Category Archives: chard

Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens and Why Pork Loves Apples

could be done without whole grain mustard, but it won't be as pretty

Our CSA subscription kept me so busy finding new ways to eat greens and green beans this summer that I haven’t done anything new with meat in a long time. But I recently found myself with a package of pork chops, more apple cider than I wanted to drink, and one last bunch of chard. Turns out pork chops are pretty easy—if you just season them with salt and pepper, sear them on both sides over high heat and then cook them until they’re pink inside over lower heat (~155F), they turn out pretty tasty. So this was the meal I came up with: I reduced the apple cider to a glaze along with some whole-grain mustard, cooked the pork chops as described, and then served them both over a bed of sautéed shallots and chard. Quick, easy, elegant, delicious, and perfect for Fall. 

image from sodahead.comI got the idea from a recent conversation I had about why bacon is so often smoked with applewood. The answer, as far as I can tell, is because pork loves apples. Applesauce or cooked spiced apples are a classic accompaniment for pork chops. You can buy apple-flavored pre-made sausages. Whole roasted pigs are traditionally presented with apples in their mouths. The pairing is at least as old as Apicus (a 1st Century Roman) whose writings include a recipe for minutal matianum, which was a sort of stew or ragout of pork and apples. In England, serving pork with applesauce was common by the Early Modern period, and may have started much earlier (according to The Food Timeline).

There seem to be three possible explanations:

1) They Are What They Eat: Wherever there are both orchards and pigs, the pigs have traditionally been allowed to graze on the windfall apples that cover the orchard floor during harvest season, which also happens to be pig-slaughtering season. Pigs like apples—especially ones that may be fermenting a bit—but that’s not the main reason they get to eat them. Instead, it’s because windfall produce is an ample source of omnivore-feed that’s generally not quite fit for human consumption. There’s a nod to both pigs’ affinity for apples and using windfall apples to keep pigs “in good health” in Orwell’s Animal Farm:

Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone. (right at the end of Chapter 3)

Most livestock animals are ruminants and thus don’t compete with humans for food (at least traditionally—the shift from grass to grain as the mainstay of cattle feed is a recent development in the history of animal agriculture). Pigs are extraordinarily efficient at converting feed into flesh, but since they can’t survive on grass and alfalfa, if there aren’t enough “slops,” pigs sometimes eat at the expense of hungry people. Anthropologist Marvin Harris suggests that that’s likely part of the reason they’re the object of religious/cultural prohibitions originating in certain regions of the world.

It’s possible—likely, even—that apple-fed pigs taste a little bit like apples, especially if that’s what they’re gorging on right before they’re killed. Fancypants Iberico ham is supposed to taste like the acorns that pampered Spanish pigs are fed. Some artisan pork producers claim their pigs are fed exclusively with apricots, which supposedly imparts a uniquely sweet and floral taste. Cooking apple-fed pigs with apples or smoking their meat with applewood might have initially become popular at least in part because they would enhance and complement the apple flavor.

2) It’s the Time of the Season for Apples & Pork: The second and probably more important reason is that both pork and apples are Fall foods. The apple harvest coincides with pig slaughtering season—Fall was traditionally the time to put up enough cured pork products to last through the long winter, especially before over-wintering the animals was common. And although much of the pig could be preserved—the legs and the belly would be salted and/or smoked for ham and bacon and much of the meat could be ground up and preserved in some kind of sausage—some of the cuts were eaten right away. Apples would have been a natural component of those meals because they were plentiful at the same time. Further evidence: duck and goose, Fall game birds, are also often paired with apples.

3) Cutting the Fat: Pork is fatty and umami. Apples are sweet, acidic, and light. Applesauce is a condiment that makes the same kind of sense with pork as mint jelly with lamb or malt vinegar with fish & chips (I’m in Ireland this week, can you tell?)—it’s just something sharp and bright to cut something rich and meaty. However, the gustatory rationale probably explains why the tradition lasted more than why it started. Ultimately, bright and acidic condiments are sort of interchangeable. If not for pig affinity/seasonal considerations, people might have as easily paired pork with mint jelly.

