AN EASTER MEAL FROM ARMENIA
By Patrice Stewart

The Decatur Daily
March 31 2010

Anoush Place cooks with beets, cauliflower, pomegranates, fish,
rice and, of course, eggs

Pomegranates, beets, cauliflower, rice and golden raisins and tilapia
flavored with rosemary were part of a pre-Easter meal prepared last
week by Anoush Place.

Her mother, Yelena Hovhannisyan of Armenia, is visiting Anoush and
Tom Place and their two daughters in Decatur. His mother, Marjorie
Alexander of Decatur, joined Yelena and Anoush for this lunchtime
feast.

Anoush, who learned a lot about cooking from her mom while growing
up in Armenia, emphasizes healthy dishes at her table.

"These fish and rice dishes are part of a typical Easter meal in
Armenia, but we cook the fish in different ways, depending on what
people want," she said.

Anoush grew up with the Apostolic Orthodox faith.

"I come from a country that was the first to adopt Christianity as
its religion," she said, acknowledging that there were some strict
rules about food. In Decatur, she attends First United Methodist
Church with her family.

Their daughters are now 12 and 14, but when they were younger, she
carried on the Armenian tradition of having an "egg fight." Each would
hold an egg in their hand and try to hit and break the other's egg.

Whoever's egg broke first was the loser.

"We also hard-boiled eggs and dyed them different colors and ate
them with the Easter meal," she said, in following an Armenian custom
similar to those here.

Anoush likes to use pomegranates, so she is pleased that others are
becoming more familiar with them.

Popular pomegranates

"Right now, pomegranate is a popular food in America," she said,
"because people finally realized how healthy it is."

She buys pomegranates when they are in season in December and other
winter months and stores them whole in the refrigerator to use
all year.

"They stay pretty good for a while," she said.

She stockpiles many basics for her type of healthy cooking. That way,
she can use the red-colored pomegranate fruit to blend with beets
for an unusual salad that includes chopped nuts and sour cream.

"Not many people know about this salad," Anoush said.

Her pomegranate and beet salad was adorned with a hard-boiled egg
wearing a radish-top hat and served on a bed of lettuce leaves.

While the beets were used to create the salad, she removed the leaves
from the tops of the beets, cooked them and added some sautéed onion
to make another deep-color dish for her table.

"I'm 85 and have eaten in every state in this union, but I have never
tasted the tops of beets before," said her mother-in-law.

When she is cooking beets for her dishes, Anoush saves the water they
are cooked in for its nutritional value.

"The water from the beets is very healthy because of the antioxidants,
so we usually drink that plain, or mix it with other juices," she said.

She also makes a cool summer tea with mint from her yard, sugar
and water.

She has a favorite store in California that carries a pomegranate
sauce she likes, and other sauces are available on the Internet and
at specialty stores.

"I use a lot of pomegranate sauce," said Anoush.

Armenians use this sauce for fish and barbecue, she explained. For her
fish entrée, she covered whole tilapia with olive oil and added some
rosemary from her garden, along with the purchased pomegranate sauce,
and baked it in foil.

"My horoscope sign is Pisces," Anoush said, so the tilapia with
pomegranate sauce and rosemary seems a logical -- and healthy --
way to eat.

She also had one traditional way to eat pomegranate, because she kept
a bowl of chocolate-covered pomegranate candy on her dining table,
which was dressed for the Easter season with spring flowers and
decorated eggs. Pistachios adorned her fish dish.

Getting plenty of veggies and fruits is important to Anoush, so she
often prepares cauliflower dishes and works golden raisins into her
rice pilaf, along with using pomegranates and beets.

"Nobody cooks cauliflower in America; they just steam it. So I'm
introducing you to a new way to cook this," she said.

Her technique is to dip pieces in egg before frying it in oil. She
also likes to add a bit of cilantro to this and other dishes.

While she often bakes her own breads, for this meal she served German
whole rye bread she found at Aldi.

Here are directions for preparing some of Anoush's favorite Easter
season dishes:

Beet leaves with onions

Wash the beets and leaves and cut the top leafy part off; save the
beets for another use. In a skillet, put just a little water (because
beets already have a lot of water in them) and cook them for about
20 minutes. Then sauté onion in olive oil and add it to the beets.

To make a sauce to serve in a dish to top the beet leaves and onions,
she uses homemade yogurt with a little garlic.

Beet-pomegranate salad

Cook the bottom part of the beets (one bunch may be enough, but it
depends on the size of the beets and how many you want to feed) in
a pot on top of stove in water for 30 to 40 minutes. If you slice
them, they will cook even faster. Then dice the beets with a knife
and mix them with the pomegranate, chopped pecans or walnuts, sour
cream and salt.

Most people buy beets in cans, Anoush said, so you can estimate the
amounts needed that way: 1 can beets, 1 regular size pomegranate and
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts. Mix that with a little salt and
sour cream.

Cauliflower with egg

Cut cauliflower into pieces that will lay as flat as possible for
cooking. Dip them in beaten egg and fry in a hot skillet in cooking
oil for about two minutes on each side, or until cauliflower turns
golden yellow shade. Place cauliflower on a serving platter and cover
with cilantro type parsley and a bit of garlic.

Pilaf with golden raisins

This simple dish can be made with rice cooked either in a rice cooker
or on the stovetop.

Use regular rice, not the Minute variety. Put some butter in a pan
and when it melts, add golden raisins. Let them plump up for a couple
of minutes and then add them to the rice and serve.

Tilapia with pomegranate sauce and rosemary

Purchase fresh tilapia at a supermarket fish counter. Use the whole
fish, covering it with olive oil, sprigs of fresh rosemary and a
pomegranate sauce (available in some specialty stores and via the
Internet). Wrap fish in foil and bake about 40 minutes.

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