Swarni’s pork and cabbage

Yesterday was Guru Nanak’s birthday, which my friend Swarni told me about at work because she thought I’d like to take the kidlet and maybe Nick to visit a gurdwara, donate a dollar, and eat an Indian meal. This is a thing anyone can do, and Swarni says we can bring Tupperware for leftovers but the idea of being the greedy white lady with the Tupperwares mooching food from the Sikh temple kitchen is mortifying. She thinks I’m silly.

It was a quiet day at the office, and so we took a couple of extra coffee breaks and Swarni talked about her late father, and about her faith, which is a weird thing to discuss at the office but if you can get over things being weird and just listen, you can learn stuff. Anything you can learn without Google will make you better, I think, and if not better then at least a little wiser.

I want to learn everything, and am starting to understand how much less I have to talk to do that.

And so we talked, and we ate most of a box of Toffifee that Seti brought in, and then Swarni finally shared her recipe for pork and cabbage, a thing I’ve been begging her for but which she repeatedly waved me off about.

“It’s not much of anything,” she’d say. “My dad always made it, and he invented it.”

“Put it in your cookbook,” she said.

It’s not much of anything, and that’s why it’s so amazing. It’s just a few simple ingredients, and they’re cheap, and it doesn’t cook long, it’s got a depth of flavour you don’t always get in easy weeknight dishes. This one’s a keeper.

She said I could share the recipe with you. She says you can make it with chicken instead of pork, or with mushrooms and peas instead of cabbage, or with a can of puréed spinach. She says it’s best with bone-in pork chops, so you can pluck the bones out of the pot at the end of the meal for a nibble. I haven’t tried those other ways, but we do what Swarni says if we know what’s good for us.

I made this with the intent to pack the leftovers for lunches, and there were no leftovers. The little one gobbled his up, and Nick had two big helpings. I served it with brown rice, but white rice will do just fine. I was going to make raita, but got lazy. A few slices of apple made a perfect accompaniment.

Swarni’s pork and cabbage

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and sliced
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste (look for a low- or no-sodium version)
  • 2 tsp. Madras (yellow) curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 lb. savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • Cilantro

Add butter, onion and salt to a Dutch oven or other heavy pot and sauté over medium-high heat until onions have just begun to soften, about two minutes. Add garlic and ginger, cook for another minute, then add tomato paste and curry powder. Add half a cup of water. Stir to combine.

Add the pork to the pot, and stir to coat the pork in the spice-tomato mixture. Reduce heat to medium, cover the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, and add the garam masala. Cook for an additional two minutes.

Add the cabbage, stirring to coat in the sauce mixture until just wilted, another three or four minutes. You don’t want the cabbage to be limp and mushy – it should retain some of its toothiness and crunch.

Sprinkle with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, and serve over rice.

Advertisements

Hunger Awareness Week: Whole grain pasta with chickpeas and caramelized tomato sauce.

A well-stocked pantry has saved my butt on more occasions than I can count. Being able to open a cupboard and see a few simple things that could equal dinner is something I don’t take for granted – it’s a reassuring thing, and a luxury for many. Whether it’s because payday is too far away or I’m just too lazy to get to the market over the weekend, pantry meals warm my home and filled my belly most weeks, and have for my whole life.

When choosing non-perishable items to donate to the food bank, try to select nutritious items to fill the pantries of those with diverse dietary needs.

  • Fifty per cent of food bank users are families, including children; consider donating kid-friendly items like granola bars, breakfast items like oatmeal or other hot cereals, sugar-free applesauce, or peanut- or gluten-free items for school lunches.
  • If 20 per cent of people who use the food bank are seniors, consider seniors’ health issues (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension): select low-sodium canned goods, low-sugar or sugar-free canned or pureed fruits, lean proteins including peanut butter and legumes, whole grain and gluten-free pastas, and high-fibre grains and cereals.
  • For families with babies and young children, consider donating baby food, infant formula, or diapers in a range of sizes (not just newborn). Nursing mums need nutrition too – fortified cereals, canned fish (especially sardines, salmon, herring and mackerel), low-sodium canned soups and stews, and parboiled grains can be beneficial, especially for parents who are pressed for time.

Pasta with caramelized tomato sauce and garlic.A pantry with a few staples you’ll use again and again can go a long way to making you feel secure. Today’s recipe is an easy one – it’s comprised of stuff you probably already have, and it’s hearty enough to feed a family of four to a comfortable degree of fullness. It’s kid-friendly, at least at my table. It’s also suitable for people with diabetes, and it reheats well for lunch at work the next day.