I suspect it’s a combination of all three. And tradition aside, the cider-mustard glaze would also be excellent on baked winter squash, chicken (I can imagine it as a great dipping sauce for wings), or anywhere you might use a sweet, mild barbeque sauce.

a bit shiny from this angle

Recipe: Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens

  • clockwise from the bottom left: chops, tea, chard, & cider. not exactly a one-pot meal, but well worth the extra dishes1 pork chop per person 
  • 1 T. cooking oil
  • 1 bunch of cooking greens (about 4 cups raw) per person
  • 1-2 shallots per person
  • 2-3 T. whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2-3 cups apple cider
  • 2 T. butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • rubbed sage (optional)

1. Combine the mustard and cider in a saucepan over high heat and let cook until reduced by at least half (20-30 minutes).

boiling vigorously reduced to less than a cup, slightly thickened

2. Meanwhile, melt one tablespoon of the butter in a pot large enough to hold the greens. Dice the shallot and add to the butter and let cook until golden (5-10 minutes).

3. Pull the greens from their stems, rinse them, and tear them into 2-3” pieces. Add them to the pan with the shallots with the water still clinging to them. Stir, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook until tender (5 minutes for chard, more for kale or mustard greens). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

handful of diced shallots shallot caramelized and slightly obscured by apple cider steam

you can cook the chard stems too if you want, just add them to the shallots with a little water about 5-10 minutes before adding the leaves and cook until tender chard, wilting from the heat

4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and season the pork chops with salt and pepper and sage (if desired). Cook the pork chops for 2-3 minutes on each side to develop a golden-brown crust and then reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes on each side, or until done but still just slightly pink in the middle.

some nice maillard browning could have been just slightly pinker--I left them on the heat a little too long, but they were plenty moist, especially with the cider reduction

5. Whisk the remaining tablespoon of butter into the cider-mustard reduction.

6. To serve, place the pork chop on a bed of the greens and top with 2-3 tablespoons of the cider reduction.

shalloty greens appley pork

CSA 2010 Files: Kale Chips, Chard Chips, Kohlrabi Top Chips

Green Chip Trifecta, clockwise from the bottom left: kale, kolhrabi greens, chard Another victory in the war against greens fatigue

Every week, we get more and more non-leafy vegetables in our subscription share from Needle Lane Farms—now we’re getting cucumbers and string beans and lots of summer squash along with things like cabbage and fennel that might be technically leafy vegetables but aren’t in the interchangeable-cooking-greens category. However, we still get at least one bunch of cooking greens every week too. Left to my own devices, I would probably buy non-spinach cooking greens once or twice a year. And after 9 straight weeks of eating cooking greens every week, I kind of hit a wall. It turns out there’s only so much kale I can take, even if it’s cooked in bacon fat or a cheese-infused béchamel.

And then, I remembered the kale “chips” that I started seeing on blogs last winter. They all alleged that if  you just toss kale with some oil and coarse salt and maybe some vinegar, and then you bake it, it crisps up and becomes crunchy and delicious. It sounded a little too good to be true. After trying it, I’m declaring it half-true.

before baking after about 12 minutes in the oven

Greens treated this way do get crisp—you could easily crumble them to dust if you wanted to—and they taste mostly like the oil and salt you coat them with. But they do still have a lingering bitterness, which could be either a positive or a negative depending on your palate. I like them enough to eat them, and if I had a bowl within arms’ reach, I’d probably snack on them idly until they were gone. I might even pick at the crumbles at the bottom of the bowl. Brian, who is not generally a fan of kale, has eaten them willingly and says they seem like something he’d expect Japanese people to like, probably because they’re a bit reminiscent of dried seaweed. In general, I feel like this a good thing to do with cooking greens if you’re sick of eating them wilted and dressed or stuffed into every frittata or soup or casserole you make, but you’re compelled for some reason to keep eating them anyway.

However, they’re not so good that I’d encourage anyone to run out and buy some greens just to try it. I definitely wouldn’t expect kids to enjoy them, and if you really just don’t like the taste of kale, this probably won’t redeem it for you. 

Working on the assumption that most cooking greens are basically interchangeable, I also tried it with a bunch of kohlrabi greens and a bunch of rainbow chard, and indeed, they all turn out pretty much the same. The kohlrabi tops are a little more bitter and retain a tiny bit more chew, and the chard is a little more delicate, but I wouldn’t want to have to distinguish between the three in a blind taste test. In the future, I’ll try adding a little vinegar or lemon juice or zest along with the oil to counteract/complement the bitterness, and perhaps some chili powder or garlic powder and nutritional yeast or msg. This actually seems like a perfect nootch vehicle and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t think of that sooner.

