Pulled Pork Sliders with Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing

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Ok, brace yourselves. This recipe has multiple components, but with a little patience and the help of a slow cooker, you will get through. I love Mexican flavors and spices, and will oftentimes use them in recipes that are my own versions of some traditional dishes that I’ve tasted growing up in a Chicano community. I do not pretend to be an expert in Latin cooking, but I definitely have a fond appreciation of it and try my best to emulate some of the flavors that I’ve tasted.

I had a house warming party for my husband’s cousins about a month ago. I took requests for what they wanted to eat and my nephew Miles requested something with slow cooked pork using Latin spices. Which is how I came up with this Latin-inspired pulled pork slider. The pulled pork is actually quite simple to make because I use pre-made salsa as the sauce/marinade for the pulled pork.

Because the pulled pork brings spice and savory meatiness, I wanted to have a contrast of flavors and textures. I wanted some sweetness, which was why I chose to serve the pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls. I also wanted an acidic sharp brightness to lighten the heaviness of the pulled pork, which was why I added some pickled red onion. Lastly, the cilantro lime cotija dressing brings everything together with a nice creaminess that adds a zing and cools the tongue after it’s been tantalized with those wonderful spices in the pulled pork. So there you go: every component serves a purpose and helps to make this a complete dish.

Cooking tips:

Usually slow cooking results in lots of liquid left in the pot. I decided to pour out this liquid, remove most of the fat, and then boil it on high heat to let it reduce to about half its volume. I then added this reduced sauce back into the pulled pork to soak in. The result? Amazing depth of flavor. I highly recommend doing this to any slow cooked meat dish you make in the future. Do not waste those yummy juices! They just need a little tweaking and help from heat to concentrate their deliciousness.

To dilute the harsh spiciness of raw onion, soak it in cold water for at least an hour before using. I did this for the pickled onion prior to marinating it in its pickling brine and it worked really nicely.

For better depth of flavor and richness, use full fat Greek Yogurt rather than reduced or non-fat. You will not be sorry.

Cotija can be substituted with feta cheese, but the cotija gives this dish the Latin flair that I was aiming for.

A leaner cut of meat would not do well with this recipe because slow cooking can really dry out the meat, resulting in a tough product at the end. For example, a pork loin center cut would not be recommended.

Since this is a crockpot recipe, it can be done ahead of time and would even be more delicious the day after making the pulled pork. Meat dishes that are slow cooked tend to taste better 1-2 days after the initial cooking time.

Serving suggestions for leftovers (as you all know that I do not like to waste food): the pickled onion is great in salads and on other sandwiches if you have any leftover; the cilantro lime dressing is something that I make for dipping veggie sticks or as a kind of green goddess dressing for my salads and/or pita wraps; the pulled pork can be frozen and later used as a filling for quesadillas and enchiladas, even tamales if you are up to the task.

Recipe
Serves 20
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 6 hours

1 dozen Hawaiian rolls

Pulled Pork
10 lb pork butt
4 tbsp BBQ rub (salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper)
½ tub of Del Real red salsa (or your favorite red salsa)
4 whole tomatoes, diced

Rub pork with BBQ rub, then place into a large crockpot.

Pour salsa and tomatoes into the crockpot surrounding the pork.

Add 1 cup of water.

Turn crockpot onto high heat and slow cook for approximately 6 hours, or until pork is tender and can be easily pulled apart with a fork.

When pork is ready, remove from the crockpot and allow to cool before starting to pull pork apart.

Remove fat from the liquid left in crockpot and place the liquid in a saucepan. Boil over high heat for 10-15 minutes or until liquid reduces in volume by half.

When pork is cooled, use fingers to pull pork into small 1-inch pieces. Remove any excess large pieces of fat remaining on the pork. When pork is completely pulled, add in reduced cooking liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Pickled onion
1 red onion
2 cups water (for soaking)
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp salt

Thinly slice onion and submerge into a cold water bath for at least an hour.

Then mix water with vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt crystals dissolve. The mixture should be somewhat salty and sweet, with a sour bite from the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Then place soaked onions into this pickling liquid.

Pickle onions at least 2 hours. For better results, pickle overnight.

Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing
1 handful fresh cilantro
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled (can be substituted with feta)
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt to taste
1 tsp sugar

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until it becomes a smooth green mixture.

Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste.

After all pulled pork, pickled onions, and cilantro lime cotija dressing are prepared, assemble sandwiches using Hawaiian rolls. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve to your guests and enjoy!