Whole wheat pasta with chickpeas and caramelized tomato sauce

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 lb. whole-wheat or other whole-grain pasta, such as penne or rotini
  • 19-oz. (540 mL) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili flakes (optional)
  • 5.5-oz. (128 mL) can low-sodium tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add pasta. Cook according to package instructions, about 11 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for two minutes, until just translucent. Add chili flakes (if using) and garlic. Cook until onions and garlic have just turned golden, another three minutes. Add tomato paste. Stir constantly to keep the paste moving around the pan and cook until colour deepens and butter seems to have disappeared, four to six minutes.

Before draining the pasta, reserve about two cups of cooking water. Drain pasta, and add pasta and chickpeas to the pan. Stir, then add water half a cup at a time until sauce has loosened and coats the noodles thoroughly. Taste, adjusting seasonings as desired. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Gnocchi with kielbasa and caramelized corn.

gnocchi

There is so much choice when it comes to ingredients, and such a range of qualities and price points that it can be hard to know where to save your dollars and where to splurge. I sometimes get asked about this, but my answer is always pretty wishy-washy, as it’s one of those personal preference issues I can’t really call one way or the other. What matters to you? What do you notice when it’s not there? I buy both good and crappy vanilla, because the good stuff has its place but the crappy stuff can pass unnoticed, which makes the good stuff last longer.

You don’t need fancy ingredients to make good food. Most people can’t tell the difference between The Best and Good Enough anyway, the way most people will taste a wine and only know for certain whether it is white or red. They might think they can, and the truly gauche might say it out loud, but the reality is that a thoughtful meal comprised of modest ingredients is more than the sum of its sale-priced parts.

For the experienced cook, this is not news. But the novice cook, the young person who is just starting out and is perhaps swayed by pretty pictures in magazines or on Pinterest might be led to believe that there is no sense in doing something half-assed.

This is important: the only thing culinary you ever have to use your full ass for is eating. This is home-cooking; we are not cheffing around. The people you’re serving are already impressed that they didn’t have to make dinner. You can haul out the big guns, the good stuff, the meticulous technique and gourmet ingredients for special occasions – fancy company or holiday dinners or desserts – but when it comes to getting dinner on the table on a weeknight, half your ass will do.

The secret to good home-cooking is knowing where to take shortcuts, and where to spend your time.

If it’s corn season, highlight corn by gently caramelizing it with a finely chopped onion until your kitchen smells like butter and brown sugar; this is one of those gratifying things you can do while your small person tears around, suddenly naked, shouting the Rescue Bots theme song. If a package of gnocchi was on sale for a dollar, don’t bother hand-rolling fresh gnocchi; no one wants to do that on a weeknight anyway and you’re, like, what? Not supposed to ever have gnocchi? No. The shortcuts you take will emphasize the ingredients you lingered over, and everyone will love you for your efforts.

What follows is a recipe that takes full advantage of leisurely caramelizing and store-bought potato dumplings and the seasoning effects of Polish sausage. The great thing about this dish is that it kind of seems like something fancy, but if your people are like my people they won’t quite know why and you’ll somehow manage extra credit which you can use to excuse yourself from unsavoury tasks like scrubbing the cast iron or trying to wrestle a big-for-his-age three-year-old into the pajamas he would prefer not to wear.

Gnocchi with kielbasa and caramelized corn

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb. kielbasa or farmer’s sausage, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (from two or three cobs if using fresh)
  • 3 tbsp. garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. store-bought gnocchi
  • Smoked cheese, such as cheddar

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook kielbasa for about two minutes, until lightly browned, then scoop from pan onto a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.

Depending on how fatty your kielbasa is, you may or may not have to add additional oil at this point. If the pan is looking dry, add additional oil as needed. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add onion. Cook, stirring often, until browned, about five minutes. Add corn, and stir often until the colour has deepened and the kernels have browned in places, about fifteen minutes. Add a small amount of water as needed to dissolve the layer forming on the bottom of the pan. Add garlic, salt and pepper, and cook until garlic has softened.

Make the vinaigrette by combining oil, vinegar, fresh parsley, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl or jar and stirring or shaking to combine. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the corn has turned colour and smells buttery and sweet, add gnocchi to the pot and cook according to package directions. Gnocchi will cook for about two minutes, most likely.

Reserve half a cup of the gnocchi cooking water, then drain. Add gnocchi to the pan with the corn. Add the sausage back. Deglaze the pan with the water, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring to coat the gnocchi in the sauce that forms.

To serve, spoon vinaigrette over gnocchi and corn, and top with shaved or shredded smoked cheese. If you are not able to find smoked cheese, use an aged white cheddar.

(This is the soundtrack to my life right now. Just FYI.)