Toasted Coconut Muesli

10 Dec


I can hardly believe that half of my sophomore year is already over. It seems like just yesterday that I was hopping on a plane to New York for my summer internship, and now I am already sending out applications for next summer. It’s been a while since I have contributed to this space, and for good reason. This past semester was filled with exciting new projects and responsibilities, a packed class schedule, and time spent trying to find my niche on campus. I certainly haven’t forgotten about Let’s Live La Vida, but it has taken a back seat in the past few months.


With any creative endeavor, it is so important to expose yourself to new perspectives and ways of capturing a subject. I have wrestled with DSLR photography for years, vacillating in my approach while never being entirely satisfied with the results.

I recently spent an afternoon with my uncle Avo, an excellent photographer with a very organic style, to observe his approach towards food photography. His creative spontaneity is the perfectly foil to my fastidious and careful manner. I knew working with him would allow me to depart from my perfectionist mentality.

While I have always tried to display food in its simplest form, my uncle showed me how to let the subject speak for itself. Rather than fuss with styling minutia, vibrant color and light are all you need to create a beautiful and intriguing image.

I picked up my camera again this morning and applied some of my newfound skills. Megan Gordon, author of the lovely breakfast cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, introduced me to this recipe for toasted coconut muesli. A lighter, less oily version of granola, muesli has become a staple in my pantry. I love that it is not too sweet, with just the right amount of crunch to liven up a bowl of yogurt.

Recipe barely adapted from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon

Megan recommends stirring in the dried mango once the muesli has cooled on the baking sheet. To prevent the dried fruit from getting too hard, I like to mix it in separately for each serving. 

  • 2 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup dried mango or other dried fruit of choice (optional)

Yields about 3 cups.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss together the rolled oats, wheat bran, coconut, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt.

2. Heat the coconut oil and honey in a small saucepan over low heat until warmed. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until everything is evenly coated. Spread evenly across the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on baking sheet. Stir in dried fruit, if using.

Introducing “The Epicurean Dorm”

28 Aug


When I started my Freshman year of college, balancing academics, extracurricular activities, and socializing while eating healthfully proved to be a considerable feat. Not only did I have less time to spend in the kitchen, but my limited access to fancy equipment and ingredients affected my choice of recipes. Discovering recipes that accommodated my new lifestyle was a learning process, but my love of cooking and homemade food encouraged me to make the commitment.


After sharing my experiences with friends and peers, I found that many people faced a similar dilemma. It turns out that college students long to cook for themselves but find the prospect completely overwhelming. So, after months of writing, planning, and testing recipes, I am thrilled to announce “The Epicurean Dorm,” my new column in USC’s Daily Trojan newspaper. Every week, I will share simple, healthy, and affordable recipes to encourage college students to cook delicious food from scratch. While I created this column with college students in mind, any one with an interest in learning to cook may benefit.


First up: an outstanding, hassle-free pasta with tomato sauce. Simply place all of the ingredients in one pan and stir them together over high heat for nine minutes. The end result is perfectly al dente spaghetti immersed in a luxurious and deeply flavorful sauce. Head over to Daily Trojan for the recipe and full story.

If you make any recipe from The Epicurean Dorm, tag your photos with #theepicureandorm and share them with me on Facebook or Instagram @maral_lavida.


A Week in Mallorca

21 Aug

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Following a whirlwind two months in New York City, I headed to the Spanish island of Mallorca for a week-long family getaway. We stayed in Deía, a quaint village located about 30 minutes from the capital of Palma. After being immersed in the constant hubbub of Manhattan, it felt surreal to stroll through quiet cobblestone streets, breathing in the crisp mountain air and admiring beautiful details we so often overlook during our daily lives. I had nothing on my agenda other than hiking, swimming, and reading the chapter books I had neglected all summer.

Despite its small size, Mallorca is a pretty miraculous place from an agricultural perspective. The island produces almost all of its food stuffs locally, fruits and vegetables flourishing in the mild Mediterranean climate. While farm-to-table eating has recently become popular in the United States, it is not a trend in Mallorca, but a way of life. Every day, I drank pulpy orange juice from nearby groves, enjoyed freshly-caught fish dressed with lemon juice and Mallorcan olive oil, and snacked on succulent figs and roasted Marcona almonds picked from trees on our hotel’s property. Not only was the vacation incredibly relaxing, but I left the island inspired by its elegantly simple cuisine. The olive oil, sea salt, and orange marmalade I brought home are all I need to create delicious meals centered around summer’s bountiful produce. I hope you all enjoy a few snapshots from my trip!

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Freshly squeezed orange juice and zingy orange marmalade.

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We hiked three hours from Deía to the nearby town of Sóller.

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Beach at the Port of Sóller.

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Everyday Eats: Lentil Salad with Peanut Dressing and Summer in NYC

18 Jul

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If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed a change in my posting patterns. Gone are the bright afternoon photos of homemade salads and freshly baked goods. Weekday posts are scarce, pictures of my usual Los Angeles hangouts replaced with those of decadent weekend brunches in Downtown Manhattan.

At the end of May, I moved from Los Angeles to New York City for a summer internship at Food & Wine Magazine. I cannot begin to explain all that has happened in the past two months–the lessons learned, friendships made, and delicious food eaten. What I can say now, though, is how much I miss cooking.

