Yesterday's New York Times featured an article entitled, "Building the Turkish Empire, One Friend at a Time" (Wednesday, August 15, 2012, D3). The title was a bit unsettling, as the Armenians certainly know what happened when the Turks tried to 'build' their Empire in 1895, then again in 1908, and finally in 1915. If you don't know the history, read the issues of the New York Times from 1895, 1908, and 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918. But not to get lost in the dark pages of history, or in the freshly printed pages of yesterday's New York Times, Marash Girl would like to correct the recipe that the New York Times reporter offered for Merjumek Kufte,(Vosbov Kheyma in Armenian), a meal that her Armenian ancestors, she, her children and grandchildren have been preparing from time immemorial. Originally meant as a lenten dish (interestingly enough, prepared with red lentils -- is that where lentils got their name or did lent get its name from lentils?), it has long since become a weekly favorite in the homes of most Marashtsis, and certainly a favorite with Marash Girl's family. Here's how you make it.
One cup of red lentils (Mendzmama often used yellow split peas if she was out of red lentils)
One cup of medium (or fine) bulghur (NOT coarse)
Aintab red pepper (sometimes known as Halep red pepper or Aleppo red pepper, available in Middle Eastern stores, or if you live in Watertown, MA, in the Armenian stores on Mt. Auburn Street)
One large onion, peeled, chopped into tiny pieces, and sauteed in olive oil or part olive oil and part butter.
For the garnish (Pervaz)
1 bunch of fresh parsley, washed well, trimmed, and chopped finely (include the stems -- that's where all the flavor is!)
1 bunch fresh scallions, washed, trimmed, chopped finely (include both the bulb and the greens)
1 fresh green pepper, washed, deseeded, and chopped finely.
Rinse the red lentils, place them in a heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 1 hour or less (until the water is mostly absorbed.) The lentils should be mushy, with some amount of water left. This is NOT an exact science, as the absorption of the water by the lentils depends on how old and dry the lentils are.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the parsley garnish and set aside. Chop the onion and saute in the olive oil/butter mix. (The oil should slightly cover the onions when you begin to saute, as this is important for the flavor of the final dish.)
After about an hour, add to the lentils, which should now be mushy and yellowish in color, about a cup of bulgur. Leave the mixture for a bit, covered, until the water is absorbed by the bulgur and the mixture is stiff. If need be, add a bit more bulgur to stiffen the mixture; add the sauteed onions with whatever oil is left in the pan; this will loosen the kheyma a bit, the salt, pepper and Aintab red pepper. Add half of the 'pervaz', (the garnish,) leaving some for the center of your platter for folks to dunk their kheyma khounches into, should they prefer. [The kheyma should be stiff enough to shape into "khounch", two inch long football shaped pieces which have the marks of your fingers on the side. Repeat: these small shapes should not be smooth, but rather have the dents of your fingers on the sides.] Arrange the kheyma around the edges of a platter with the garnish in the center. Serve warm. Or, if you don't have the time to shape the kheyma into khounches, simply put it on a plate as you would a plate of rice with the garnish on the side. Serve warm for a meal, or room temperature for meza!