№ 88 - Bean Salad with Stir Fried Pork and Tomatillo Salsa
At the Union Square farmers market everything is grown locally, but you wouldn't always think so judging by some of the seemingly tropical varieties on offer in the summer. Lemon grass, ginger, papalo and tomatillos taunt me with their unusual flavors, but because they fall outside my Mediterranean/European sweet spot, I don't always know how to do them justice. I keep trying though and sometimes this blind squirrel finds a nut: I came about this vaguely Mexican bean salad by combining things I knew (or heard) had an affinity for each other: tomatillos with papalo, salsa with fruity chilis, pork with beans. It turns out these pairs maintain their all their charms when thrown together in one happy salad. What a delicious nut!
I choose white or light green shell beans for this salad because the tomatillo salsa is colored green. There is no problem with pink, red or purple beans flavorwise, but visually it's not great.
The salsa is fantastic made with a generous helping of peppers in the capsicum chinense family. They are quite different from other peppers, incredibly fruity and aromatic. Call me crazy but I taste passion fruit and pineapple. Most chinense peppers are ferociously hot - the hottest chilis in the world are all members of the species. Luckily there are no-heat or minimal-heat chinense varieties too, such as aji dulce and Grenada seasoning peppers. I use these to load up on the tropical fruity pepper flavor and then add parts of a spicy specimen such as a habanero or Scotch bonnet to taste. At the Union Square market, Eckerton Hill Farm and some other farmers sell the sweet varieties in late summer and fall but they can be hard to find at smaller markets. You can use dried ones too if you can find those.
2 lbs fresh shell beans (about 3 cups shelled), or 1 heaping cup of dried beans. Small white varieties such as cannellini beans, great northern beans, navy beans or crowder peas. Or light green varieites such as flageolet beans.
4 garlic cloves
1 lb green tomatillos
1 moderately packed cup of papalo leaves or cilantro leaves
1¼ lbs boneless pork. Choose a medium fatty cut suitable for stir frying.
2 Tbsp olive oil
Equipment: Blender or food processor
Shell the fresh beans. Letting them dry out at room temperature for a day can make this job easier. When using dried beans, soak them in cold water overnight if you can and drain. Place the beans in a pot, cover with an inch of cold water, add three of the peeled garlic cloves and some salt and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cover. Check the pot occasionally to ensure there is enough water for all the beans to remain submerged. Fresh beans will take 15-25 minutes to cook, dried ones 1 to 2 hours, depending on their size and whether they were soaked. Taste a few. They're done when soft and not crumbly but before the beans fall apart. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool down a bit in the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, remove the husks from the tomatillos and cover with cold water in saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook for 4 minutes. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid, and set aside. Peel and roughly chop the remaining garlic clove and place it in a blender or food processor with the papalo or cilantro leaves, the tomatillo cooking liquid and some salt. Remove any stems from the peppers and add all the sweet peppers to the blender along with as much of the hot chili as you're comfortable with. Purée and taste. Add more hot chili as needed (taking into account that the beans and pork will soak up some of the heat) and purée again, until smooth. Add the tomatillos and purée until the larger pieces are broken up but stop short of making the salsa perfectly smooth.
Slice the pork into small strips against the grains, as you would for a Chinese stir fry. Heat a large cast iron pan over high heat until very hot (just before any residual oil on the pan starts smoking), coat the bottom of the pan with a Tbsp of olive oil and add the pork along with some salt. Fry for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the pork is cooked and place in a mixing bowl. Drain the beans and add to the pork along with the salsa and another Tbsp of olive oil and stir to combine. Taste for salt, let rest for 20 minutes or so to let the flavors come together and taste for salt again. Serve.