Next up from the CSA line-up is curry leaves.
A couple months ago, my first search for Indian recipes using curry leaves that didn't also use a whole bunch of Indian ingredients I don't know how to find in Miami didn't turn anything up so I ended up making Malaysian dishes instead. I don't recall exactly how I searched, but I may have limited myself to recipes using the proteins I had on hand: shrimp and chicken.
This time around I had a pound of pork butt taking up room in my freezer. Searching on pork dishes with curry leaves was rather more fruitful. Three looked particularly promising. This is the one that looked doable on a weeknight and had a couple pages of positive reviews.
1 pound Pork butt, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon cayenne powder
1/2 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon clove powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 inch cube ginger, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic pods, finely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 stem (10 -15) curry leaves
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons oil for frying
1. Toss pork with a couple dashes of turmeric (not the 1/2 teaspoon listed above) and a generous pinch of salt. Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in a dutch oven over high temperature. Brown pork in batches for five to six minutes each (with a turn in the middle). Remove pork from the pot and set aside.
(The original recipe called for cooking the pork in a pressure cooker. Not only is that not something everyone has around in American kitchens, it's also one more item to wash and it squandered all of the extra flavor browning gives the meat and leaves in the pot for the vegetables to pick up. So browning's the way to go even if you do have a pressure cooker.)
2. Mix cayenne, black pepper, coriander, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and cumin. If you have any of those in whole form and you've got a spice grinder and you feel like bothering, that's probably a better way to go. See the original recipe (which I cut in half) for whole spice amounts.
3. Add or subtract fat from the dutch oven to get 2 Tablespoons. Set it over high heat until the oil starts to shimmer and add ginger, garlic and onions. Sauté until onion is a medium golden brown. (There's a bit of turmeric left in the pot so the onions will turn light gold almost immediately.)
4. Turn heat to low and add spice mixture. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes stirring occasionally and keeping a eye on the pot and a nose on the air for signs of burning.
5. Stir in tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat up to medium and cook four to five more minutes until the tomatoes break down and, so the original author claims, the spices start to express oil. I didn't see that myself.
6. Return pork to pot and add vinegar, soy sauce and chicken stock. Stir to coat pork, put on the lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Check your curry leaves for aroma. If they aren't fragrent rough them up a bit. Remove lid and stir into pot.
8. Cook for 5 to 10 more minutes until the sauce thickens into a thick gravy.
9. Garnish with cilantro or some more curry leaves and serve with basmati rice, roti or, in a pinch, tortillas.
With the ochre color from the tomatoes and spices the dish isn't much to look at, but it's got a lot of great flavor. What exactly that flavor is I'm having a hard time describing. All of those spices, the tomato and the onion have blended together into a whole that you can't break back down into it individual components. The dish is surprisingly not very aromatic unless you put a forkful right up to your nose. That's probably because I used a lot of aging prepared powders instead of grinding my own spices to order. Or possibly because I've been smelling it for the last hour as I cooked. I should go for a walk and come back in ten minutes. Each bite starts with a bright hit of tomato and sweet spice. That fades into mellower clove and coriander along with pork or starch if that was in the mix. There's a lingering warmth from the pepper and breathing in through your nose brings the herbal scent of curry leaves up from the back of your tongue. Huh, guess I could break it down after all.
One minor nitpick in an otherwise very pleasant (and not terribly hard or time consuming) dish is that the pork kind of gets in the way of the other flavors in the dish. I'm sure it's an important component but it's a shame to be savoring the sauce and have it fade away leaving a mouthful of relatively dull pork to chew. I suppose you could slow cook the pork in the sauce to better meld the flavors, but that would be a different recipe and not, I think, a south Indian technique.