Since this counts as a “win” (if not a complete trouncing), I think the official record for Me vs. Greens is 9-1-0 in my favor. I’m counting one mediocre batch of bacon kale as a “tie.” Ten more weeks to go.

not to imply that I'm looking forward to the CSA being done; I'm really enjoying it, and one of the main reasons I joined was to be forced to eat vegetables I wouldn't otherwise eat. I'm just...done with kale for a while. if we get more next week, I'll probably blanche it and freeze it.

Recipe: Kale Chips (originally from Dan Barber on Bon Appetit, via about a million other food blogs many of which are listed on Kalyn’s Kitchen)

clockwise from the bottom right: a bag full of kohlrabi greens, a bunch of kale, and a bunch of rainbow chardIngredients:

  • 1 bunch cooking greens (kale, chard, kohlrabi tops, etc)
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1-2 t. coarse or flaked salt (I used kosher)
  • 1t.-1 T. vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
  • chili powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, msg, or other spices (optional)

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F and line several baking sheets with foil.

2. Strip the greens off their stems—I do this by holding the stem in one hand, and making a circle just below where the leaf starts with the thumb and index finger of my other hand and pulling up. The leaf naturally breaks off right about where the stem gets small enough to eat.

3. Tear the leaves into pieces, roughly 2”-3”.  kohlrabi greens and chard on deck, waiting for the kale to get out of the oven

4. Rinse and dry well. I dunked them in a big bowl of water, spun them in a salad spinner, and then sort of patted them down and scrunched them a few times with a paper towel.

5. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and the vinegar and spices if using. Toss to coat.

6. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

7. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until very crisp and just browning in the thinnest spots. 15-18 minutes was about right for the kale and chard in my oven, and the kohlrabi greens took about 20 minutes.

The CSA 2010 Files: Swiss Chard Gratin

This is kind of "greens for people who hate greens."

Greens Fatigue

Since greens are one of the first crops you can harvest, the first weeks of most CSAs involve lots of them. In addition to the nettles, we’ve had lambsquarter (another “weed”), collards, chard, a variety of chois, and 1-2 bunches of kale every week.

I usually just sauté them with some garlic (and sometimes ginger or onion or a hot pepper) until they’re wilted and then I dress them with something acidic (lemon, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar) and something umami (tamari, crumbled bacon, grated parmesan). Salt and pepper to taste. That varies from great to mediocre. Sometimes the mild bitterness of the greens marries perfectly with the salty, rich, bright, savory accompaniments and it seems like exactly the kind of fresh, simple, delicious, nutrient-rich food that I joined a CSA to enjoy. Other times, it doesn’t matter if the greens are cooked in rendered bacon fat and topped with msg, it just tastes virtuous, and I mean that in the pejorative sense. I think chard definitely wins for "prettiest" of the cooking greens.

So this week, faced with two bunches of chard—one we didn’t manage to eat last week and another from the new box, I decided to try a classic preparation I’d heard of but never tasted.

Nothing Garlic, Butter and Cheese can’t fix

A gratin is just a casserole. It usually involves vegetables, pasta or meat tossed in a classic béchamel or flour-thickened milk sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the French verb “gratter” meaning “to scrape,” which refers to the scrapings or gratings of bread or cheese that form the upper crust. Fun food idiom trivia: le gratin has the same metaphorical significance as “upper crust” in English. 

Baked mac & cheese is a gratin. So is the classic green bean casserole people make for Thanksgiving, even though most people let Campbell’s make the white sauce (which is basically what any flour-thickened cream soup is). But ironically, potatoes au gratin isn’t—or at least not the ones I’ve had, which are basically just potato slices in white sauce, or like a gratin without le gratin.

