Saturday night and the fancy grocery stores with helpful butchers have closed. I’m standing in front of the pork section trying to remember the various cuts and what they are good for. I want something that won’t be too expensive and will enjoy a good long slow cook. I don’t need much – I’m looking for flavor rather than substance. I’ve just about resigned myself to buying the smallest shoulder I can find, cutting off what I need and freezing the rest, in what spot in my jam-packed freezer I couldn’t say. Then my eyes land on a pork neck. Intriguing. Cheap. I’ve never cooked with a pork neck but I think it will do the job just nicely.
This recipe was inspired by a tin of Smoky Paprika Chipotle Seasoning I picked up on impulse a couple weeks ago. I try to avoid spice mixes. It’s more useful to have the separate ingredients and blend my own as needed, but lately I’m a sucker for anything chipotle. And paprika. So there it is.
A word about the cumin and coriander. You can skip the toasting and grinding by hand. That’s the joy of being able to buy the pre-ground. But if you can spare a few minutes, that moment you inhale the scent of the freshly ground and toasted spices will remind you why you cook instead of buying frozen dinners. Incomparable. The freshest jar of pre-ground spices can’t offer you that.
This is a simple soup. Hearty and filling and subtle on the spices. Top with a dollop of plain yogurt and a squeeze of lime. (There are few dishes that can’t do with a dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lime.)
Chipotle Bean & Pork Soup
3/4 lb black beans, soaked overnight and drained 1/4 lb navy beans, soaked overnight and drained 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds 1/2 lb pork neck 1 Tablespoon olive oil 1 can diced tomatoes 1 onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced 1 tablespoon smoky paprika chipotle seasoning* 1 1/2 cup chicken stock 1 tablespoon salt
In a small skillet (cast iron is best for this), toast the cumin and coriander until fragrant. Remove from heat and crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet. Brown the pork neck on all sides. Place pork in the slow cooker. Add freshly ground spices and the rest of the ingredients, adding more stock if needed to cover everything. Turn the slow cooker to high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for four to five more hours, until the beans and pork are tender. Add salt to taste.
*A blend of chipotle chili powder, paprika, garlic, sea salt, sugar and smoke flavoring.
When I lived in Lithuania cabbage rolls were frequently on the menu. The filling was meaty, the cabbage tender and sweet and the sauce was just sharp enough to pull the whole dish together.
I haven’t figured out the secret to cabbage in my own kitchen. It never quite gets to that tender and sweet stage. So it’s never made it into my repertoire. Still, just about any time I get the urge to diversify my vegetables, a head of cabbage makes it into the vegetable drawer. Figuring my tenderness issue might be fixed with my new slow cooker, I recently tried Southern Slow Cooker Choucroute from Food52.
I’ll give it a solid B. Part of the lack was that I couldn’t find the right sausages. I think next time I’ll cook the cabbage longer. And I think I’ll add more apple.
In the meantime, I’ll try to get to my favorite German restaurant. They don’t have cabbage rolls but they do have craveable sauerkraut.
(I may have to add a new tagline to my blog – this was not the recipe I intended to make)
This week’s menu plan revolved around a couple of sweet potatoes I picked up a little while ago that I need to eat. Sadly, by Monday evening the plan was already knocked off schedule and my slow cooked sweet potato and black bean burritos did not happen. I came to Tuesday evening with a need for a quick finish sweet potato recipe. Clearly an off-plan improvisation was needed.
I remembered the scant handful of sage picked from a friend’s neighbor’s sharing garden (she plants herbs along the sidewalk and encourages those passing by to help themselves.) It’s been sitting on my counter and drying nicely and is very aromatic. And a couple of pieces of pancetta were left in my fridge. What all that added up to was a quick little sweet potato dish that cooked nicely while my chicken was grilling.
Sweet Potato with Sage and Pancetta
Though my meals are usually made for one, I rarely cook without creating intentional leftovers. This was an exception – a single serving dish. Mostly because though I think the julienne peeler is more convenient than julienne with a knife (at least at this whisper thin size) I still don’t enjoy using it. So I prepped enough sweet potato for one and no more. You can easily scale this up for a couple or family size.
1 slice pancetta, diced A few leaves of fresh or dried sage, to taste 1 quarter small sweet potato 1 Tablespoon olive oil salt and pepper to taste
Over medium heat, cook the pancetta til it begins to become translucent. Add sage and stir. Continue cooking until the sage is aromatic. Add olive oil and sweet potato. Cook until the sweet potato is tender.
Vegetables and I are not exactly soulmates. When I’m hungry I don’t instinctively long for broccoli or any of its cousins. I have to plan, set goals*, and regularly remind myself of how good I feel after I eat the vegetables. Let’s not even start on how undeservedly virtuous I feel when I’ve added a healthy dose of greens to my post-workout smoothie. Oh yes, I pat myself heartily on the back when I act like an adult and actually eat my veggies.
In my world, one of the best tricks to get me to perform this grown-up responsibility (aside from adding bacon or butter) is to make it convenient. Enter the leafy green purée.
My grocery stores give the option of buying spinach or kale in clamshells or plastic bags or in super large bunches. Even if the produce in the clamshells or plastic bags didn’t smell faintly of death upon opening, all of the options are too much greenery for one person to eat before things start to wither. So I purée and freeze them in mini silicone muffin cups. They take up hardly any space in my freezer, I’m no longer feeling guilty about wasted wilted produce, and they conveniently sit right next to the frozen bananas also intended for a smoothie. A couple of mini muffin’s worth of greens is plenty to earn me a vegetable pat on the back for the day.
This doesn’t exactly rate as a recipe, but it is one of my favorite kitchen tricks. Stay tuned for a soup recipe that makes use of the frozen greens.
