Easter is never on the same day. It’s a lunar holiday so I always feel a bit Pagan when I really think about it. In 325, the First Council of Nicaea (I imagine there was a second also, but I digress) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox. How positively Druid like. They accomplished some other stuff too, according to wikipedia, evidently the authoritative source on the subject – Like:
- Settlement of the Christological issue of the nature of the Son of God and his relationship to “God the Father”
- The construction of the first part of the Creed of Nicaea
- Promulgation of early cannon law.
All religious history aside, Easter comes and I can throw my Lenten fast out the proverbial window and get down to some serious chow. This year I gave up peanuts, so I my suffering was kept to a minimum.
For this Easter I promised the In-Laws a traditional Armenian Easter grill. To me, that meant Chicken Skewers, Lule Kebab and a plethora of side dishes. Preparation is the key for these sorts of things. The night before I always prepare my meats. I marinate the chicken in a thick Keffir cheese called Labne with garlic, onions and other spices. I mix the beef and lamb with cumin, onions, allspice and pepper paste.
I mold the meat mixture onto the skewers the morning of the barbecue. Raffi, a kind and gentle Lebanese neighbor of my wife’s gave them to her before we were married when he moved away. He passed away a few years ago and each barbecue always honors his memory somehow. These are covered with plastic wrap and put back in the fridge to firm up, otherwise it’s not much fun trying to keep the meat on the skewers.
The chicken (I use boneless, skinless thighs) also gets threaded on the skewers that morning and returns to the fridge, but not before I dust them with allepo pepper and some sumac for good measure. I’ll divulge my secrets for Lule Kebab and the chicken marinade below.
This is my own recipe, developed over time while eating and critiquing lots of Lule kebab prepared by some pretty respectable Armenian grill masters. Feel free to add or subtract at your whim. I’ve been told its pretty good by many people with last names ending in “ian” so I’m proud to call it mine.
- 1 Lb Ground Chuck (80/20)
- 1 Lb Ground Lamb
- 2 1/2 Tsp Allspice
- 2 Tsp Cumin
- 1/4 Cup Minced Parsley
- 1 Grated Onion (grated over the meat so you get the onion juice)
- 2 Tbs Pepper Paste
Mix ingredients thoroughly by hand (with wet cold hands)and refrigerate the mixture for 2 hours at least. Mold on to flat skewers and refrigerate until ready to grill.
Yogurt Marinated Chicken
This is a Turkish inspired marinade. Most Armenians (although they’d never admit it) are similar to Turks in many ways, having come from the same parts of the country. They differ widely in political views (for good reason) but that’s for another post. Use this on Chicken or lamb with incredible results.
- 2 Tbs Aleppo Pepper
- 1 Cup Labne (or PLAIN Greek Yogurt or Strained PLAIN yogurt)
- 3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
- 2 Tbs Pepper Paste
- Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
- 6 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Lemon, sliced crosswise into thin rounds
- Sumac and extra Aleppo pepper for dusting
Mix everything together except the garlic in a large bowl. Grate the garlic over the bowl with a microplane. Mix well. This makes enough to marinate around 3 pounds of chicken or lamb chops. Marinate large cuts for around 4 hours to overnight. Shake off excess marinade and dust with extra sumac and Aleppo Pepper before grilling.
I always use a separate skewer for vegetables and meats because they cook differently. The chicken and vegetables go on first, followed by the lule after I’ve turned the chicken once.
Of course, no Middle East feast is complete without an abundant selection of Mezza (appetizers). At my house, this always is made up of Hummus, Mahamara and Baba Ganooj.
Hummus is a puree of Garbanzo, garlic, Tahini (a sesame paste that smells a lot like peanut butter) and lemon juice.
Mahamara is more Arabic in nature. This is puree based on roasted red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, spices, olive oil and pomegranate molasses.
Baba Ganooj is pretty much just like Hummus, only it’s made with a wonderfully smoky roasted eggplant.
For our salad its usually parsley, bulgur, some tomatoes and lot of lemon juice. This is called Tabuleh salad. I always make a pot of fava beans with cumin, garlic and lemon juice.
Then there’s always a never ending supply of dolma (stuffed grape leaves), basturma (a middle eastern pastrami) nuts olives and lots of beer.
This year it was a smash hit and everyone was happy, full and thankful for another opportunity to get together. Just writing this puts a smile on my face, remembering the good day – and looking forward to the next.