A minor discussion about cured pork products and a few easy, economical, family-friendly recipes.
I may be a disgrace to Southerners everywhere by being allergic to both collard greens and okra (true story), but I have always loved pork (even when I was vegetarian, I just couldn’t eat it). Well, let me amend that; I have always loved cured/salted/smoked pork. I can take or leave pork chops or roast pork. (Have I disgraced Southerners again?) But the others? Bacon. Ham. Pancetta. Proscuitto. Salami. Pepperoni. Sausage. Hot Dogs (but only the good kind). Pate. Chorizo. Wurst. And our new love around here: Soppressata.
Now, a true love for cured/salted/smoked pork is not high on the list of things to have when trying to live the healthiest lifestyle. Whereas pork is a healthy option (I do love pork in Vietnamese cooking, Mexican tacos, and pulled pork), the processed kind tends to be full of fat, salt, and nitrates and other additives. (I also can not eat nitrates–which is another way of saying added nitrates or sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite–because it triggers migraines in me, and you might want to avoid it as well due to the risk of methehemoglobinemia (from eating excess amounts) as well as the (low) carcinogenic factor. For me, I buy my meats at WholeFoods (which carries NO meat with added nitrates) and the Farmer’s Market (where you can ask). Hormel and Oscar Meyer both carry a line of no-nitrate-added cold cuts and hot dogs, as well, which they stock just about everywhere.)
If you are aiming to reduce your sodium intake or lose weight, it may be the time to avoid cured products. But I believe that eating the foods you love in their most natural state and in moderation can be a very happy, healthy thing for your diet. Eating salty, fatty meat every day is not a great idea. Having a couple slices of bacon with a soft-boiled egg, whole wheat toast, and a bowl of fresh fruit on a Saturday morning is a fine idea. So let’s celebrate prepared pork today with a couple of recipes we have recently enjoyed, one Eastern European and one Southern-ish.
SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO DO WITH KIELBASA
- Heat a 1 tablespoon safflower oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 sliced yellow onion and 1 sliced bell pepper (any color) and saute until beginning to brown. Lightly salt once they are done.
- Add 3/4 cup chicken broth to the pan and bring to a high simmer. Add 1 pound kielbasa cut into large chunks and cover the pan, allowing to steam for 10 minutes. (If using fresh kielbasa, test for doneness.)
- Remove lid and continue to simmer until liquid is almost completely gone.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons German mustard and 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (or honey). Add mixture to the pan and toss until sugar has dissolved. Taste for salt.
- Serve with 8 ounces buttered egg noodles (or dumplings or spaetzle), pickled beets, and a dollop of natural sour cream for a perfect pairing.
SOUTHERN SAUSAGE MESS SOUP
Although I love the pasta in this soup, I would feel more authentic with an heirloom Southern rice. The rice would be added with the broth, in that case.
- In a heavy soup pot, brown 3/4s to 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage until cooked through and broken up. Spoon sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove excess oil, but leave up to 1 tablespoon in the pot.
- In the pot, add 1 chopped yellow onion, 2 chopped carrots, 1 chopped bell pepper, 1-2 cloves pressed garlic, 1 tablespoon fennel seed, and 2 ribs chopped celery. Saute until softened.
- Add 1 1/2 cups corn and saute until just beginning to brown.
- Add 6 cups chicken (or pork) stock and 1 teaspoon dry basil (or other favorite herb, like lovage, parsley, thyme, or sage) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. (At this stage, you could add in a ham bone if you have it lying around, but it’s not necessary.)
- Remove bone, if using, and add 4 ounces small pasta, 2 cups chopped tomato (we like grape tomatoes), and 1 couple handfuls of spinach or other chopped greens. Cook until pasta is done.
- Serve with crusty, hearth bread and an optional sprinkling of country or cheddar cheese.