Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pork and Lentil Stew with Cream: for Clara

Poor little Clara has already lost her star position, after only two months. The youngest grandchild was displaced by her new cousin Thomas Anders two days ago on November 6th, 2008. So here's a consolation I created for her, even though she won't be able to eat it for another year.

The dish is a play on her name, hopefully a tasteful one. It's being tested by my principal guinea pigs these days, the staff of St. Bartholemews, for whose weekly meeting I've been cooking. I'm not sure where the idea came from. Somehow it seems like it ought to be French or possibly Mexican, but it isn't. The combination of ingredients doesn't reflect dishes I've actually tasted or read about. However, I have been thinking recently about lentils and other low-cost and underused favorite ingredients of mine as I'm proposing a recession-era recipe column in a newspaper. (More about that if my proposal is accepted.)

'Clara' means clear or light colored. She's a blue-eyed blond to be, so it works for her. The dish is light colored, made from pork, blond lentils, and sour cream. By the way, the intended lentils are the smaller tan ones, available in 1-pound bags at supermarkets, or better yet at Mexican groceries ('lentejas').

This first time, we're serving it with lightly salted brown rice. But I don't have a fixed opinion yet as to the ideal accompaniment. A dish like this would go with wine, not at a mid-day church staff meeting of course, but at dinner. Based on the flavors and mellowness, I'd try a medium-bodied red that isn't too acidic or hard. A Merlot from California or Chile, or a Tempranillo from Spain should do. Or maybe a Beaujolais. That's tentative, and not yet tested.

The recipe will serve six.

Pork and Lentils Stewed with Cream Clara

1/2 pound (1 cup) tan lentils, as small as available (Mexican groceries have ideal ones)
1-1/2 pounds trimmed pork butt or stewing pork
Olive oil as needed
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or large pinch of cayenne
Large pinch of thyme
1-3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sour cream ('natural')
Minced parsley for garnish

In a bowl, cover lentils with boiling water 3 inches above the lentils. Drain after 20 minutes.

Trim excess fat and tough parts from pork and cut in 2-inch pieces.

Render some of the pork fat in a stewing pot and remove cracklings, or use several tablespoons olive oil.

Fry pork in stewing pot in the grease or oil, turning frequently, until color is fully changed on the surfaces. Remove meat to a bowl using a slotted spoon.

Fry onion in the grease, adding a little olive oil if needed. Stir onions occasionally and fry until softened. Stir in garlic and fry 1 minute.

Add pre-fried pork and drained lentils. Add enough water to just cover lentils. Add bay leaf, black pepper. nutmeg, red pepper, and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes covered, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt.

Simmer, covered, until pork and lentils are tender, stirring often and scraping bottom of the pan. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt.

Stir in sour cream, and add a little water if sauce is too thick. The consistency should be like heavy cream. Bring just to a boil and remove from the heat.

The stew can be served now, or refrigerated and reheated later (check salt). Accompany by lightly salted rice, brown rice, or steamed or boiled potatoes. Sprinkle with minced parsley.

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