A Wise twist on Armenian family recipes

San Francisco Chronicle
June 30 2004

A Wise twist on Armenian family recipes

Rene Caparros, Special to The Chronicle

Bay Area chef/author and Chez Panisse alumna Victoria Wise, who has
written on a wide range of culinary subjects from tortillas to
charcuterie, goes to her own cultural heritage in her latest, “The
Armenian Table: More Than 150 Treasured Recipes That Bring Together
Ancient Flavors and 21st Century Styles.” This is as much a history
book as it is a cookbook, starting with a brief account of why
Armenians left their homeland and settled in the United States.

Wise’s grandparents were among this group, settling in California’s
Central Valley. She honors them and the rest of her large family by
including pictures of them throughout this book.

Building on her professional expertise and knowledge of the cuisines
of many countries, it is no surprise that Wise adds new flair to the
traditional family recipes, while preserving their essential nature.
A good example is her Armenian Moussaka With Lamb or Beef, Potato &
Yogurt Bechamel. Traditionally, moussaka is made with eggplant.
However, Wise opted for sliced potatoes instead. The bechamel that
tops the moussaka is also modernized, with yogurt used instead of
milk. The final product is more starchy and hearty than a traditional
moussaka, yet just as delicious.

“The Armenian Table” is well-organized, easy to use and pleasant to
read. Wise shares recipes and introduces us to her family, all with
her book as our passport..

“The Armenian Table,” by Victoria Jenanyan Wise (St. Martin’s Press;
306 pages; $29.95).

Yogurt Bechamel

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups yogurt, stirred to smooth

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

To cook in the microwave: Place the butter in a large bowl and
microwave uncovered on high for 2 minutes, until foaming. Remove and
whisk in the flour. Return to the microwave and cook uncovered on
high until boiling, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove, whisk in the yogurt, and
microwave uncovered on high for 2 minutes. Remove again, whisk to
smooth, and continue microwaving uncovered on high until thickened,
about 1 minute. Stir in the salt and nutmeg.

To cook on the stove top: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over
medium-high heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour, decrease the heat
to medium, and continue whisking until the mixture begins to turn
golden, about 2 minutes. Add the yogurt and salt, whisk to smooth,
and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and creamy, 12 to 15
minutes more. Stir in the salt and nutmeg.

Whether cooked in the microwave or on the stove top, the bechamel may
be used right away. Or, cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
When ready to serve, reheat in the microwave or on the stove top.

Makes about 1 2/3 cups

PER TABLESPOON: 25 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 2 g fat
(1 g saturated), 4 mg cholesterol, 43 mg sodium, 0 fiber.

Armenian Moussaka With Lamb or Beef, Potato & Yogurt Bechamel

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pounds red, white or Yukon gold potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Kosher salt

1 small yellow or white onion, finely chopped

1/2 pound ground lamb

2 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups Yogurt Bechamel (see recipe)

1 large egg

1/3 cup coarsely grated ricotta salata or Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high
heat. In batches, salt potato slices and fry them, turning once,
until just beginning to turn golden around edges, about 3 minutes.
Lift out slices with kitchen tongs, letting excess oil drip back into
pan.Transfer to a plate. When last batch of potatoes is done, add
onion and lamb to pan; saute, stirring to break up lamb, until meat
is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, parsley, dill,
allspice and pepper; stir. Saute over medium-high heat, until mixture
is fairly dry and crumbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Arrange half of potato slices in an overlapping layer in an 8 x
10-inch casserole. Spread lamb mixture over potatoes. Cover with
remaining potato slices in an overlapping layer.

Whisk egg into bechamel and pour over the top. Sprinkle cheese over
all. Bake until golden on top and slightly brown around edges, about
45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Cut into

Serves 4

PER SERVING: 545 calories, 24 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 35 g fat
(13 g saturated), 123 mg cholesterol, 464 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.

Rene Caparros is a graduate of the culinary arts and hospitality
management program at City College of San Francisco. E-mail him at
[email protected].