Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sovereign State #8: Armenia

The Menu:

Soojoukh (Air-dried Pork Shoulder Sausage)
Sunni (Armenian String Cheese)
Lahvosh (Armenian Cracker Bread)
Basturma (Cured Beef with Paprika)
Prinzov Pilaf (Armenian Rice Pilaf)
Mahdzoon Chicken (Baked Chicken Breast with Yogurt)

The Republic of Armenia is situated right smack dab in the middle of Europe and Asia.  Hell, it's almost in Africa.  The cuisine is the love child of Eastern European (white food for white people) and middle eastern cultures.  Think of Midnight Express meets Red Heat but in food form(and minus all the Turkish prison beatings and Schwarzenegger one liners).  As a country, this former component of the U.S.S.R., has definitely seen it's share of misfortune. During WWI nearly a million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. Yet, they survived and maintained a unique identity. Now a democratic nation that belongs to all the cool kid groups (ie: United Nations, Council of Europe, and the evil WTO), aside from being a slightly poor country Armenia is still rich in it's culinary traditions.

 So Eastern European food tends to look very unappealing.  There is not a lot of color going on in some of the food.  Aside from beets and a few winter greens, brown and white is the palate you get to work with.  I'm glad I didn't serve the Mahdzoon Chicken on a beige plate or I would have never found my food.  The taste of the dish is fantastic though.  First you marinate the chicken overnight in some white wine, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs.  The you cover it with yogurt and bake it.  The yogurt congeals and the chicken doesn't get much color so presentations-wise you better have some garnishes laying around or it'll look like a pile of anemic bird flesh covered in spit.  Like I said, it was super delicious though.  Very moist and slightly sour from the yogurt.  I would make this recipe again but I would perhaps sear off the chicken breasts first and add some fresh herbs to the final dish.

I served it with Armenian pilaf which reminded me a lot of Rice-A-Roni, but made from scratch.  I love the stuff so I was very much at home with this dish.  Perhaps it's not just a San Francisco treat. Armenians love it too.  I think the combination of pasta and rice, although somewhat maniacal, is a great idea.  Saute the basmati and small broken vermicelli in butter until golden.  Cook it in some fresh made chicken stock, add some scallions, and fluff to serve.  Yum.

Now it's no secret that I love cured meat products.  All forms and sizes all animals, I don't care what kind  it is.  If it's edible meat and it's cured I want it in my mouth.  So much to my delight, Armenia loves cured meat products as well.  I found an online purveyor of such delicacies and went nuts.  I have enough Armenian sausage to last me my whole life.  The Soojoukh is a lot like a salami.  It has that briny sour taste and would great in a sandwich or chopped up in a salad.  The Basturma is a little bit more unfamiliar.  It's an air cured beef that is covered in paprika.  The flavor is slightly gamey and pungent even though it's cow.  It has the texture of perhaps a thickly sliced Serrano ham.  Finish off a charcuterie board with some Armenian flatbread and Sunni (yummy string cheese) and I'm a happy girl.

So yeah, it took me a while to get through the Armenian portion of the ride but I finally did it and I'm glad I did.  The food was delicious and research was interesting.  Now, any volunteers to help me eat all this sausage?  Next up, Australia.  Yummmm....kangaroo....

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

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