A few months ago, my friend Catherine hosted a dinner party for her gourmet dining group and asked me to lend her a hand. After all, dinner for twelve is no easy feat to pull off, even with helpers in the kitchen. Her assignment for that night: to serve a gourmet, Southeast Asian-themed dinner. She had a great menu prepared for her ten guests, with each course as tasty as the next. But I have to say that aside from the dessert, one of the recipes really stood out for me: the five spice pork belly.
It wasn’t like it was rocket science, or some exquisite, gourmet creation involving the most expensive items out there. The ingredients were quite simple: pork belly, spices, onions, cilantro & tomatoes. That’s it. What left me so incredibly smitten was the combination of flavors, the way such a simple lineup of ingredients could form such an intensely flavorful, aromatic dish.
I can’t recall exactly which cookbook she said she got the recipe from; nor can I recall exactly what went into the dish, since I was busy playing sous chef & server while she handled the big stuff. All I remember are the enticing aromas & flavors that left me addicted to their memory for days afterward.
Since then, I’m occasionally struck with a random craving for that type of experience again: a warm, inviting plate of savory, spicy goodness that’s equal parts exotic and comforting. This weekend I decided it was finally time to put the craving to rest and doctor up my own version of this meal. And with the help of this amazing deal I scored on some pork loin, I got to work.
Pork belly enthusiasts are probably gasping in horror right now at the fact that I would forsake the sacred belly for tender, meaty loin. It’s not that I don’t like pork belly; how can anyone resist such flavorful, porky, fatty goodness?
But that’s the thing: pork belly is very fatty, a lot more fatty than I care for under normal circumstances and, therefore, something I won’t normally buy (that & the fact that it takes a bit of hunting to find in my neck of the woods). Lean pork loin makes this a much lighter meal without sacrificing a bit of flavor. The tomatoes, onion, cilantro & spices take care of the rest. I added a bit more texture by adding some crisp red bell peppers, then cooked up a nice put of udon noodles over which I could spoon my tasty little concoction. The result was a delicious, deceptively easy to make dinner that I’d gladly eat a couple days in a row.
If you’re not a fan of pork, don’t fret! The simple ingredient combo makes it easy to modify this recipe with chicken or beef. If you’re a vegetarian, give this a try with some seitan for a meaty, yet meatless alternative. No matter which way you try it, this will be a fantastic dish. Just goes to show that sometimes the most basic ingredients can result in the most spectacular meals.
Five Spice Pork & Veggies with Udon Noodles (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $1.85)
1-2 lbs lean pork loin, cut into 1″ cubes
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 T Chinese five spice powder
1/2 T salt
1 T brown sugar
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t crushed red chilies
1-2 T cooking oil
2 T water1 8 oz package udon noodles
4 quarts water
1. In a small bowl, combine the Chinese 5-spice powder, salt, cayenne and brown sugar, and mix until completely combined. Place the cubed pork loin in a large bowl, pour the dry rub over the meat, and toss together until the seasoning mixture evenly coats the meat. Cover & set aside for about 30 minutes.
2. Bring the water to a rolling boil in a large pot and cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain, cover & set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the garlic and stir fry quickly until it starts to brown & become fragrant. Add the onions and cook for another minute or so, until they begin to turn translucent.
4. Next, add the seasoned pork. Stir fry for about 2-3 minutes, then add the red peppers, tomatoes & water. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until the pork is cooked through. Check for flavoring & adjust according to taste with a bit of salt if needed. Finally, add the chopped cilantro and stir until combined. Remove from heat; the warmth of the skillet will finish wilting the cilantro.
5. Serve a generous amount of pork & veggies over a bed of noodles, garnish with extra cilantro, and enjoy!