thanksgiving feast!
- 2 packages mini phyllo cups (15 count each)
- 3/4 cup small curd, 4% milkfat cottage cheese
- 1 cup grated Meunster cheese plus additional for topping if desired (about 4 ounces)
- 1/2 box frozen chopped spinach, drained of all its liquid and chopped fine
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a bowl, mix the cottage cheese, 1 cup Meunster, spinach and egg until combined well.
- Place frozen phyllo cups on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Divide filling evenly among the cups.
- Sprinkle with additional Meunster cheese if desired, optional.
- Bake for 10 minutes until phyllo cups are golden and cheese has melted.
- Pop them in your mouth and enjoy!
You opened my eyes to a world I’ve never experienced in this particular post but I am excited to delve in! My sister Ellen turned me on to your blog. I just prepped the chicken parm recipe and took your suggestion to turn it into a meatloaf…will bake it off tomorrow and follow up. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Chrissy! Your sister has been a huge support to me – she is a very special person! I’m glad you are reading!
Valerie, Congrats on your blog and love your postings.
I certainly do review the recipes and inspired to make them but much easier to frequent the nicer restaurants.
Keep up the great work
Thank you, Houry! Restaurant review coming Dec. 5 I hope!
Here is a salad suggestion for you….we had it last year for Thanksgiving. It is from the Bi Rite Eat Good Food book ( Bi Rite is a San Francisco grocery institution). It has arugula, roasted delicata squash, pomegranate seeds, etc. I can send it to you if you haven’t solved the salad dilemma.
Thanks for a great post!
Great post, Val! So interesting to see all the different foods and places. Cannot wait to try it all! Congrats on your 6 month anniversary! It has been very fun to read!
Thank you, Patti! I appreciate it and am glad you are enjoying the blog!