I pride myself on being an organized person who writes endless lists and plans ahead for even the smallest events. I like to know what lies ahead if I can control it, and to prepare for any predictable outcome. Yet, when it comes to cooking, I find that I often disregard the methodical and follow the path of spontaneity.
Sure, I try to plan our weekly meals ahead and adapt the menu to my working hours. There is a grocery list written on a dry-erase board attached to the fridge by a few magnets. I do my best to stick to the items on that list, but so many times I allow beautiful produce to seduce me and I return home with cheap, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables that I cannot bear to see go to waste.
And as I have no clue what to do with them, I try to squeeze a few recipes into the planned menu, or to push a meal to a later date to accommodate my newest impulse buy. I always offer valid excuses to that whiny little voice of buyer’s remorse: the season is so short and the produce tastes the best right now; it’s cheap; it’s filled with anti-oxidants and vitamins that we all need; I’ve seen a recipe on my friend’s blog that I must make; and so on…
A few days following my purchase I am in a frenzied mode. I buy in bigger quantities as I carry the genes of food-hoarders. We eat very little and I rarely prepare big batches of anything but beans, which I freeze in smaller portions for those almost non-existent days when I do not feel like cooking. The challenge is always in finding several ways to use the produce before it becomes inedible, and I impose these ridiculous rules on myself as I cannot stand throwing food away.
I have so many ideas and if the life did not intervene every single time, I would have an idyllic existence, filled with me flitting from one part of the kitchen to another, dashing outside to clip a sprig of an herb, and feeding errant birds crumbs from the third version of a recipe I prepared in an attempt to find perfection. But, that is not my life, no matter how many mornings I get up at dawn and how many nights I turn the lights off at the wee hours.
Several days ago I received a box from Melissa’s Produce packed with amazing-looking, fresh, Hatch chiles which are in season for a few very short weeks in August and September. It wasn’t an impulse buy, but it was an impulsive and very enthusiastic affirmative reply to an email. After an initial happy dance (cardboard boxes full of food seem to inspire in me some of the most embarrassing expressions of happiness), I had to make a master plan, as there were way too many chiles for immediate consumption.
I have to report that I am extremely satisfied with my creative process. Barely a week later, all the chiles are accounted for. I roasted them, peeled them, and separated them; some were sequestered in Ziploc bags in the freezer, and some became a part of our daily menu. I added them to my home-made mayonnaise for a spread for hamburgers; I chopped them along with tomatillos, eggplant, and onions for a Mediterranean relish my grandmother Njanja used to make; I used them sparingly in quesadillas.
But they really shined in Chile Verde with Pork, a slow-simmered stew imbued with different layers of flavor, which made me wonder if my Serbian ancestors ever crossed paths with my new Mexican neighbors, as our common love of peppers, onions, and beans is evident. I reached into my mother’s treasure of recipes for the basics, and browsed the Internet for the details of preparation. I chose to roast all my vegetables, not only peppers, and I was pleased with their rich, smoky undertones.
This dish tasted oddly familiar, even though I have never had it before. The girls were away at camp, and I was the only one at the dinner table. OK, I am fibbing: I ate two bowls of chile verde and rice curled up on the lower bunk of their bed, reading a Murakami book, trying to drown the voices in my head and their incessant “what ifs”. It worked for a while, which is enough.
I felt relieved after the pile of chiles disappeared, but a few hours later I was planning an expedition to a neighboring grocery store where red peppers were 4 for $1.00 and plums .68c per pound. Will someone, please, organize an intervention?
- 1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 TBSP freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 lb tomatillos, husked and washed
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 Hatch chiles, mild or hot
- 2 TBSP lard or bacon grease (you can use any grease/oil you like – I just prefer lard:)
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 bunch cilantro stems
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- Place the pork in a large, non-reactive bowl.
- Mix all the ingredients for marinade and rub into meat,
- Let marinate for 30-60 minutes,
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400F.
- Place the vegetables on a rimmed cookie sheet.
- Roast for 40-45 minutes, until slightly charred and soft.
- Remove from oven and let the vegetables cool a bit.
- Peel tomatillos if burned.
- Pell and de-stem peppers.
- Chop or vegetables in small dice.
- Heat a Dutch oven on medium-high temperature.
- Add lard.
- When it starts to sizzle, add pork.
- Brown on all sides and remove to a plate.
- Pour all chopped roasted vegetables in the Dutch oven.
- Stir for 1 minute.
- Add the pork, chicken stock, cilantro stems, and oregano.
- Heat until it boils.
- Turn the heat down and simmer for 1 hour, until the pork is tender and stew has thickened.
- If necessary, add some more stock.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Serve with rice and corn tortillas.