Friday, January 17, 2014

The Fiasco

In our culture, after the passing of someone, it is a tradition to prepare a "Hokedjash" (roughly translated to "dinner for the soul"). Often, a typical Hokedjash dish is a soup that we call "djidabour". It is a delicious porridge-like dish prepared with onions, coarsely ground wheat and shredded meat. You then top each serving with melted butter, ground cumin and paprika. It is perhaps one of the most time consuming dishes I have come across but it is definitely well worth the time.

With efforts of continuing our Armenian tradition, we decided to prepare Djidabour to honor the life of our Mamie. On the evening of her funeral, we invited friends and family to my father's house to join us in remembering her over a few bowls of this soup. The invitation was for 7:00pm on a Wednesday night.

Like I said, making this soup is very time consuming so, knowing that we would not be home for most of the day on that particular Wednesday, we decided to prepare the dish the night before to avoid stress. The process involves a few steps. The first step is finding the recipe. I thought this step would be easy but oh, how I was wrong. As I shuffled through my cookbooks and the internet, the variations of the recipes I found confused me. Each recipe suggested a different kind of dark meat. Finally, through popular demand, we settled for Veal Shanks.

On Tuesday evening, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!
(Many people associate "time consuming" with difficult. There is nothing difficult about this recipe so it is definitely worth a try!)

Step 1 - Cube and clean the meat (1.5kg dark meat preferably veal shank)
This step seemed simple enough at first; however it did not take long to realize that the pieces of meat we had purchased probably belonged to Olympian cows! With the help of 4 different knives, 2 pairs of scissors, and a lot of mental and physical strength, Step 1 was done.

Step 2 - Boil the meat
Easy! Boil the meat until it is very tender so you can pull it apart.

Step 3 - Shred the meat
Time consuming but easy, we gathered around the round kitchen table, told stories, pulled the pieces of meat apart and discovered the hidden meat-shredding talent of my vegetarian little sister (exceptional talent!)

Step 4 - Rinse the wheat (1.5kg. this wheat is called "gorgod" and can be found at the Middle Eastern supermarket)
Simply rinse the coarsely ground wheat with cold water.

Step 5 - Mix shredded meat with chopped onions and black pepper (5 onions & a tbsp of pepper, a tbsp. of salt)
Another very simple step. Chop onions very finely, add the shredded meat, salt and black pepper. Mix together.

Step 6 - Add meat, onion and wheat to a pot, top with stock, cook on Medium-Low heat and stir
I am warning you, this step is demanding. You will likely be stirring for a few hours and because the soup is so thick, you will discover muscles in your arms that you did not know you had.

Finally, around midnight, after bending a few mixing spoons that were clearly not strong enough to stand up to our djidabour, we were done! Seeing as we were making this soup in what seemed to be industrial quantities, we ended up with two giant pot-fulls.

The next morning, in order to keep the soup warm, the pots were placed over indirect heat on the stovetop on very low heat. (This is where we went wrong).

In the evening, on our way to my father's home, I started to worry. What if the soup was burnt? At 6:30pm, Mr. A and I were the first ones to arrive. I quickly ran inside expecting a nightmare in the kitchen but making an effort to stay optimistic. As I opened the door, there was no smoke and the house did not smell like burnt food. I was delighted! I ran to the stovetop and removed the lids off the gigantic pots. Suddenly, the delight I felt a few short seconds ago quickly turned into confusion. It did not smell the way I remembered it. I tasted it and was not quite sure what to think. It wasn't bad... it wasn't good. I frantically grabbed another spoon and made Mr. A taste it while I called my father to tell him that things were not going according to plan. "Dad, it doesn't taste or smell the way it should!" "What does it taste and smell like?" "It smells like... yogurt? And it tastes it tastes like... Mr. A, what does it taste like?" "Hummus!" "Hummus, Dad! The soup tastes like hummus!!" I bet my father had the same clueless look on his face as I did. 

Within minutes, he was home. We all gathered around the two huge tubs of hummus-like-soup and just stared. We probably looked like a group of (good) witches around a cauldron. My father went to get a spoon so he can taste whatever that substance was. Suddenly, I felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I could not hear anything nor see anything besides that silver spoon my father was holding. My eyes were stuck to that spoon like a magnet sticks to a fridge. As it came out of the drawer, dipped into the soup and made its way to my father's mouth, I watched it. Then, as he took the spoon out of his mouth, I watched my father's facial expression go from perplexed to a mix between disappointment and understanding. With the *klink* of the spoon hitting the inside of the sink, I was back in touch with reality: "Garbage! It's fermented!" 

So there we were, less than 10 minutes before 25+ hungry people were to arrive and no food! Remember when I said we had decided to prepare the soup the night before to avoid stress? 

As we all frantically bounced ideas off one another, inevitably, the doorbell started ringing. One after the other, friends and family arrived with the sympathetic face that is usually accompanied by condolences and a warm hug. And there I was, on the other side of these compassionate faces with a smile on my face and laughing at the fiasco we were in. Adding to our grief, we were facing a difficult situation that could be solved by laughter or despair... We chose laughter. 

Back in the kitchen, we were still not quite sure what to serve the people who were coming. I called a nearby store that sells Lahmajoun (Armenian pizza). As I ordered 6 dozens, the girl paused and asked me when I needed it for. When I said that I needed it right away, with a failed attempt to hold back a small chuckle, she said "Ma'am, we close in less than an hour. We do not have that much food!"

Finally, with most of the guests already sitting down in the other room, we ordered kebab. Mr. A and Mr. L (my younger sister's fiancé) ran out to pick it up. About an hour later, with a house full of people who probably secretly wished they had had a snack before coming, Mr. A and Mr. L arrived like two handsome heroes ready to save the day! We created a human chain starting from the snowy steps outside of the house, to the kitchen, then to the dining room. As many of us moved liked machines, the table was set within minutes. 

The fiasco came to an end. Relieved and ready to eat, we all toasted to health, to love, to life, to the loved ones present in body and to the loved ones who will eternally be present in spirit and in our hearts.

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