A blog about cooking with a surprise set of ingredients.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monday evening: pork chops and okra

Monday evening. Hazel announces as she comes through the door that she has bought me a mystery box. It's not Sunday night, so I didn't expect it. For the last month or two, Sunday night has been mystery box night. We have taken turns in buying a bag of random groceries for the other one. I've bought Hazel leg of rabbit, loin of pork, quails and trout. Hazel has bought me neck of lamb, a whole chicken and today pork chops. I'm thinking of buying goat for Hazel for next time from the African butcher up Chaussée de Wavre, but don't tell her. 

This was my bag of the day: pork chops, a head of cauliflower, okra, small round aubergines, red pepper and Indian spices, turmeric (which we ran out off Sunday), garam marsala and some other things. She had clearly gone past the Indian grocer on Rue Viaduct on the way home. So, what will I do with these ingredients? The rules are simple. You have to cook for the two of us, but also for Magnus, our son, and sun, who is 10 months and likes his food. You must use what the other had bought, but you are also allowed to scavenge the kitchen, which I do and find garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime, lemon, lentils and couscous.

Out of necessity, I start with Magnus' food. He is getting hungry and tells us so. Not too bad yet, not undistractible, but soon enough he will be. I cut nice pieces of pork, red pepper and cauliflower and let it sweat in olive oil before adding plain water. It simmers for maybe twenty minutes before being blitzed and gulped down by the impatient young man. I must say, if you have to cook without salt or any spices, blitz porridge of pork meat and red peppers is unbeatable. It is simply delicious.

Then I turn to the main oeuvre. Hazel is clearly trying to lead me into thinking Indian. But pork and Indian is not obvious. I have eaten a lovely pork curry at our friends Sunil and Inna’s place that Sunil’s sister had cooked. Military food she said. They had learned cooking pork from the British.

After a while four dishes appear. I begin with a confit of aubergine, okra, red pepper and a small artichoke that I also find in the fridge. With confit I mean slowly boiled in fat, olive oil in this case, until  the vegetables come out as the artichokes you get in Rome. It’s not about deep-frying. Keep the heat low so the oil almost just boils and fry the veggies until they are crisp. I fry the okra whole, the artichoke quartered (outer leaves taken on until they are turning pink and top cut off), aubergines halved and red peppers in squares of maybe three centimetres.

The next thing I start on is the pakoras, which in the end will turn out to be the only Indian dish of the four, if  my pakoras now even can be called Indian. I slice finely the rest of the pepper, one onion, two okras and two bulbs of cauliflower. Then I scout the Internet for a recipe for pakora and realise I need chickpea flower, which I don’t have. In addition, I find no cornflower or riceflower only the plain version, which is too boring. But I do find a can of lentils so my plan is to bind together the pakoras with the lentils. A dhal pakora if you see what I mean.

Third: I attack the cauliflower. In volume it’s half of what Hazel have bought for me, or even more. It wouldn’t be fair only to have some slices in the pakoras. I haven’t cooked cauliflower for I don’t know how long. Ten years at least. What do you do with it? Boil it? Fry it? I decide to make a mash and put 7-8 bulbs in a pot to boil with some salt. 

Four, but not last, the meat. I have been thinking Indian, I have been glancing at the garam marsala. But when it’s time, I can’t make myself put it on the pork. I see the result already, brownish, dry, tastes that have not married. One of my favourite lunch places is a Japanese on Chaussée d’Ixelles, and I almost always eat ‘porc gingembre’, pork with ginger. I find ginger and lemongrass in the fridge. I grate half a thumb of ginger and bash up a third of stick of lemongrass with the back of the knife and put it in a bowl. To that I add two grated cloves of garlic and lime and lemon juice and put in the pork chops to marinate.

The veggies are confitting away nicely. The lentils simmering in water, olive oil and a little chilly. The cauliflower bulbs have just started boiling. All is under control as it usually is before it goes to pot. Time to make pakoras. Blitz the lentils, add them to the sliced veggies. It doesn’t look promising. Not even with the turmeric and garam marsala and cumin and other things I find in the cupboard. It looks mushy, and not even close to green. I find some couscous to get some crunch and add half an egg white as glue.

The confit veggies go out of the olive oil and on to kitchen paper to drain. Next, I put up the gas under the oil and start off the pork chops in it, almost deep-frying them. Hazel is from Scotland so a bit of deep-frying is almost necessary. Then they go onto a tray and into the oven, 175 degrees, grill and fan, for about ten minutes. Next the pakoras go into the olive oil that is quite hot at this point. Disaster. The two first dissolve, making the content in the pan into an extremely fatty undercooked vegetable soup. The two next goes into a frying pan, and miracle, come out quite nice.

Time for plating. Build a sculpture of the confit veggies. Then drain cauliflower and blitz them. The amount of water in them when newly drains it actually just what’s needed to make a good, not too watery mash. Salt and pepper. I had thought nutmeg, but forgot. Check pork chops. I take out the least nice on and cut through it to check that it is lightly pink as it should be. There we go. Heap of mash, pork chop on top. Pakora on the side, and the result is what you see above. Oh, I forgot one thing. There might also have been some fish sauce in the marinade for the pork chops .

Four kitchens I would say. Pakoras resemble somewhat what you can buy at Tandoriland up the street. Cauliflower mash clearly English food. Confited veggies, tastes like Rome. And the pork chops? Closest thing? Viet Nam, I would say, but not sure if my Vietnamese friends would agree. Now, let's hear the verdict.