The trick to teaching literature is to teach literature that teaches you. The Little Prince has been teaching me about life for an amount of time that can be measured in decades. Recently, it’s been teaching me about rites. I’ve been thinking about and wondering about the importance of rites at least since last January. Here’s what St. Exupery has to say about rites:
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”
That’s the bit that triggered all the deep thinking. At this moment in the thinking, I recognize rites as a part of the structure of relationships between people over time. And by structure, I mean the supporting beams, the bones, the reinforced concrete. Rites can be the structure for relationship between two people, the relationship of one person with herself, or the relationships of a whole community of people. And food has always been a very important rite, particularly of the communal variety.
So, we’ve been eating Thursday dinners. People come, someone cooks the main dish, everyone else brings wine or dessert or a side dish, and everyone eats together. I start looking forward to Thursday dinners as soon as I know what food will be made. This is what I made for the last Thursday dinner. It was delicious. Next Thursday, someone is cooking Shepherd’s Pie. Thursday is a wonderful day for me!
Chicken with Yogurt
adapted froma recipe in Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast, sliced into thin 1/2 inch strips
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
- 1 cups hard Mizithra cheese, grated
- About 1 cup of chopped fresh mint
- Salt and pepper
- 2 1/4 cups Greek yogurt
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil over med-high heat in a ceramic-covered dutch oven if you have one, or a cast iron dutch oven. We’re going from the stove top to the oven here.
Cook the chicken in small batches in the oil on high heat until it turns lightly golden. Reduce the heat, add green onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in both cheeses, the mint, and season with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat the yogurt with the three eggs. Stir the yogurt and egg mixture into the chicken mixture. Bake the chicken mixture uncovered for about 30, until the top turns golden.
Note #1: Mizithra cheese is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that reminds me of Honduran queso fresco. If you can’t find it, or if you have an aversion to sheep’s milk, you can substitute a hardened aged Italian cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.
Note #2: If you don’t have a stove top to the oven type pot, use a frying pan, and transfer everything into a casserole dish when it’s time to bake.
Note#3: Next time I make this, I will probably substitute boneless thighs for two reasons. They are cheaper, and I think thighs will resist the tendency of the chicken breasts to turn dry.
Note #4: You can see why this is a great dish to bring to a potluck-type affair. It is delicious, and it meets the two big requirements of communal food: it all fits in one pot, and it is slightly indulgent.