Jenny Crack Corn

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Summer is in the air, and so is fresh, delicious corn on the cob! Corn has gotten a bad wrap lately due to the high fructose corn syrup industry and its contributions to the diabetes and obesity epidemics in the US. When not forced into unnaturally high concentrations of sugar content, corn is actually a delicious and nutritious food. I love grilling corn in the summer, but if I’m too lazy to start up the grill, I often like to sauté my fresh corn. Sautéing achieves a delicious caramelization and sweetness that, in my opinion, surpasses the flavors you can obtain through grilling.

I call this my crack corn because it has been a crowd pleaser at family gatherings and friends get-togethers. It can become seriously addictive. The combination of corn’s natural sweetness, salty bite, a bit of a kick from the pepper and red pepper flake, and the nuttiness achieved from the caramelization process in butter….this corn dish is one of my all-time favorites. I often serve this as a side for decadent steak dinners because the sweetness of the corn adds a pleasant contrast to the richness of the steak and its heavy friends of mashed potato and mac and cheese.

Cooking Tips

This dish is best when you use fresh corn on the cob. However, frozen corn would also do the trick. You might need to add a tablespoon of sugar halfway into the sautéing process to add some sweetness that is often lost in frozen corn.

I add garlic toward the end of cooking of this dish because if you add garlic too soon, it could burn before your corn has finished cooking. In general this is a good rule of thumb when you are doing sautés that do not include the addition of wines, broth, or any other kind of liquid. Stir-fries are an exception because the vegetables used often release liquid into the pan, which prevent garlic from burning during the cooking process.

If you want to infuse your dish with a specific herb or spice, make sure to sauté it in your cooking oil for a minute or two before adding other ingredients. In this dish, I did this with both red pepper flake and shallot, as well as garlic toward the end.

 

Recipe
Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
4 ears of fresh corn on the cob or 2 cups frozen corn
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 pinch red pepper flake
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
2 sprigs of scallion, finely chopped
Optional: splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese twist

 

Cut corn off of the cob.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add butter and olive oil. Once butter is melted and well incorporated with olive oil, add shallots and red pepper flake. Sauté for 2 minutes on medium heat or until softened.

Add corn and continue to sauté on medium heat for ~10 minutes or until corn becomes slightly golden brown. Stir frequently as it will stick.

Add garlic and scallions and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust seasoning to taste.

Optional: add a little splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese flavor.

Enjoy!

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Chinese Spiced Meatballs

CEA054EE-A857-44BA-8530-9A1E08A3D268 (1)These meatballs transport me back to the past, when my now-husband (then-boyfriend) was completing an internship in Shenzhen, China. We had been a long distance couple since we first started dating. After 6 years of living in different ends of the state, it felt so good to finally live in the same city. We enjoyed 3 years of living together for the first time, and it was challenging but incredible. Unfortunately, after this brief period of bliss, life took us in different directions yet again. Ray was offered an internship in Shenzhen, China following his graduation from architecture school in 2013. He was in China for what felt like an eternity, but in actuality, was 3 months. The time difference and lack of cell phone data made it difficult for us to keep in touch. We had daily chats during his lunch time, when he would tell me about his upcoming weekend adventures or new food finds.

Ray and I are huge fans of good food. My way of showing love for him is to remember his favorites and to try to either recreate them or find a local restaurant that serves them. One of his favorite street foods came up again and again in our conversations: spiced lamb skewers. My family had never made these for us, as their culinary and cultural roots were in the Canton province of China. I had never tried Chinese lamb skewers until I attended the 626 Night Market, when I made it a point to finally sample this special treat. I was blown away by the explosion of flavor in my mouth-there was sweet, salty, spice, and heat all in one bite. After trying the traditional lamb skewers, I have wracked my brain to figure out how to recreate the dish. I did not have lamb available, so I used ground beef instead. When I eat these meatballs, I remember the time that he was in China, as well as the separation that we have weathered as a couple. Sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and spice-this meatball carries it all; just like what life has to offer. Having these elements in balance is key to a beautiful dish and a beautiful life.

When Ray came back to the States, he was offered a job and had to move away. We were apart yet again. We were reunited in 2015 when I successfully matched to an internship near him. We found an apartment together, took in my family dog, and the rest is history. We are now newlyweds and cannot be more grateful for the amazing life that we have -full of love, family, friends, and wonderful moments. After all these years of distance and missing one another, we have learned to cherish the precious amount of time that we have together.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When making any meat dish that is marinated, I highly recommend cutting of a small piece to cook and sample to taste for flavor. I prefer not to eat raw meat. So when you make any meatball/meatloaf dish or have a filling for ravioli or dumplings, always taste for seasoning before proceeding with your dish.