Chard gratin is about what you’d expect if you substituted the pasta in baked macaroni and cheese or the green beans in green bean casserole with cooked leafy greens—it’s creamy and savory and rich. It seems like a winter dish, especially because it requires that you turn on the oven, which I admit is sort of a drag in July, but it turned out to be exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to mix up my summer greens routine.leftovers for breakfast the next morning. daytime lighting is just so much nicer, even though it's less gooey and oozing because it's cold here

You could use any cooking green you like (epicurious has a nice visual guide to some of the more common ones). I can’t tell much of a difference between them after they’ve been wilted. Sure, some of them are a little more or less bitter and some stay chewier after cooking, but I wouldn’t want to have to identify them in a blind taste test. I assume the reason chard gratin is so much more common than spinach gratin (798000 google results compared to 164000) even though the latter is the more popular green by far is because casseroles are a handy way to use the stems as well as the leaves, and that’s just not an issue for spinach. Sadly, the stems don’t retain much of their spectacular color after cooking, but they are tender and mildly-flavored so it’s a shame to throw them away. They melt right into the casserole along with the softened onion and leaves.

I scanned a few recipes and then basically improvised based on what I had on hand. Precise instructions available below the jump, but here’s the short version you should feel free to adapt/improvise on at will: Blanche 2-3 bunches of chopped greens in boiling water, stems first for 2 minutes if using and leaves for another 1-3 depending on how hearty they are (spinach only needs a minute, kale or chard will take 3 to soften fully). Drain well. Then, sauté a fistful of chopped onions and/or garlic in some kind of fat, stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour and then gradually whisk in about a cup of milk. Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, stir in some grated cheese if you want it, and add the well-drained greens. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with buttered breadcrumbs mixed with some herbs and grated parmesan, and bake (350-400F) until golden and bubbling (about 20 minutes).

To make it more like a main than a side, add some cooked pasta or a protein like leftover cooked meat, diced seitan, reconstituted tvp, or canned crab or tuna along with the cooked greens. You could also throw in some other vegetables, steamed or blanched unless they’re tender enough to eat raw. Following from the Thanksgiving classic, you could make a semi-homemade version by using a can or two of cream soup (probably onion and/or mushroom) instead of making a white sauce. Actually, with the green bean casserole in mind, I might try adding some crispy fried shallots to the topping the next time I make this. Which, if the CSA keeps up the current pace of the greens, will probably be very soon. 

Recipe: Swiss Chard Gratin

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches Swiss Chard, leaves and stems (or another hearty green)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 T. fat, divided plus more for greasing pan (butter, lard, or your preferred oil will all work fine)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic scapes (seasonally-available green curly garlic tops) or 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup milk (may sub oat milk or another vegan milk if desired—per Chocolate & Zucchini)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded cheddar (or gruyere or fontina or emmenthaler)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley (or another herb or combination of herbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the water in a large pot with a pinch of salt, set over high heat, and cover.

2. Remove the leaves from the stems of the chard by holding the stem in one hand and stripping the leaves upwards with the other. The stem should naturally break off where it’s small enough to include with the leaves.

check out how much vegetable matter you have to toss if you don't cook the stems 

3. Chop and rinse the stems well and add to the water, which should be boiling (if not, either you’re speedy or your stove is slow and either way, wait ‘til it is boiling before putting the leaves in). Cook the stems for about 2 minutes before adding the leaves. Then, boil/steam the leaves for about 3 minutes more (less if using a softer green like spinach—you just want it to just wilt, not dissolve). Drain the greens well.

4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of fat over medium heat in a large skillet or pot while you dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sweat the alliums until translucent and beginning to brown (5-10 minutes).

scapes! browned onion and garlic

5. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 T. fat if solid and combine with the breadcrumbs, 2 T. parmesan, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

flat-leaf (Italian) parsley breadcrumbs, butter, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper

6. Sprinkle 2 T. flour over the onions and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown.

onions sprinkled with flour after the first addition of milk--stir well after each addition to make sure the flour blends in smoothly so the sauce isn't lumpy

7. Add the milk a few tablespoons at a time, stirring well after each addition. This should form a very thick, creamy sauce.

8. Grate some nutmeg over the mixture (or add pre-grated nutmeg), and add the cheddar, 2 T. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

basically a condensed version of onion soup; with cheeses and greens

9. Add the drained greens to the white sauce and stir well to combine.

10. Grease a medium-sized baking dish. Spread the greens evenly in the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.

11. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown.

I started with 1 cup breadcrumbs and that was too much--I put 3/4 cup above, but 1/2 cup would probably be plenty hot out of the oven, still bubbling at the edges