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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The little red hen (Η κόκκινη κοτούλα)

I heard it's really cold in my former hometown (something like 5 degrees Celsius, but feels like 1); here's a dish to warm everyone up a little. 

On a cold dark day in winter, when no one felt much like going out and the house felt warm and cosy, a little red hen asked her husband, the big brown rooster: "What shall we have for lunch today?"

The big brown rooster thought a little bit about that question and answered: "Oh, I don't know, whatever you like." He was keeping his toes warm on the pouffe under a blanket as he sat in the big green armchair watching television.

The little red hen asked him again: "Something meaty or something vege?"

And the big red rooster again answered: "Whatever, you know I;ll have anything."

That did not give the little red hen any firm idea to start with, but at least it gave her a clean slate and she could place anything on it, as long as it fitted into the general taste spectrum of the big brown rooster's preferences. So the little red hen looked into her cupboards and pantries and refrigerators, where she noticed a bag of artichokes which she had picked and cleaned (at the risk of getting thorns stuck in and discolouring her claws) and blanched and frozen the previous spring.


The bag was lying on top of a big bag of broad beans which she had picked and cleared and partly shelled and blanched and frozen at about the same time as the artichokes.


And the little red hen then thought how wonderful it would be if she could start emptying her fridge of last season's fresh frozen vegetables, to make way for the new season's produce.

So she set to work cooking a pot of agginarokoukia for the midday lunch. As she sauteed the onion in the olive oil, she noticed that there were no more lemons in the house, and it being such a cold dark dismal winter's day, she decided not to make agginarokoukia lemonata, but agginarokoukia me tomata, the latter of which she had picked and cleaned and pureed and turned into tomato sauce from the previous summer, in sealed jars which made a 'popping' sound as she opened each one every time she wanted to use one.

tomato paste for the winter

When the onions were done in the sauce, she added the artichokes and let them stew a bit, before adding the broad beans which didn't require so much cooking time, and in less than half an hour, she had cooked a hearty stew, which admittedly didn't look as good as it tasted, because it looked rather grey in colour, but tasted like a fresh spring breath amidst the dismal cold of the dark winter's day that had beset them.

artichokes and broad beans

And when lunch time came, she set the table in her usual way, with a little bowl of olives, a chunk of feta cheese in olive oil on a plate, and some freshly toasted slices of yesterday's bread, before she set a plate of hot warm agginarokoukia stew before the big brown rooster, and then she sat beside him to keep him company while he ate his lunch, not dining with him because she had already had her fair share of agginarokoukia during the cooking time, as she tasted it here and there to check for doneness and seasoning, just to get it perfect for the big brown rooster.

She was feeling quite full with the hefty aroma that filled their small kitchen.The big brown rooster had almost finished his meal; he was wiping the plate down with a piece of bread to mop up the sauce left on it. It being rather quiet, she decided to start a little chit-chat.

"That WAS delicious, wasn't it?" she asked for confirmation. 

"Hmm," the big brown rooster replied, wiping his beak with his napkin. 

The little red henwas wondering whether he really didn't like the meal, but had been too polite to say so all that time.

"See how good it is to save some of that fresh food for a rainy day like this one when there's no fresh food to be found?" she beckoned him encouragingly.
"Well," the big brown rooster started, "it's not as if you did anything special."

The little red hen was startled. She looked on the planning and preparation of every meal as a special event, and she knew that if she didn't do that, then the meal would be missing the most important ingredient in it, which was love, and no one would want to eat it, and she'd have to treat the meal as leftovers for the dog's dinner.

"Well," the little red hen was taking on a huffier tone, "would you have preferred it if I had cooked the agginarokoukia in a lemon sauce instead of a tomato sauce, then?"

The big brown rooster grimaced and said: "No, no, not at all, I'm just saying, it was a bit of an άρπα κόλλα sort of meal, wasn't it?"

"Arpa kolla?" she repeated. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Well," now the big brown rooster was almost smirking, "all you did was take everything out of the deep freeze and throw it in the pot, didn't you?"

The little red hen had now become a shade of crimson. "Are you trying to say," she began, in a voice that could be heard over the thunder and lightning that was striking at that very minute, "that this was one of the easiest meals I have ever prepared in my life, and I hardly had to DO anything to get it onto your plate?"

The big brown rooster swallowed hard. That last bit of bread almost got stuck in his throat. He knew he was in big shit.

"Yes," she began slowly, as she always did when she she began her spiel about how much she does around about the house, "it didn't take much at all to make, didn't it," she continued. "It's a good thing I cut those thorny agginares before they became a blooming purple thistle good enough for a flower vase,

artichoke in flower

and pricked my hands cleaning them and getting the furry choke out of them, and getting my nails dirty - do you REALISE just how DIFFICULT it is to clean ARTICHOKES and keep your HANDS CLEAN??!!"





















And she didn't stop there. "And it's also a good thing I picked all the koukia before they started resprouting, and cleared the black eye off them and blanched them for a minute in scalding water, and let them drain and cool before I put those in the deep freeze as well?"

broad beans shelling 
broad beans
removing black eye from broad beans

The big brown rooster began to smile now. He knew that she had beaten him, but in order not to feel outdone, he put on a big happy contented face, so that the little red hen would know that he appreciated her efforts. But she was not quite done yet. 

broad bean stew

"And if I didn't turn all those tomatoes you were growing all summer long into pulp," she said, waving a wing in the air, "they'd STILL be rotting on the TREES, wouldn't they?!"

"Ahh, that was a good meal, wasn't it?" the big brown rooster said, in an attempt to appease the situation.
The little red hen was now standing by the stove, ladling the stew onto a large plate. "I'll let you know how good it is once I have some, then!" she said, and with that, she sat down and proceeded to gobble up her plate. Even though she wasn't really hungry, she dipped some thick sourdough bread slices into the sauce, and thought about what she'd cook for the next day's meal, because today she would make sure that there would be no leftovers, and not even the dog was going to get any of them if there were.

too many roosters

Cluck, cluck, cluck.

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