Saturday, 9 June 2012

500: Orzo purslane salad (Σαλάτα με κριθαράκι και γλιστρίδα)

When I phoned them, I wasn't even sure that their telephone would still be working. They assured me they would be home; I assured them that they did not need to go to any trouble before my visit. Old people never take no for an answer. When I arrived, I found my aunts quite busy: Sofia was stooped over the stove top, while her twin sister Agapi was laying the table. The cutlery tinkled against the plates as her shaky hand laid down each piece. They had aged considerably since I had last seen them, almost a decade ago just before my mother died. At the time, they still seemed sprightly, but even then, it was obvious that they were slowing down. Although their minds did not admit to this fact, their bodies were showing signs of wear and tear. My mother's unmarried twin sisters were the oldest children in the family. The only ones that did not emigrate, they had managed to outlive every single one of their siblings. Now at eighty-eight, they were getting on.

"Martha mou!"
"How wonderful to see you again, after all these years!"
"The spitting image of our Elpitha!"
"Sit down, my child, you must be tired after that journey!"

I set down my present of a box of chocolates from the zaharoplasteio on the corner of the heavy wooden table with the curved legs. It was still laid with the same crochet tablecloth that I remembered on all my visits. My mother had bought it for them on my first visit to Greece with her when I was only a child. A great to-do was made about how to keep it clean. A transparent plastic tablecloth was bought from a shop in the town for that purpose, and laid over the crochet to allow it to show. Ever since then, when they had guests, my aunts would cover the plastic with another embroidered white tablecloth where we would eat from. It looked crisply cleaned and ironed, despite some stubborn oil stains.

The table was set for three, with a plate and fork at each setting. I recall that they never used knives. One would always be found in the middle of the table, but there were never enough to go round to all the diners. In the middle of the table was a small bowl of sliced tomatoes swimming in olive oil, sitting next to a plate of feta cheese.

"I don't know if you'll like our food today," Sofia apologised.

"We're fasting and we forgot you were coming, to buy some meat" Agapi explained.

I feel luck is on my side today. It's pointless reminding them that I'm a vegetarian. Sofia was now bringing a large bowl to the table filled with bright colours. The room took on an aroma of freshly pressed garlic.
 Orzo purslane salad - a favorite recipe passed on to me by a friend: 
Saute some garlic (and onion) in a little olive oil, then add chopped coloured peppers. Pour in a cup (or two) of orzo rice pasta, add water and salt, and cook till the pasta is done. Before serving, add the leaves of the purslane weed. 

"Smells so good, Thia Sofia!" I said truthfully.

"Mmm, but it's not ready yet!" Thia Agapi said. "We always forget to do at least one thing, don;t we, Sofia?" Sofia frowned, trying to remember what it was that Agapi remembered but she did not.

"I'll just go out and get the missing ingredient!" Agapi said as she made her way to the back door.

"Oh!" cried Sofia. "The purslane!"

"Yes!" Agapi laughed, with Sofia joining her just before she went out into the garden. "The orzo purslane salad isn't ready until we add some purslane to it!"

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