Happy Tsiknopempti everyone! It is carnival season in many areas of Greece and Cyprus and this festive week is called Kreatini (sandwiched between Profoni week and Tirofagou week). Tsiknopempti (Τσικνοπέμπτη), comes from the Greek words τσίκνα, which refers to the smell of roasting meat and Πέμπτη, which means Thursday. This is the day when many Greeks enjoy meat, and one of the last days in which this is permitted before the fast which precedes Greek Orthodox Easter. Typically it is roasted and grilled meats which are feasted upon, however we live in Canada, where it is snowstorm and freezing temperature season. Canadian winters make outdoor grilling and roasting a little uncomfortable and although we are all for tradition, we’re not crazy. So today, we offer a meat recipe to celebrate Tsiknopempti which does not require the great outdoors. Instead, here is the recipe for a traditional, slow braised veal in tomato sauce dish (kokkinisto / κοκκινιστό) with rice. Kokkinisto means reddened in Greek, and represents the fact that the veal is cooked in a tomato sauce.
Veal kokkinisto (Μοσχαράκι κοκκινιστό) is a dish that we have tried making on our own, several times. Although always edible, it has lacked the depth of flavour and melt-in-your mouth tenderness of our parents version. Totally ridiculous because as you will see, the recipe itself is very straight-forward. We’re still unsure where exactly we went wrong in the past, but maybe it doesn’t matter too much anymore. Because now we have our parents recipe…in fact, we ALL have our parents recipe. Enjoy!
The veal front you will be using needs to be cut up into serving size portions. That does not mean 1 inch cubes of meat; you are not making a stew. The veal should be cut up into as many pieces as you want servings, with the understanding that not all pieces will be exactly the same size. As you are cutting your veal, remove any excess fat and discard. If there is a bone, set it aside. You can add it to your pot during the cooking process for additional flavour.
As with most of their recipes our parents use home-made tomato sauce. If you have some, great. If not, then you can easily substitute canned or bottled tomato juice or sauce. According to our folks, either will work just fine.
Cooking rice used to stress us so much. How does one know the exact ratio of rice to water? Does the type of rice influence this ratio? Should the rice be cooked covered, or uncovered? At a simmer or a gentle boil? For how long? Is it worth it to buy a rice cooker? Where the heck are we going to keep one more small appliance? How could such a small grain cause such big anxiety?! And then…we saw our parents cook rice and we thought…huh!? What is wrong with us? Why had we never thought to cook rice this way? We’re smart people…usually.
Our parents cook rice the way you cook pasta. They boil a pot of water, add the rice, cook it over a medium high heat, and then drain it when the rice is cooked. We feel stupid. In this recipe we suggest that you cook the rice as our parents do (of course, maybe you already do. Smarty-pants). We also suggest that you serve the rice the way our parents do, by moulding it in a cup which you then invert onto the plate. This elevates plain rice and turns it into ρύζι στην κούπα or rice in a cup. Our parents actually use an old Tupperware Jell-O mould, but any cup will do. Just be sure to lightly grease it, press the rice into it so that it is compacted and then invert. Fancy!
We know that some people make kokkinisto using a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. This sounds great, but we have never tried making this recipe with those appliances. If you happen to make our parents recipe using either of these, let us know how it turns out!
Mia Kouppa: Veal kokkinisto with rice
- 1.113 kilograms veal front (almost 2.5 pounds)
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 1 onion
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 1/2 cups tomato juice or sauce
- 2 to 3 fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 3/4 tablespoons salt
- olive oil
- Mizithra (optional)
- Cut meat up into serving size pieces. You don’t want small cubes of meat, but rather portion sizes. So, for example, if you are going to be feeding 4 – 6 people with this dish, then cut the meat up into 4 – 6 pieces. Rinse the meat and drain in a colander.
- Pour the juice of one lemon over the meat.
- Heat vegetable oil in a pot (this is the pot you will ultimately add the rest of your ingredients to, so make sure it is large enough) over medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides, approximately 20 minutes total.
- Remove the meat from the pot. Remove all but one tablespoon oil / grease from the saucepan. Add the onion and sauté it until caramelized, approximately 5 minutes.
- Return the meat to the saucepan and add 1 cup boiling water, 2 1/2 cups tomato juice or sauce, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
- Bring to a boil and then lower to medium heat. Keep covered, but allow for a vent for steam to escape. Cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- Approximately 30 minutes before the meat is finished cooking, boil a pot of water. Add 1/2 tablespoon salt. Once the water is boiling, add the rice. Cook, uncovered until the rice is cooked, approximately 20 minutes (or according to the package instructions). Once the rice is cooked to your liking, drain the rice using a colander. Be amazed at how easy this was.
- Once the rice has cooled slightly, grease a cup or mould lightly with olive oil. Press the rice into the cup and carefully invert it onto the serving plate. Repeat for all the serving plates.
- Serve meat alongside the rice. Pour the sauce over the meat, and the rice if desired. The rice can be served with some mizithra sprinkled on top. Enjoy.