Sunday, July 1

Cook my Books Challenge One- do you know where Armenia is?

As you can see from the pictures, I have a few cookbooks. Not as many as Nigella (she has a collection in the thousands apparently), but more than a lot of people I know. More than the Minister of Finance would like. And probably many more than I actually need.  Even worse, I have some I have never actually cooked anything from. So to rectify this, and give myself a satisfying project to boot, I am going to cook a recipe/recipes from every single one of the 160 cookbooks I own and document the results here as the Cook My Books challenge. I will write up the recipe, and also a brief review of the book, in case you are lucky enough not to have an embargo on cookbook purchases for the next 12 months.  

Now I know this is opening myself up to comparison with another, rather more famous blogger who challenged herself to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I did initially worry about this, then realised I am 

a) not cooking from one book, my collection is pretty eclectic, so I will be cooking a variety of cuisines. And no matter what I am not doing anything in aspic. But I might bake more with lard

b) am cooking from a suburban kitchen in Auckland. Not a cool "loft" in New York City. In fact, given I am sitting typing this in track pants, watching the Rugby League, while my husband, also attired in track pants and stylish Chelsea FC fleece does his ironing.....I cant see there is any way I could be mistaken for a hip urbanite food blogger

d) I don't swear as much, or as creatively

c) Um, its my blog?

So, now we have that settled, the challenge itself. I have started with a New Zealand author, Michal Haines, and her wonderful Scent of the Monsoon Winds. Quite frankly the cover alone is worth the purchase price, never mind a wealth of delicious recipes. The dish I made first is Armenian Street Bread. I did have to get my Atlas out and see where Armenia actually is (needless to say I have not been, for reference  it is just to the right of Turkey, beneath Georgia & above Iran.....) 
Minced lamb with tomato, lemon and garlic, spread on a disk of dough and topped with ricotta and parsley, baked and spritzed with more lemon. Pretty hard to go wrong really, this would traditionally be served as street food, rolled up and eaten on the go. Or eaten on your lap in front of the telly, as the case may be......

Armenian Street Bread (from Scent of the Monsoon Winds by Michal Haines)

Makes 8 individual rounds

First make your bread dough

1 tbsp dry yeast (the original recipe used 3 tbsp, but 1 is plenty)
300ml warm water (ie hand warm, not hot)
1 tsp sugar
450 gr (3 cups) strong flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Put the yeast & sugar into the water and leave for 10 mins or so in a warm place until it becomes frothy. I put all my dry ingredients & oil into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid but you can do this by hand very easily, it just takes a few minutes longer. If using a mixer, use the dough hook attachment, and while the motor is running, add about half the liquid. Let it mix for a while, then slowly add as much of the remaining liquid as you need to make a smooth dough, you may not need it all. Let the dough mix for about 7 minutes until it is smooth & springy. If making by hand, do the same, using your hands to mix the dough in the bowl until most of it has come together. Tip out onto a clean bench sprinkled with flour, and knead for 10 mins or so until smooth. See here for further info on kneading and yeast cooking, there really is nothing to it so don't be afraid. 
Put the dough back into a clean bowl you have brushed lightly with oil, cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm spot for 1.5-2 hours

Meanwhile, make your filling

2 tbsp oil
2 white onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
450 gr lamb mince
2 tomatoes, skinned & chopped ( I used a small tin of crushed tomatoes as it is winter!)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Juice of a lemon
2 tsp tomato paste
Handful finely chopped parsley
250 gr ricotta, beaten with 1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp toasted cumin seeds (pop into a dry frying pan and cook over med. heat until fragrant)
1 tsp chilli flakes

Heat the oil over a med-low heat, and add the onion and garlic with 1 tsp of the salt. Fry gently for 5 minutes until the onion is soft, then turn the heat up to med-high. Add the mince (remembering to save a little morsel for your cats, who will attempt to trip you up if you don't.....) and fry for approx 10 minutes until the meat is browning. See here for a rave on browning mince. Turn the heat to low, and add the tomato, remaining 1 tsp salt, sugar, lemon juice and tomato paste. Cook for another 10 minutes until the meat is cooked and the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool , and stir in the chopped parsley

When your dough is nicely doubled in size (give or take!), pop a tray (or pizza stone if you have it) into the oven and crank the heat up to 230C. Split the dough into 8 balls, and roll each one out as thin as you can. Pop onto your heated tray, and top with some of the mince mixture, some of the ricotta and a sprinkle of the cumin seeds and chilli flakes.

Bake for approx 8 minutes, until nicely browned, then if you like top with 

a sprinkle of ground sumac ( actually a berry, with a tangy citrus flavour)
a squeeze of lemon
more chopped parsley

How good do they look? Well, they taste even better. The bread dough & the cooked mince mixture can both be frozen, so I now have a fabulous dinner ready to be popped in the fridge to defrost and bunged in the oven at supper time. If you don't have ricotta, a sprinkle of feta would also be wonderful, or even natural yoghurt, in which case top once the bread is cooked.

Love this recipe, and I have at least five others I cant wait to try. The book has a variety of dishes, all featuring interesting spices and bold flavours. The recipes are clearly written, and beautifully photographed by Jacqui Blanchard. The book is printed on matt paper, which I personally prefer, with gorgeous colours, completely appropriate to the type of food. What can I say, I recommend..........


  1. That looks incredibly tasty. Is the book new(ish) or an older one - I've never heard of it?

    1. Hi Lesley, the book was publised in 2008, I got mine at Farro in Lunn Ave (where Michal Haines works/worked) but I did see it at Whitcoulls also:)

  2. I have hundreds of cookbooks too but I've not used them for a LONG time. I buy them for the design and photography, I can't get enough of them. I think I should take up the same challenge as you so I'd feel better (and also when I add more books to my cookbook library!) ;)

    1. Ha ha, good plan, although you would not like some of my books, no pics at all!

  3. You might struggle to find something tasty in the book on the bottom left shelf :)

    I did a cull when I moved overseas and just kept the ones I loved in storage. I think that there is actually an Armenian restaurant in this city.

    Looking forward to the rest of your challenge.

    1. Hee he was that the dictionary, didnt notice until after I took the pic, doh!
      Thanks, looking fwd to cooking lots of interesting dishes.......


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