Just to show that I never stop thinking about food and often find inspirations from the strangest of places, the recipe I'm about to share came to me from my morning exercise.
When I was at the gym this morning, the TV screen in front of me was showing the news on them latest talks on Greek debt crisis. Without sounding inappropriate, yes, it's a serious issue to which I hope for the best possible outcome; but whilst on that cross-trainer, all I can think about was "hmmm... I really fancy a Greek stew for lunch". Then all sorts of ingredients came to mind, lamb, pork, chicken, olives, lemon, oregano, tomatoes and so on.
On my way home, I stopped by the grocery store, hunting for lamb but with my luck, there's none left. So, I opted for some diced pork shoulder.
The stew is easy to make. Like many stew recipes, it begins with searing the meat. I have to be honest, I used to loathe doing this. It's a step that seems unnecessary and time-consuming since you're not actually cooking the protein, just browning the outsides. But with experience I learned that it actually is a really important as the searing builds amazing flavours to the stew later. Plus if you don't sear the meat, it often looks grey just like boiled meat and they don't look very appetizing.
For me, this extra step is worth the effort and if you've never done it before, you should give it a go. To do so, here are some of my tips:
Make sure the meat is pat dry. Once you're done cutting the meat into the desirable size, pat them dry with paper towel before seasoning with salt and pepper, etc. This helps keep the meat from steaming instead of searing.
Make sure the pan is hot. You do need a high temperature to sear the meat and to get that beautiful deep brown colour. For the pan, I'd use a stainless steel or cast iron material, but not non-stick. And with the oil, a thin coating of vegetable oil (which has a higher smoking point) is all you need.
Last but not least, don't overcrowd the pan. Depending on the size of your pan, if you have to sear in batches, do it in batches. Overcrowding the pan means the meat will braise rather than sear. And just be patient. I mean, patience is not one of my virtues; and if I can do it, so can you!
Anyway, that is Martha Stewart tip of the day. Once your meat is seared the rest is pretty straightforward.
When I was at university, I had a Greek flatmate who taught me to add a little ground cinnamon when making tomato sauce and ever since, whenever I cook a tomato sauce based Greek inspired dish, I always add just a pinch of cinnamon. It's not very noticeable but I feel like it adds to the je ne sais quoi.
Serve the stew with anything you like, rice, couscous, bulgur wheat or some chunky chips... hmmm... chunky chips... and a dollop of cool plain Greek yoghurt or sour cream, whatever tickles your fancy.
Greek-ish Pork Stew with Tomatoes and Beans
1 kg pork shoulder, cut into big chunks
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
250 ml white wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A pinch of sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (425 gr) tin cannellini beans, drained
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Plain Greek yoghurt, to serve
Pat the pork shoulder dry and with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Brown the pork well in batches. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Using the same pot, turn down the heat to medium and add another tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to prevent them from burning. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chili flakes and tomato paste and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.
Pour in the white wine and really scrape the bottom of the pot. Let the wine bubble away for five minutes or so. Add the fresh thyme, dried oregano, a tin of chopped tomatoes, sugar, cinnamon and the pork along with the juices that's been accumulated. Give it a stir and let everything comes to a boil before half-covering the pot with a lid and simmer for an hour. Stirring every now and then.
When the hour is up, add the beans and let it continue to simmer for another thirty minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and adjust the seasoning. Serve with carbohydrate of your choice and a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt on top.