Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pork and Tomatillo Stew to Celebrate Fall

It's fall at last! The mornings are cool and the light has changed. Not only does it get light later, but the slant of it says fall. My garden is more shaded now by the elm tree in the neighbor's yard. I can still eat outside at my glass table, but I need a sweater. The only thing that's missing are those breathtaking colors I grew up with on the east coast. Here in San Diego, the trees don't start turning until November, and even though I've lived here since 1986, I still find that strange!

Fall is by far my favorite season. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to help my dad rake leaves in the fall. We'd pile them high in the back yard, not far from the hedge between our house and the neighbor's house. When we were just about finished raking and just about to set a match to them, we'd look in time to see a tan streak, shooting through the bottom of the hedge. Rudy, the neighbor's boxer, was waiting for this moment. He'd tear into the yard, run round and around and around the pile of leaves, and suddenly take this enormous leap, landing in the middle of the pile. He'd come out grinning, and then take off and do it again. We'd stand there and laugh each and every time he flew into the air and landed in the pile. He loved it, and so did we!

The meals of fall always smell good, too. I love walking inside and smelling something bubbling on the stove or in the oven. It says "home" and "comfort" to me. When I lived in New Mexico, a pot of food on the stove and a pile of wood out back were the equivalent of money in the bank. We didn't cook much with tomatillos when I lived there. I don't know why. But I've discovered their delicious greenness here in San Diego. They taste slightly tart, and add such a wonderful counterpoint to meat and potatoes.

I looked at Wikipedia to learn something about tomatillos. Here's what it said:

The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or Physalis philadelphica) is a plant of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. The tomatillo fruit is surrounded by a paper-like husk formed from the calyx. As the fruit matures, it fills the husk and can split it open by harvest. The husk turns brown, and the fruit can be any of a number of colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple[1]. Tomatillos are the key ingredient in fresh and cooked Latin American green sauces. The freshness and greenness of the husk is a quality criterion. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green colour and tart flavour are the main culinary contributions of the fruit.

I find it amazing that herbs are so incredibly versatile. Oregano, which is used in this recipe, is an herb I grew up associating with Italian food. But it's versatility is astonishing. One minute it's Italian, the next it's Greek or New Mexican! What I love most about it, other than it's flavor, is it's meaning: "Delight in the mountain". Don't you just love that?

I found this recipe in the October Food And Wine magazine. Of course, I've tinkered with it, but I'll give it to you as it's written first, and then tell you what I've done to it.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 3-inch chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large celery ribs, finely diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 Anaheim chile, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons mild chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
  • Two 6-ounce russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
  • One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound tomatillos—husked, rinsed and cut into 1-inch dice
  • Hot sauce
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • Corn tortilla chips, for serving
  1. In a medium casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until browned on 2 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add the celery and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the diced chile, garlic, chile powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and tomatillos, cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  2. Transfer the pork to a plate and shred with two forks. Meanwhile, simmer the stew over moderate heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir the shredded pork into the stew and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Ladle the stew into bowls, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with a few tortilla chips.

MAKE AHEAD The stew can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

Notes: I added string beans to my stew. Also, I didn't use Anaheim chilis - they have no heat. I used my green chili from Hatch, New Mexico. The best! When you use good chilies, you don't need to bother with chili powder or hot sauce. Also I left the pork as cubes instead of shredding it, as I find that more satisfying. And I didn't bother with the cilantro or the tortilla chips.

I'm entering this post in Kalyn's Kitchen Two Year Anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging. Can you believe it's been 2 years since she started this event? Congratulations, Kalyn!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.


Katie Zeller said...

I wish I could fing tomatillos here. When we lived in the U.S. and made occasional trips to the southwest I always ate anything with salse verde and/or tomatillos. Guess I'll just have to do it on the next trip back. Your stew sounds delicious.
I've been using oregano a lot more as well - it's (along with chives) it the first herb ready in the garden in spring...

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to see this - I have mounds of tomatillos and was just looking for something to do with them!

Kalyn Denny said...

Yum, tomatillos! They are so tasty. I love the sound of this stew, and I love all the herbs you're using here. Thanks for helping us celebrate the two year anniversary of WHB!

Thistlemoon said...

Oh yeah! This is great. Tomatillos and pork together - you just can't go wrong!

Anonymous said...

This sounds delicious, Toni. Even more delicious are your tales of fall. It's my favorite season too, for a lot of the same reasons.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I'd love to try this with chunks of turkey instead of pork. And I agree completely about great green chiles -- you don't need anything else to kick up the heat. I've been saving my last tin of Hatch chiles for something special -- this just might be it!

Susan G said...

A word from the vegetarian: how can I recreate this? All the flavors sound so wonderful, and I've been wanting to find the right vehicle to try tomatillos. We actually can find them grown locally...the first time I commented on a recipe (in Epicurious) I changed just about everything, and was the first to comment, wishing I could hide somewhere in the middle! And chilis are a challenge here too, but there's a chance....

Toni said...

Katiez - Funny how it took leaving New Mexico and moving to California for me to discover tomatillos!

Nicole - You have mounds of tomatillos? Wow! I'm impressed! Since they're new to me, I'm just learning what to do with them.

Kalyn - I think this stew would be South Beach friendly - especially in the later stages. I used a combination of potatoes, but the red ones, I think, would be OK. Lower in carbs, as I recall.

Jenn - No you can't!

Terry - Fall just pulls at every heart string I've got! Stew just makes me happy.

Lydia - I'll bet it would be GREAT with turkey! In fact, I think I'll try that the next time. Thanks for the idea!

Unknown said...

Susan - Sorry I missed your comment before. Since they make vegetarian "meats", perhaps you could try this with some kind of "sausage" made from seitan? Let me know how it works!

Stella said...

Never tasted tomatillo before:(
Your photo is really pleasing to the eye Toni:)
I've no doubt that it must be a real real real delish!

Chris said...

Yet another I have never tried...tomatillos....sad - I know! But again, thanks for teaching me the goods.
This stew sounds fabulous! Now, the weather just needs to get cooler. :)

Susan said...

Tomatillos are the best. I love how pretty their parchment skin is and how easy they are to prepare. I don't eat red meat anymore, but I'm sure there are many different bean varieties that can be used in place of pork.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Ever since moving to California, I have really grown to love tomatillos. Their tart, citrusy flavor is delicious in so many types of dishes. Your stew sounds perfect for a chilly night. Just what you need to warm up your insides.

Unknown said...

Chris - Yes, I had to wait for a change in the weather. We had a "window" of fall here. From what I understand, it's supposed to get hotter here during this week. Ugh! I'm over it! Bring on 'da fall!

Susan - I'm positive it would be fabulous with beans. Never thought of that, but it's soooo New Mexican! (BTW, pork is considered "the other white meat.)

Susan - Yes, it was perfect for this rainy, cloudy weather we've been having. But I also love Susan's idea of making it with beans. I'm going to try that next time, as I don't always include animal protein in my diet.

Rachael Narins said...

I can almost smell the leaves burning...and see the moment.

I must gush, again, over how much I adore your blog. Its a window into you past...and I love it.


Unknown said...

Thank you, Rachael. Your blog was an inspiration to me from the beginning, you know, and you have helped me so much! Your personality just bursts off the screen when I read your writing!

Cynthia said...

Glad to hear that you are enjoying the season. Recently on my travels, I heard a woman say, she hates fall because she knows that winter is next.