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I live with my cousin in a 300 square foot apartment in Midtown, our kitchenette equipped with nothing but a microwave and a miniature refrigerator. While eating out is a large part of the lifestyle here in New York, bars and restaurants bustling with people late into the night, it gets exhausting. I long for the leisurely hours spent flipping through cookbooks, baking cookies and cakes or tossing together fresh produce for simple summer salads. With its bounty of vibrant fruits and vegetables, summer is a much-anticipated season for cooks and bakers alike.


Australian-inspired breakfast and coffee at Little Collins Café.

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Stellar brunch at Lafayette in NoHo. Try the chocolate-banana-coconut croissant.

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Lusting after sweet, dainty strawberries at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

I made this salad on a lazy afternoon a few days before my departure. I was in the mood for a change and deviated from my usual drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, creating a delicious Asian-inspired dressing using just a few pantry staples. A single ingredient, or in this case, dressing, can completely transform the flavors of a dish.

The creamy peanut dressing pairs well with hearty lentils and crisp arugula, but would be a welcome addition to shrimp spring rolls or a cold soba noodle salad. The recipe is more of a framework than a strict guideline, so feel free to improvise with whichever combination of lettuce, vegetables, and protein suits your fancy.

Recipe by Maral Tavitian

For the salad:

  • 1 1/2 cups arugula
  • 3/4 cup steamed green lentils, drained and cooled
  • 1/4 of an avocado, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. medium-firm tofu, drained and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • Handful of toasted cashew pieces, for garnish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the peanut dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted creamy peanut butter*
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or other neutral-tasting oil
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

* Use a good-quality peanut butter with a loose consistency. Look for brands that have only one ingredient (peanuts) and a layer of oil on top.

1. Place the lentils on top of the bed of arugula. Top with avocado slices, tofu, and cashew pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For the dressing, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl using a whisk or fork. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking to combine until the dressing reaches a smooth consistency. If the dressing seems too thick, add a bit more oil or water. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Extra dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

Ma’amoul Cookies from my Great Aunt’s Armenian Vegan Cookbook

2 Jun


While my family has always appreciated good meals, as a child, I seldom spent time in the kitchen. I cultivated my interest in food independently, experimenting with recipes, photographing, and sharing these experiences on my blog. As I grew older, my love of food and my Armenian heritage became defining aspects of my identity. I longed to learn about traditional Armenian cuisine, but did not know where to begin. That was until my great aunt, Dikranouhi Kirazian, released her new cookbook entitled Armenian Vegan. 



Armenian Vegan contains more than 200 traditional Armenian recipes, including appetizers, breads, main courses, and desserts, using no animal products. For seven years, my aunt secretly labored over this book with the help of her husband, George. She told no one about the project, leaving my extended family in shock upon receiving copies in the mail.

I relished flipping through the pages, discovering recipes that I had never heard of before along with vegan adaptations of classic dishes. Dikranouhi presents a practical and healthy approach to cooking, with simple instructions and ingredients accessible to novice cooks. She writes thoughtfully, sharing personal anecdotes and the cultural significance behind certain foods.


While reading the dessert section, these walnut-stuffed cookies caught my eye. Flavored with Mahlab, ground cherry pits, and delicate rose water, Ma’amoul are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East. I substituted a few ingredients based on what I had on hand, replacing Mahlab with ground cardamom and rose water with orange blossom water.

Though somewhat time-consuming to shape, these cookies’ handmade touch contributes to their charm. While nestling the sweet walnut filling inside a pocket of supple dough, I imagined my aunt learning this technique when she was a girl. Feeling a personal connection to a recipe makes eating it so much more fulfilling. Most importantly, however, the flavors here are wonderful. Semolina flour, traditionally used to make pasta, provides a toothsome texture and tender crumb, its robustness offset by a sliver of walnut-cinnamon paste. To finish, an elegant coating of powdered sugar makes these dainty treats ideal for serving alongside a cup of tea.


Recipe adapted from Armenian Vegan 

These cookies can be adapted using various nuts and spices. Possible combinations include pistachio and rose water or date and orange blossom water. 

For the cookie dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups farina or semolina flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cardamon, preferably freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup melted margarine or butter (for non-vegan option), melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup soy milk or cow’s milk (for non-vegan)
  • 2-4 tablespoons orange blossom or rose water

For the walnut filling:

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Yields about two dozen cookies.

1. In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the farina or semolina flour, sugar, salt, and ground cardamom and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Mix in melted margarine or butter with a spoon. Bring milk to a boil, add to the flour mixture, and mix well. Knead the dough with your hands until it reaches a smooth pasty consistency, about 1 minute. Add the orange blossom or rose water, knead a few more times to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

2. Meanwhile, make walnut filling. Place walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice into a small food processor. Process on high speed until the mixture reaches a moist, pasty consistency, about 1 minute.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. When the dough is ready, measure out tablespoons of dough. Roll each piece into a ball and make an indent in the center, creating a little cup. Place 3/4 teaspoon of walnut paste into the cup, flatten it, then place another flattened ball of dough on top. Seal the seams tightly but carefully with you fingers. Repeat with remaining dough. If you own a Ma’amoul mold, you may use it instead.

4. Place stuffed cookies an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes on the lower level of the oven, then transfer them to the top shelf for an additional 3-5 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Transfer the parchment onto a cooling rack, and allow the cookies to cool completely. Once cool, dust cookies with powdered sugar.