Fierce Foodie: Half and Half
A blogumn by Roya Hamadani
One thing about being half of one thing and half of another is that I’ve quite never fit into either camp very nicely. I keep getting little things wrong, or I should say little things to me, but apparently huge clues to other people. However there are culinary benefits to a dual heritage, especially one as varied as mine. While Philippine cuisine relies heavily on pork and garlic, Iranian food is pork-less and nearly garlic free. And while Filipinos prize balut, the nearly fully developed embryo of a duck eaten whole, the Persians love a good grilled lamb testicle.
The result of this gastronomical dichotomy was that we often had two dinners on the table. My mother ate her pork dishes, while my father ate his Persian stews of meat and vegetables, known as khoresh. Rice was the land bridge between them.
Me, I ate it all. And what I discovered can only be described as divine.
My gastronomic breakthrough, made purely by chance, combines all the goodness of adobo, whose fatty cubes of pork are caramelized by frying and then stewed until fork tender in a refreshingly acidic mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and bay leaf, with masta khiar, a Persian yogurt dish of shredded seedless cucumber, salt and pepper and pinch of dried mint. Put it all over rice, the great communicator, and just like that, you have reached heaven. The fresh crunch of cucumber and the tangy yogurt cut the richness of the pork to create a transcendental taste much bigger than the sum of its parts. It is manna, baby. And it’s this kind of moment, more than anything else, that makes me not only happy to be half and half, but a little bit sad for anyone who isn’t.
Recipe after the jump [EDITOR'S NOTE: The recipe is SO worth reading. It'll make your mouth water, and it's really funny. Definitely hit the jump, even if you're not a cook]
Adobo is not an exact science. If pork is not your thing, you can substitute chicken, fish, tofu, or make it with vegetables.
Cut up a 1-1.5 lb picnic, otherwise known as a Boston pork butt, into chunks no bigger than a deck of cards. I’m not going to lie to you, this is not glamorous work. Make it easy on yourself and use a sharp chef’s knife. The butt has a layer of thick white fat under it; some keep it, I cut it off because the meat is well marbled. Note: You need a fatty cut of meat because of the long cooking process. Under no circumstances should you try this dish with pork tenderloin. It will be the driest thing you ever put in your mouth unless you regularly eat sand.
In a stew pot or Dutch oven, put your pork, ½ cup of white vinegar, 3 cups of water, 3 Tbsp of soy sauce (you may add more later), 3 cloves crushed garlic and a bay leaf.
Cover and cook on medium for about a half hour or until the pork has turned an unappetizing shade of gray. Don’t worry, the next step will fix this.
Remove the pork from the cooking liquid and pat it dry with paper towels. Put the liquid aside, you will return to it later. In a non-stick pan coated with oil, brown the pork cubes, turning them so that each side turns a delicious golden brown. This is the best part of adobo so don’t rush. Once each pork chunk is nicely browned on all sides, return it to the cooking liquid. You may need to add more water and soy sauce.
Now you recover the pot and let the adobo simmer slowly on low heat until the meat is so tender you can push it apart with a fork and the liquid is a rich, tangy, garlicky mélange. It will probably take at least an hour but it’s so worth it. Serve with white rice.
Now for the kicker…
I like to use thick Greek yogurt for this but any plain yogurt will do. You can use light yogurt, but no nonfat. Why? Because it’s not yogurt.
Peel a seedless cucumber and then grate it into a bowl. Pour off as much liquid as you can, then continue to dry it with paper towels. This is so the yogurt doesn’t get watery.
Mix in enough plain yogurt into the cucumber to surround but not overwhelm it. Usually 2 cups will do it. Now all you need is a little salt and pepper, and a pinch of dried mint.
Now sit down and eat your pork adobo over white rice with masta khiar while humming Ebony and Ivory. I’m telling you, it’s the culinary version of world peace.