Leafy Green Purée
1 bunch Spinach or Kale Enough water to purée A splash of lemon or lime juice
Combine all ingredients in your food processor or blender. Process until as smooth as you like. Pour into cups. Freeze. Once frozen, I prefer to remove the purée from the cups and store them loosely in a Ziploc bag.
Alternatively, throw a can of coconut milk in with or instead of the water.
*Currently, my vegetable goal is at least one daily serving of leafy greens, at least one daily serving of a red or orange vegetable, and at least one daily serving of legumes. And yes, it takes painful amounts of self-control to meet this goal.
This was supposed to be soup. This was supposed to be soup because it’s November and there is a chill in the air and I love soup and so of course I was going to come home from church and make a big pot of something to simmer. Because a big pot of something simmering on a chilly Sunday afternoon is just about the best thing in the world.
Also, I just bought some new smoked paprika. And this soup was supposed to be all about an excuse to use the paprika. A smoky paprika-flavored soup simmering for an hour or two on my stove to celebrate (yes, celebrate!) the cold weather. Hibernation food.
Then I got to the moment when I needed to add my chicken stock and the intense scent of bacon and onions and paprika hit my nose and cried out to remain undiluted and I realized I was using canned beans so there is no need to simmer for hours. So I thought – stewed beans!
If you’d prefer soup, increase the chicken stock by a cup. Toss in some chopped greens for a more nutritionally complete one pot meal.
Beans with Paprika & Parmesan
Serves: 3 or 4
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil 1 1/2 slices bacon 1 Onion 2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika 2 Carrots 1 15 1/2 ounce can of Navy Beans, rinsed and drained 1/2 cup Chicken Stock piece of Parmesan Rind* Salt and Pepper to taste
In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil. Meanwhile, dice the bacon and onion. Sauté the bacon until the fat starts to render. Add the onion. Dice your carrots.
When the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, add the paprika. Stir and heat through – about a minute. Add the diced carrots, beans, chicken stock and parmesan rind. Simmer until the carrots are tender, adding liquid if needed.
Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Be careful of over salting. Between the bacon and the parmesan and the canned beans, you may already have plenty of saltiness.
Remove the parmesan rind. Serve.
*if you don’t have a parmesan rind, simply throw in a piece of parmesan or even some of the grated stuff
My Brazilian uncle goes by Eric, Eurico or Rico, depending on who is shouting. He has a larger than life personality (hence the shouting). And this is his signature dish. I first remember having it the morning of the day he officially joined the family by marrying my Aunt Joan. The table in their house was full of food for people to nosh on but the thing my cousins (who grew up down the street) were excited to eat was this tuna. We ate it on perfectly toasted English muffins generously spread with butter and I immediately understood why my cousins had been clamoring for it.
Ever since that day this tuna has been a mainstay in my diet. I’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or afternoon snacks. I tweaked the ingredients and proportions a bit – I don’t think Uncle Eurico uses dill by the handful.
My college roommates called it orange tuna for the color the carrots gave it. When I lived overseas I ate it on soft subway style rolls with plain salty potato chips on top. For a while I ate it in a pita with shredded lettuce, a kosher dill pickle and sliced olives. Sometimes I swap the pita out for a flour tortilla, fresh spinach and a little mustard. And on days when I feel sluggish and overindulged a spoonful of this alongside some edamame drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar let me get my energy back so all is right with the world.
Tuna Salad with Carrots and Dill*
Yield: 4 or 5 servings
2 Carrots, shredded (this is the time to use the smallest holes on your box shredder) 9 oz Tuna (preferably oil packed) 3 Scallions, minced 2 Eggs, boiled and chopped 1 Tablespoon Dried Dill, or more to taste Salt and Pepper to taste 2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
Combine carrots, tuna, scallions, and eggs and dill. Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and enough mayonnaise hold it together.
*There is no magic proportion on these ingredients. Measuring, in this case, is strictly forbidden. Taste as you go and all will be well.
The microwave, it has to be said, has not been pulling its weight around here. It’s a small kitchen, and the bigger the appliance’s footprint, the more it needs to produce to earn that footprint. The blender understands this. After all, everyone saw what happened to the toaster that used to occupy the blender’s corner. The microwave…well, the microwave is a pain to clean. It takes up the entire top of the refrigerator and makes the cupboard behind it all but unusable. And the microwave is really used for just one thing – reheating this porridge.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Or at least, I know what I thought. Porridge is for punishing fairy tale characters. And could leftover oatmeal ever be appetizing? Then I realized how easily this reheats – beating hands down any instant version of oatmeal you’ve ever tried. And the quinoa gives it a lightness you wouldn’t believe possible of porridge.
Make a big pot of this. Have your fill and put the leftovers away. Spoon it into a bowl every morning with a splash of your favorite milk. Give the microwave one more day’s reprieve and zap it for a minute and a half or so. Fill your belly with this hearty warm goodness. See if it doesn’t make you happier to face the chill of November.
Oat & Quinoa Porridge
Serves 3 or 4
1/3 cup Quinoa, rinsed
1/3 cup Rolled Oats
1/3 cup Steel-Cut Oats
1 1/2 cup Milk
1/2 cup Apple Cider
1 cup Water
1 pinch Salt
Combine milk, water, and cider in pot. Bring to a boil. Add quinoa, rolled oats, steel-cut oats and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until tender.
Variations: This recipe grew out of my playing around with April Bloomfield’s English Porridge. Try playing with it yourself. Total one part grains or seeds with 3 parts liquid. I’m going to try Wheateena (toasted cracked wheat) in the mix next.
Topping ideas: toasted almonds, berries, a dollop of yogurt, apple butter, jam, butter, honey, syrup, toasted coconut….