Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kale and Pork

Cassoulet over steamed kale
Two fine foods that go great together, especially in winter.

I treat kale and collards as interchangeable, being sturdy, leafy green vegetables with relatively unassertive flavors. They take less time to cook, but longer to wash and chop than cabbage, another brassica I will sometimes substitute for either kale or collards. They can all be steamed, rolled, and stuffed, as in galumpkes (what the locals call cabbage rolls). They’re all good in braises, soups, and stews. I eat greens at breakfast. They’re great under a stew. 

Pork belly, cornbread, collards with garlic, fresh ham steak with marjoram, and roasted root vegetables
And while all year round, I try to eat something either leafy green or some other vegetable that is botanically vegetable and not fruit (think broccoli, not tomato), in the summer that is often salad, and in the winter it is far more often kale or collards. I picked this idea up from reading Laurel’s Kitchen, where she suggests eating a “super vegetable” every day: a pod or leafy green.
Roast pork, roasted mixed root vegetables, and steamed collards
Greens go with everything. These are dishes I ate in the past couple weeks. Can you see how rare that pork is? No, we're not worried about it. Getting to eat pork as rare as we would eat beef is extraordinary. It's more like lamb. We eat it like this sometimes, when I manage not to overcook it. It's one of the culinary advantages of really knowing where your pork comes from.

The other thing about pastured pork, though, is that it is porky. You know that smell you get off of pig's feet? It's like that, only more so. In fact, the more I eat local, pastured meat, the more I am convinced I can taste their feed, and that industrially raised meat tastes more like corn than it does like chicken, beef, or pork. 

Kielbasa, braised cabbage, and homemade baked beans
Switching to pastured meat could mean finding out you don't like meat as much as you thought you did. I like strong meat (my personal blog is called Strong Meat) but I still cast around for some solutions for mitigating the extremely porky smell. Even the sausages we got from the slaughterhouse, as highly spiced as they were, smelled like this. The taste is a little less noticeable, but still there: a barnyard essence that reminds you this was an animal, a particular one that lived in a place and ate what it liked to forage. Eggy eggs are tremendously rich. Chicken-y chickens are the ur-chicken of chicken-ness. Lamb can be more or less sheep-y. Grass-fed beef is distinctly beefy. Pork was our most recent transition, and not only took a little time to get to appreciate, but to learn to cook with. 

Eggs over medium, potato latkes, a pork sausage, and braised cabbage
I learned that pastured pork goes well with vinegar, or smoke. Some traditional preparations have you soak the pork in vinegar before cooking it, while others use it as a flavoring in stew. Other acids, like tomato, also pair well with strong pork. My Sicilian family has always put pig's feet in tomato sauce. Last night, you could find me exclaiming over a pork and tofu stew at our local Korean restaurant. The stew, which included lots of kimchi, suggested another traditional pairing for pork that's popular around here: sauerkraut.

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