Pork and Greens

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By Deirdre Bourdet

My brother Andy does a killer pulled pork.  Every time he makes it is cause for celebration… and fevered, uncontrollable gorging by every family member and friend within driving distance.  My brother consistently stuffs himself to the point of needing Mylanta intervention, but thanks to my own iron will and samurai-like discipline, I limit my own consumption level to only slightly over the one-pound mark.  Smoky, succulent, and richly seasoned, it cries out to be stuffed into corn tortillas with mango salsa and cotija cheese… or piled onto little Hawaiian rolls with a dab of barbecue sauce… or shoveled directly from plate to mouth with the assistance of leafy green vegetables. Traditionally, Andy’s smoke-fests did not include vegetables of any kind, but in recent years he has endured the presence of vegetal side dishes with good grace when such dishes are introduced as a condiment-type addition to the beloved porcine object.  At our most recent festival of gluttony, the dish of kale and black beans was almost entirely devoured,  because its tangy sweetness (from dried cherries reydrated in vinegar) and toothsome texture brought the pork sliders to a whole new level… and also provided a refreshing counterpart to the evilly delicious bacon mac & cheese brought by another pork worshiper.  The kale’s earthy bite and tang cut the richness of the pork so well that we were able to devour whole mountains of pure meat without having to see or feel the grease within.  And, incredibly, we even felt healthy for having had that second serving of greens.

kale.jpgKale is ridiculously good for you, one of the much-touted superfoods that will supposedly keep you alive forever.  Many people find its bitterness and sturdy texture hard to love, though, and are unwilling to sacrifice nutritional value and much of their evening to traditional multi-step, slow-simmered kale cookery.  My approach is quick and dirty: use a lot of minced garlic, fennel seeds, salt and red pepper flakes.  Chop the kale leaves into small, thin ribbons so the seasoning is better distributed, stir everything around a lot, and add a bit of water to your pan so the greens simultaneously steam and sauté.  Once the greens are tender enough, finish the dish with tang and creaminess.  A few tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar evaporates into a refreshing bite that offsets the natural bitterness.   Drained, unrinsed black beans are fantastic for adding texture and creaminess, but shredded sharp cheese or a final drizzle of sesame oil make great additions too… particularly if you don’t have Andy’s pulled pork handy to defile the superfood into appropriate levels of decadence.

If you’re planning a pinot noir or other wine fest with your greens, consider using the dried cherry trick to improve your pairing success–but replace the vinegar with wine, cognac, or lemon juice to avoid nasty conflicts.
(Though Andy’s pork recipe is top secret, I can reveal that his brine solution contains–among other ingredients–sugar, spice, and startling amounts of Worcester sauce.)




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