Armenian Sweet Rolls, with a side of Horiatiki

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Two Christmases ago my brother gave me the first volume of “The Silk Road Gourmet”, by Laura Kelley. It documents the food cultures of the western half of the old Silk Road, from the Caucasus to India. The history of the route has always fascinated me, and it has been a real joy to discover how its foods are related, linked step by step across the Asian continent. One day I hope to travel there, but for now I’ll just have to make do through the recipes, dreaming up a caravan in my mind.

Tonight I really wanted to bake some bread, so I looked to the Silk Road for inspiration. I found a wonderful recipe for Armenian Sweet Rolls, and tweaked it for my own California environment. These are supposed to be orange flavoured, but since I have a Meyer Lemon Tree just outside the window, it seemed like a good opportunity to experiment. As for the Horiatiki, it has nothing to do with Armenia (except for the history of Turkish imperialism in both countries), however I had the ingredients on hand, and a fresh Greek salad seemed like a perfect compliment to this sweet, buttery bread. I hate to deal in hyperbole, but these are some of the most delicious rolls I have ever eaten. They are almost like a biscuit and a roll put together, light and fluffy, yeasted yet also containing baking powder. Make these, you won’t regret it!

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Armenian Sweet Rolls

1 package dry, active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon butter, melted and brought to room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, warm (I didn’t have milk on hand, so mixed half-and-half with water)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 Meyer Lemon
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
Poppy Seeds

Dissolve yeast in warm water and mix well. Add sugar and mix again. Set aside and allow yeast to activate for 15 minutes. In the meantime, combine melted butter with milk, eggs, salt and lemon rind. Mix well. Add dissolved yeast and mix again. Add flour and baking powder to make a soft dough. It should be very soft, but not sticky. No extra flour should be needed for kneading. Knead for 5 minutes and let stand for in a warm place, covered for 40 minutes (I put mine outside, in the sun). Punch down and kneed for another two minutes. Form rolls, and let rise of trays for another 30 inutes. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle poppy seeds on top. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden brown. Kelley’s recipe says this should take about 10-12 minutes, but for me, it was closer to 20  (and I used convection, which normally reduces baking time). For reference, my rolls were just a bit smaller than hamburger buns, and they numbered about 20. Best enjoyed slightly warm.

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Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Equal parts tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers (I used about 15 grape tomatoes, a persian cucumber, and 6 mini bell peppers)
1/4 red onion
3-4 tablespoons feta cheese
handful of kalamata olives
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 dashes of dried oregano
salt
pepper, freshly ground
2 dashes olive oil
1 Meyer Lemon, squeezed

Chop vegetables into bite sized chunks. Add feta, olives, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Add olive oil and lemon juice. Mix. Enjoy. Ideally, you can intersperse bites of Horiatiki and Armenian Sweet Roll, and soak up the leftover salad dressing with the last of the bread. Serves 2-4, depending on your appetite.

 

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