by Caroline Carney
It all began with the pork belly. It was on sale and it was local – two characteristics that tend to drive my purchasing behavior. Pork belly is the type of rare indulgence that I like to order at restaurants. And it should be for special occasions given that it’s over 90% fat and often arrives at the table encrusted in salt. This was the first time I’d ever seen pork belly at the market, so I jumped at the chance to try my hand at transforming this chunk of fat into a rich, buttery, mouthwatering morsel.
I strive to design well-composed menus. So, to balance the less-than-healthful pork component, I composed the rest of the dinner from winter vegetables. The market had some delightfully petite Brussels sprouts and local orange beets that would both add vibrant color to the plate. I happened to have a few Japanese sweet potatoes on hand and decided to follow a tried and true recipe that uses a sweet, salty miso glaze. I am pretty sure pork belly + colorful vegetables = healthy.
As the assistant (aka my husband) sliced through the slab of slow-cooked pork belly he tentatively asked, “is that all fat?” I gave him a disapproving look that said: “don’t question my cooking.” After one bite, the assistant stopped asking questions.
The vegetarian portion of the meal was the perfect union of color, flavor, and texture. I know you’ll love the distinctive combination of spicy cumin, creamy, nutty cashews, and the cruciferous sprouts. The Herbed Beet Salad is a flexible recipe: feel free to experiment with different herbs like tarragon or chives. You can cook the beets ahead of time, so all that needs to be done before serving is a quick mince of the herbs and shallot. Miso Glazed Sweet Potatoes are pure comfort food and would be lovely with any roasted meat or broiled salmon. I prefer Japanese sweet potatoes in this recipe, which are slightly more cloying than their Garnet or Jewel counterparts. They caramelize wonderfully and emerge from the oven with the irresistible sensory blend of gooey, crisp, sweet and salty.
This feast should comfortably serve 6 or serve 2 with leftovers for the week. Think sweet potato hash and eggs for breakfast, cold beet salad for lunch, or Brussels sprouts over whole-wheat pasta for dinner on another night.
Local Pork Belly with Crostini
1 lb pork belly
salt and pepper
bread, preferably a crusty baguette
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Score the skin side of the pork belly. Using a sharp knife, cut widthwise through the skin with about ¼ between each cut.
- Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, making sure to rub the seasoning into the cuts in the skin.
- Place in a roasting pan and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes until the skin is crackling and a deep golden.
- Turn at the heat down to 325°F and cook for another hour.
- Slice and toast your bread in the toaster, oven, or on the stovetop until crisp.
- Serve thinly sliced warm pork belly with the crostini.
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Cumin
1 lbs Brussels sprouts
½ cup cashews, lightly toasted
½ tsp cumin seeds
4 small garlic cloves
2 small red onions, sliced into slivers
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
pepper to taste
- Slice the Brussels sprouts into three round sections
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and cumin seeds. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the Brussels sprouts and sea salt. Turn up the heat to medium-high and sauté the mixture until the sprouts are tender.
- Toss in the cashews and add pepper and salt to taste.
Herbed Beet Salad
6 beets, cooked and pealed
2 tsp mint, finely chopped
4 tsp parsley, finely chopped
4 tsp cilantro, finely chopped
2 tsp shallot, minced
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbs hazelnut or walnut oil
salt and pepper to taste
- Slice the beets into quarters. Put into a large salad bowl.
- Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.
- Add the dressing to the beets, toss, and season with salt to taste.
Miso Glazed Japanese Sweet Potatoes
3 sweet potatoes, preferably Japanese but any variety will do
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp white miso
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F
- Whisk soy sauce, mirin, white miso, and oil together in a small bowl.
- Slice potatoes into thick wedges and spread out on a baking sheet.
- Drizzle the miso mixture over them. Toss well with your hands.
- Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Make sure to check on the potatoes after about 20 minutes to flip them so one side doesn’t burn. If you want the sweet potatoes a little crispy, put them under the broiler for a few minutes.
Caroline Carney is a second year Nutrition Communication student and is also working towards her Dietetic Internship. She loves to go running along the Charles with friends and to cook delicious, nutrition-minded meals with her amazing husband.