Jan_roberts_fresh_approach.jpg
Jan_roberts_fresh_approach.jpg

Splashy Sides

One of my budget-saving maneuvers is to buy a whole pork loin when it’s at a fabulous price, slice it into individual chops, and repackage it for the freezer in meal-size servings.

It can be a delicious way to go — if the pork is good quality — and affordable. Plus, because most of the fat is around the edges, it’s relatively healthy, not to mention a speedy meal to prepare, since pork chops can be grilled or pan-fried with a splash of olive oil in minutes.

So there you have it: a meal that’s speedy to prepare, healthful and relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, it can be a bit boring. But if you garnish those grilled or pan-fried offerings with an elegant condiment, then you’ve got a new twist.

The other night I discovered a single leek in the refrigerator. With very little fuss I knew that I could turn it into a purposeful garnish alongside the chops I was grilling. So I plucked it from the back of the vegetable bin, chopped it rather coarsely, along with some shreds of green cabbage, and I sautéed the mixture in a skillet with a little butter. Once softened, I added a splash of cream and cooked it down until slightly thickened. Several dashes of white pepper and shredded cheese completed the operation. Its final destination would be the broiler just to create a caramelized glaze on its surface. The perfect accompaniment to those simple chops.

It’s a great maneuver, creating purposeful garnishes, for those evenings when all you’ve got going is a basic steak, pork chop or chicken breast. Such a simple and fuss-free way to add a bit of panache to the meal.

Another approach is to have a collection of low-fat but high-flavor sauces on hand. Years ago I plucked a few such recipes from the pages of a favorite cookbook of mine, “Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows,” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. They mastered the technique of using fiery chile peppers and the luscious fruits of the tropics to create little offerings with big impact. With their machine-gun succession of intense, flashy, pungent flavors, these dishes can dress up grilled meat or fish in a flash. Just the ticket for those time-challenged evenings when you’re staring at a platter of raw pork (or chicken or red snapper) and thinking, “Great. Now what do I do?”

Now you know.

Leeks Braised in Butter with Cream and Caramelized Topping

This is my formal variation of the free-wheeling maneuver I performed with a single leek. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to those simple pork chops, steaks or roast chicken.

6 tablespoons butter

4 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green portions only, about 4 large leeks)

2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1/3 cup heavy cream

¼ cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sherry, salt and white pepper and continue to cook until the leeks are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and cook for a couple of minutes longer to reduce the liquid slightly; remove from the heat. Sprinkle with the Monterey Jack cheese and then the Parmesan. Place the pan under the broiler and broil just until the cheese melts and begins to turn golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fried Onion-Ginger Chutney

Because there’s a bit of oil in this chutney, it’s not fat free, but frying the onions adds an underlying sweetness that features the combination of hot, sweet and sour tastes so typical of equatorial cuisines. Be bold but cautious when frying — the onions take on a distinctive sweet, rich taste when they become dark brown, but you want to be sure not to let them burn and turn black.

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

2 yellow or white onions, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 whole star anise, crushed (purchase them in the bulk-food section)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/8 teaspoon ground mace (can substitute ground cinnamon)

2 tablespoons each molasses, orange juice and distilled white vinegar

Salt and freshly cracked white pepper to taste

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Fry the onions 7 to 9 minutes, stirring constantly, until dark brown (adjust the heat accordingly). Add the garlic and ginger and cook 1 additional minute. Add all the remaining ingredients and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cool and serve. This chutney will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 1 week. Makes about 2 cups.

Curried Pineapple and Ginger Chutney

Pineapple and ginger are one of those combinations that just seem to work well together; add curry powder, and you’ve got a time-proven flavorful taste provider.

Beyond pork chops, this chutney fleshes out a light dinner of steamed or boiled rice or couscous — the combination makes a clear case for the satisfying, flavorful nature of a diet largely based on grains but combined with some type of intensely flavored side dish for wild tastes. Don’t be daunted by the amount of oil called for, if you’ll notice, this recipe yields 6 cups of chutney.

¼ cup canola oil

1 red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch squares

1 green bell pepper, cut into ½-inch squares

1 red onion, peeled, halved and cut into ½-inch squares

¼ cup minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced red or green chile pepper of your choice

3 tablespoons good quality curry powder

1 large pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch square chunks (measuring about 4 cups)

½ cup raisins

1½ cups distilled white vinegar

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup orange or pineapple juice

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the bell peppers and onions and saute, stirring constantly, until the onions start to become translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, chile peppers and curry powder, and saute 1 minute more. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has thickened slightly. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste, remove from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature. This chutney will keep, covered and refrigerated, about 3 weeks.

Papaya Salsa

This is a good one — healthful, quick, colorful and full of intense flavors that cover the waterfront from sweet to sour to hot to smooth. Partially this is due to the character of the papaya, whose musky flavor mixes and mingles so well with other tropical ingredients.

This is a salsa recipe from central casting — you can substitute any fruit you have around, from peaches to mangos to pineapples. It’s great with almost anything, but for starters, try it with seafood or pork.

1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

1 small red bell pepper, sliced into short, thin slices

1 small red onion, sliced into long thin slices

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 medium clove garlic, minced

¼ cup pineapple juice

6 tablespoons lime juice (about 3 limes)

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients together. This salsa will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 3 to 4 days. Makes about 3 cups.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Email her at janrd@proaxis.com, and find more recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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