Rocking the Bok Choy

Bok in my wok.

Lately, I have been obsessed with baby bok choy. It has been my go-to vegetable all winter. It is regal as a side dish, at home in soups and stir-fries, and is unique in veggie wraps (recipe coming soon) and thinly sliced in salads. The tender green leaves and the sweet, juicy crunch of the stalks satisfy my yearning for spring produce.

Want to lose a few pounds of holiday cheer? Eat bok choy. It boosts detoxification and digestion and one cup chopped has only 9 calories. Bok choy packs the same nutritious punch as other members of the cabbage family and has the “doctor recommended” properties of leafy greens like kale and chard. Ayurvedically, it reduces pitta and kapha. Eating it the way I like it best, barely cooked, may dramatically reduce the risk of cancer, especially breast cancer.

Choose small, tight heads with vibrant leaves. Wash and quarter them and throw them in a piping-hot wok with olive oil, some salt and pepper. Move them frequently for 3-4 minutes, add a dash of water or stock and cover immediately to steam for another minute. On New Year’s Eve, I added some of the gorgeous pork-braising gravy made from stock, apple cider and soy sauce.

Get in My Pork Belly!

According to my worldview, healthy eating means that a gorgeous salad can happily be followed by a succulent slab of braised pork belly. True, it is exceptionally high in saturated fat, but is a good source of zinc and other important minerals, so eat your 4 ounces with a pile of bok choy and get over it.

I made this recipe for our annual New Year’s Eve dinner, a three-years-and-running tradition with three other couples. Each couple cooks a course or two and brings a wine pairing. Everything is always delicious, so the bar is set pretty high. I wanted to attempt something that I had never before cooked, but it had to be amazing. This pork belly was the best I have ever eaten. It was so good, that I made it again yesterday.

Sadly, out of focus, but so was I by the 5th course.

Where does one procure an entire pork belly? The world-famous Harvey’s Guss Meat Co., 12 pounds for $17. Seriously, he is world-famous. When my husband and I made the pilgrimage to Panzano, Italy to the butcher shop of Dario Cecchini, Dario pulled out an album of photos of himself with famous people: the Fonz, the Governator, Wolfgang Puck and Harvey Gussman.

Sharpen your knife! Pigskin really is as tough as a football. Oh, and the teets are still attached, so juvenile jokes and nipple wiggling are unavoidable. I trimmed the shaggy ends of the meat and reserved large chunks for the freezer, to reappear soon in soups and fabada Asturiana. That left me with two slabs of meat approximately 8×12 inches. Score the skin side with long diagonal cuts. Wash and pat dry. Crack pepper generously on the meat side.

The smaller slice was a test piece.

I made a dry brine of 1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup salt and plenty of chopped garlic. Put the pork in a 9×13 dish, skin-side down and spread this mixture over the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, the brine will be liquid and the pork will be a lovely golden-brown color. Wash the meat again, pat dry and set aside until the chill has left the meat.

Brown well on both sides in a hot pan with tall sides. Be careful not to burn the meat, as I read that burning will make the sauce bitter. The second time I made this, the pan started to blacken from the sugar in the meat, so I took the pork out, deglazed the pan with wine and scraped out the black bits. Once the pork is browned, add 2 cups apple cider (I used Trader Joe’s Spiced Apple Cider), 2 cups homemade stock (turkey this time) and 1 cup soy sauce. Add more stock or cider if needed to submerge the meat in liquid. Drop in one pretty little star anise, a bay leaf and a scattering of peppercorns. Cover with a lid and put in the oven at 275 for 4-5 hours. That’s it. Get ready to eat.

*I prepared this hours ahead of time for New Year’s Eve dinner, removed the meat from the liquid and placed a dish weighted with a bag of rice on top to compress the fat and meat layers for a more pleasant texture. Reduce the sauce slightly and rewarm the meat in the sauce or crisp the outsides of the meat in a skillet before adding the sauce. I skipped this step the second time for a simple weeknight dinner.

Eat Your Veggies

After months of procrastination, during which hundreds of pictures of food have amassed in my computer memory, I am thrilled to finally begin this blog with The Salad. The Salad, which is what I call any salad that contains every vegetable in the bin plus beans and sometimes chicken, is a mainstay in my house. It is one of my favorite meals, and it is some of my favorite medicine. It takes a little time, but I enjoy chopping all of the different-colored vegetables, knowing that each color means a different nourishing nutrient. I love eating the huge bowl of crunchy raw veggies and how I feel for the rest of the day: completely satisfied, light and energized. It’s also a miracle for digestion. Two weeks of holiday excess have left me feeling sluggish. The Salad is guaranteed to fix all of that. We were blessed with 75 degree weather in Los Angeles today, so it feels perfectly seasonal.

Tons of protein, nutrients and goodness.

Today’s version of The Salad included watercress, lettuce from the garden, parsley, red, orange, yellow and green bell peppers, carrot, onion, zucchini, radishes, avocado, pan-toasted Marcona almonds, black beans, crumbled Cotija cheese and a hard boiled egg. If I have them, I also add chopped raw green beans and sugar snap peas, or toss in frozen peas. I only add tomatoes in season. The dressing is a vinaigrette made from Spanish olive oil, Trader Joe’s orange muscat vinegar, apple cider vinegar, agave sweetener (because I added too much vinegar) and Dijon mustard. Heaven.

Watercress is the Clark Kent of vegetables. Disguised in those unassuming peppery leaves, Super-cress has more calcium than a glass of milk, more vitamin C than an orange and more absorbable iron than spinach.

Here’s wishing you a very healthy 2010.