Do not over mix meatballs as they can become tough and difficult to eat. Mix just enough for your ingredients to be evenly distributed.

Thai restaurants provide delicious red pepper flakes that would be perfect for this dish. If you are getting takeout from a Thai restaurants, do not throw these red pepper flakes away. Making these spiced meatballs is a great way to use up this often discarded condiment.

Please do not add sesame oil or sesame seeds to a dish just because it is Asian. Not all Asian dishes have sesame oil and sesame seeds in them. In fact, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines hardly use sesame oil. Korean cuisine uses it the most, followed by Chinese cuisine, and even then, only very specific Chinese dishes use sesame oil. Ok, end rant. Thanks for reading.

Recipe
Serves: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp seasoned salt (e.g., Trader Joe’s), to taste
1 tbsp red pepper flake
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
optional: sambal (red chili sauce)

Directions

Prepare meatballs. Place ground beef, spices, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients. Set aside (preferably for 4 hours or overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin forming meat mixture into meatballs 1-2 inches in diameter.

Place meatballs onto an oiled baking tray, allowing some space between each meatball. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove 2 tbsp of juices from cooked meatballs and mix with honey. Use this to glaze meatballs after they are cooked.

Optional: top with red chili sauce and serve hot.

Enjoy!

 

Seared Tuna Poke Bowl

IMG_0719A few days ago, summer officially began. This has been a cooler summer so far, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. There are times that I leave my air conditioner on at home to prevent my dog from overheating. So the cooler days are much appreciated. To fight against the heat in the summer, I eat lots of cold foods, Vietnamese spring rolls, salads, cold sandwiches, especially summer fruits. Watermelon, cantaloupe, Hami melon, honeydew… I love them all. Eating cool foods reduces the amount of heat generated in my kitchen from cooking. Another reason is that the coolness of the food itself is a welcome contrast to the ambient heat. I have heard that in countries where summers are ridiculously hot, the people eat spicy foods so that they can sweat and cool down. While I understand that logic, I dread the idea of being drenched in my own sweat while suffering both the heat of summer and the heat of my food.

Which leads to today’s post: seared tuna poke bowls. I had some white rice leftover in my refrigerator, so it was just a simple matter of giving a quick sear to the tuna steak that I had and then combining with vegetables and a quick and easy poke sauce for a refreshing and light meal. This is such a simple and fast meal, especially if you already have rice ready to go. Poke bowls have become more and more elaborate with its recent celebrity status in the food world. Toppings can range from fried onion and garlic chips to salmon roe. I encourage folks to use whatever toppings are available to them in their pantry and refrigerator. I had cucumber in my refrigerator and sesame seeds in my pantry, so those were my toppings of choice for this poke bowl.
The sauce is a very easy combination of sugar, soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and a splash of water. It is a quintessential flavor combination of sweet and savory that is characteristic of many Asian dishes. This basic sauce is incredibly versatile in Asian cooking and can be used as the foundation of a salad dressing, the sauce for a yummy stir fry, brushed onto seared meats as teriyaki sauce, or as the base of a marinade for chicken, pork, beef.

 

Cooking Tips

Fresh fish is the key to delicious poke. Buy the best quality fish that you can find to ensure a tasty outcome. I find that Costco has some nice quality fish at prices that do not completely drain your wallet. Salmon could be a substitute for tuna in this dish.

When making the sauce, make sure that the sugar is well-mixed. Otherwise, sugar granules may fall to the bottom of your sauce and create a grainy texture and uneven flavor profile when you pour your sauce into your poke.

Recipe
Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
½ cup uncooked rice, washed
½ cup water
2 Persian Cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 small avocado
½ lb tuna or salmon steak
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 splash of water
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Follow rice cooker instructions to cook rice. Otherwise, place rice and water in a pot and place it on high heat until it begins to boil. Reduce to low heat and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until rice is just done (rice should still be chewy, but soft).

Slice avocado and cucumber tomato thinly. Set aside.

Make sauce: add soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and a splash of water together.

Pat tuna steak dry, and then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan on high heat until it begins to smoke. Then add oil and place tuna steak gently on the pan. Allow to sear for 1 minute, then flip and allow the other side to sear for another minute. Remove immediately from the heat and allow to rest.

Thinly slice seared tuna into ¼ inch thick slices and set aside.

Check rice for doneness. When the top grains of rice have softened, the rice is ready. Give rice a quick stir and spoon evenly into 2 bowls.

Top rice with tuna slices, cucumber, and avocado slices. Sprinkle on sesame seeds.

Pour sauce onto fish and rice and eat immediately.

 

Enjoy!