I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. As a teenager I regularly pulled apart my bicycle and changed the seat, handle bars and flat tyres.
These days, I occasionally poke around in the dirt in my few scattered pot plants on the deck; however, kneading a ball of dough into a respectable-looking chapatti is quite a different challenge.
For starters, I'll need a frilly polka dot apron.
“Can you start peeling the carrots?”
“Sure,” I said, rummaging through the green shopping bag. “Where are they?”
“Didn’t you bring the carrots?” one would-be cook said to the other.
“I thought you had them in your shopping bag?”
It was a dubious start to Saturday’s communal cookfest, as Robbie (the lady of the house) and Amrita (our cooking instructor) had not yet returned from their separate shopping expedition.
Five of us stood idly around until we discovered the missing carrots in the fridge following a thorough search of the kitchen.
How many chefs does it take to chop carrots?
“So how did Amrita want these carrots chopped up?” enquired one of our eager cooks.
“Didn’t she say thinly sliced?”
“No, I thought she wanted them diced?” another offered.
Oh dear, our second omen; and this was just the start of our much-anticipated communal cooking endeavour.
“Right,” I offered, “what do you want me to do?” May as well get in amongst it.
“Here, cut the ends off these beans.”
“Oh,” said Amrita when she finally arrived, laden with spices and other exotic supplies, “the carrots need to be chopped up differently.”
We were already running two hours behind schedule, but with the carrots, beans and cabbage finally chopped up, Amrita threw an assorted combination of spices into pots and pans and fired up the gas stove.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Mustard seeds mixed with garlic.”
My own spice collection at home was pitiful in comparison.
I was never in the kitchen at parties
While I enjoy eating an eclectic array of foods, my cooking ventures have dwindled woefully over the past decade or two as a result of constant travelling and relocation.
My pantry and crockery collection is down to the basics and I’m not set up for dinner parties; with just four dinner plates, four soup bowls, four wine glasses and a couple of salad bowls, I can only entertain three guests at a time.
Despite my mother’s relentless attempts to chain me to the kitchen and learn the ways of Greek cuisine, I spent my rebellious childhood running around with the neighbourhood kids, riding bicycles and skateboards, kicking soccer balls and playing street cricket. Frilly, polka dot aprons were so not me!
I stayed out of the kitchen at family gatherings, avoiding the labour-intensive meal preparations in the lead up to an endless celebration of name days, birthdays, Easter and Christmas parties. Besides, Greek women in the kitchen only talked about two things: marriage and children.
I’ve since become a quick-and-easy-stir-fry-cooking-for-one kind of girl and prefer the mezze style of grazing over a selection of small dishes, rather than sitting down to one main meal.
However, at auspicious times of the year, when the planets are aligned and I’m feeling particularly creative, I can whip up a mean pumpkin soup or vegetable stir fry, not to mention a sensational sweet and sour chillie sauce.
Doh! I knead more practice
Robbie shuffles me outdoors for the chapatti-making operation.
“Okay, fill this jug to one-third with white flour, then add one-third rye flour and one-third white flour,” she instructed. “And repeat it twice.”
I pondered the mathematics of it.
“Err… wouldn’t it be easier to fill the jug to the top with each flour and pour it into the mixing bowl?”
Robbie gave serious consideration to my counter proposal. “Yes,” she admitted, “that would be the same!”
What’s that expression about too many chefs…?
Amrita came over to inspect our progress, adding yoghurt and water into the mixture.
“It needs more flour,” she observed, throwing another handful into my carefully-measured concoction.
“Oh, I never measure amounts when I cook.” She sprinkled a third handful into the thickened dough until she was satisfied with its consistency.
I pushed up my sleeves for the chapatti challenge, although I was increasingly distracted by the aromatic smells drifting from several Mauritian curry dishes simmering on the stove in the kitchen.
“Err…sorry, show me how to flatten the dough again…”
My first attempt was a pot-holed, unidentified shape that defied explanation; it wasn’t fit for the frying pan. I rolled it back into a ball and made several more abstract interpretations before I could confidently present it for cooking.
I confess, it’s not as easy at it looks! I was still struggling with my tenth chapatti, but figured everyone was so hungry by then, no one would notice the deformed pieces of dough. They tasted delicious, regardless.
Cooking with friends
I’d never cook six different dishes just for one meal, which makes cooking with friends an attractive option. And unlike bringing a dish to share at a party, communal cooking brings people together to prepare lunch or dinner from scratch.
The benefits include:
We did, however, return home with full tummies and ample leftovers.
Can’t wait for our next cook up: a Chinese steamboat extravaganza.
Right, what needs chopping up next?
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS