We are fast approaching summer. Memorial Day has come and gone and that means kebob season is upon us. Though we may be social distancing, we can still have our outdoor family bar-b-ques with grilling and expanded menus of mezze. Lamb and chicken kebob are generally accompanied by mouth-watering grilled onions, peppers and tomatoes garnished on the side. Armenian “khorovadz” is not complete without a buttery carbohydrate side dish: rice pilaf. It’s like a food trifecta, a meat-veggie-carb coma! You can’t have one without the others.
As any good Dandeegeen knows, one must master the preparation of pilaf as a young bride; this is understood. Not only is it a given but it is expected. Even house guests await the rice pilaf side dish with every Armenian Sunday dinner and family gathering. It is served without mention. It takes some practice but once you’ve got it, you never forget. Two cups of College Inn chicken broth (no substitute will do) for one cup of Uncle Ben’s rice; I can recite it blind. Don’t forget the browned noodles pre-baked for convenience. Lastly, be sure to use that one stick of butter. The trick is to split the stick in half…..place half in the broth while it comes to a boil and the other half after the rice has nearly cooked, placed on top to melt into the nearly cooked rice, it gives it that special buttery taste to top it off. Yes, a stick of butter. This is a trademark of the St. Stephen’s Armenian Church Bazaar and Picnic pilaf I learned from Michael Guzelian, Chief Pilaf Connoisseur, in my days in the kitchen at the church picnic at Camp Haiastan. And if you have had his pilaf you know the trick works. When you cook for company you don’t skimp on butter; for your daily meals at home you can go a half stick for that waistline you are always mindful of, but for holidays and family gatherings, it’s a must!
Pilaf prep is second nature, even for this novice Dandeegeen, but I love bulghur (bulgur) pilaf and had never tried to make it. I have always enjoyed it when others prepared it, but I had never ventured into this new side dish territory, even after 32 years of cooking. So since I am embarking on firsts, I figured this Dandeegeen was overdue to try. I ordered the bulghur from Arpi Avedissian at Eastern Lahmejun. Of course, I asked her advice on the size, as I know there are various sizes for different purposes. She recommended the #3 coarse. While bulghur ordering, I figured I’d ask for help on ordering the correct bulghur size for “mock khema” too, while I was being adventurous. She recommended the #1 fine. Two for one shopping. Ara picked it up curbside and I was ready to try out the bulghur recipes. Next column will be, you guessed it, “mock khema.”
I used the same recipe for pilaf for bulghur pilaf. It came out fine but something was missing. I called my mother and explained what I had made, and she said I missed the secret ingredient. Another secret ingredient of course, in this case sauteed onions with butter to start, then add the broth and continue as you would make pilaf. It was the trick I needed. I made another attempt and it was much tastier. The onions cook down so you don’t see anything, but the taste of the bulghur has a very special flavor. Add the customary yogurt mixed with minced garlic on top and the bulghur pilaf is a masterpiece. Yum! Practice makes perfect. Stay tuned for the next Dandeegeen Diaries bulghur-featured recipe of “mock khema.” Happy Summer cooking!