Thursday, August 12, 2010

Carnitas con Verdolagas

Best. Meal. Ever. EVVVVV. ERRRRR.  I cannot find the words to tell you how amazing this bowl of food is.  The flavor combination.  Crisped brown pulled pork bits...charred bright, yet earthy tomatillos and jalapeños whirred into salsa perfection. Tangy, fresh verdolagas that almost hint at lemons.  All mingling together...nestled in a pot with garlic, onions, and potatoes.  This IS possibly the best thing I've ever eaten.   The best part was when I went to eat leftovers the next day and those amazing flavors came back full force...triggering that dreamy smile with every bite. I may even choose this for my last meal...should I ever have to make that decision knowingly.

One day, about a month ago...I made a wish.  I wished that I had verdolagas growing in my garden.  You see, my garden is fairly new.  Mexi finally got around to tilling me a space in the backyard and enclosing it with re-purposed wood from around the property.  Property makes it sound substantial.  It's not really, but it was here and there in the yard, around and in the garage, etc...so I thought property was a good term.  When we moved in last year, Mexi noticed some verdolagas in our neighbors garden.  I was intrigued, because it was something I hadn't heard of before.  So, I did a bit of research and found out that Verdolagas were just Purslane (in Spanish).  Purslane I had heard of...but still was not familiar with it.  I knew it was an edible weed.  One that most people just cursed and pulled from their gardens.  Well, we proceeded to ask our new neighbors if they knew that the purslane in their garden was edible.  They didn't.  Nor did they care.  I proceeded to watch them weed it out and discard shortly after we were so kind as to tell them there was food they didn't even know about right under their very noses!  Urrggghhhh.  Frustrating.  So I dreamed of the day when I would try verdolagas for myself.  Mexi told me how delicious it was with pork...and I believed him.  Moving back to this year and my newly readied piece of earth...I planted 3 types of heirloom tomatoes and some herbs.  It was late in the season and I wanted to start small and dream big.  I thought it was a good start...something to add to the various things I found already comfortable here...the grape vines, the mint, the chamomile, the ground cherries, the yucca.  As I thought about the verdolagas in the neighbors garden, I wondered if they would transplant well. Perhaps I could ask them if I could dig them up and put them in my garden.  Hmmmm....that's a good idea...especially since they don't want it anyway.  I just wished that I had some verdolagas in my garden.

Fast forward two days.  Yes, really...two.  I walk out to check on my tomato plants and herbs after some severe weather...wind, rain, heat...to find that my wish had been granted!  I don't know if a lovely fairy carried some seed from the neighbors garden to mine...or perhaps it was a bird or an insect...but lo and behold, there in my garden...were my very own edible weeds!!

I could barely contain myself!  You never saw a girl so excited to have some weeds in her garden.  I hopped in and walked around looking at the different patches of verdolagas spread throughout the garden.  I ran back in the house like a kid with a new toy to tell Mexi!!!  Oh yes, I made sure to take off my flip-flops at the door.  The ones I had just worn to walk into the still-wet rich earth that is the garden.  But, um...flip-flops and excitement do little for keeping the mess away.  Oh well. Woo Hoo!  And what's even better...purslane grows, well...like a weed go figure!  If you snip it off almost all the way to the ground, you can go back a few days later and see substantial growth!  I usually end up getting enough to use for one meal every week!  It's a light, almost lemony-scented green that you can eat raw tossed into a salad or cooked. 

I don't know why I'm not able to find it anywhere else around here.  Not at the farmers market.  Not for sale at any roadside stands.  Not in any market at all!?  Fortunately I don't have to look any further than my own back yard any longer.  Now, let's move on to the most fabulous dish ever.  Seriously, it tops anything I've eaten in ages.  I am still dreaming about it, even though it vanished from the pot...and the fridge...a few weeks ago.  I've eaten verdolagas in different forms since then, but even as I sit here trying to convey to you how effing fabulous this dish is, I'm making a mental note to make another pot.  This recipe is adapted from a recipe for Costillas de Puerco con Verdolagas from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.

Carnitas con Verdolagas
from the kitchen of girlichef
serves me for a couple days...or 4-6 people if you're willing to share

6 good-sized tomatillos
2 jalapeños
handful fresh cilantro
salt
 olive oil
~3 lbs. pork butt, cut into thick, long strips or boneless Western-style pork ribs
2 onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, smashed
10 smallish red potatoes, halved or quartered
2 big handfuls Verdolagas (purslane)

Begin by making a salsa verde...broil or roast the tomatillos and jalapeños until the skin is well-charred.  Put them into a blender jar (being sure to use all the juices they've release, as well) with a big pinch of salt and pulse quickly to break them up.  

Toss in the cilantro and measure in enough cool water to make ~3 c. Blend until smooth.  This is the same method I use for making salsa verde for drizzling on tacos and mixing w/ shredded chicken to put into tamales...although I usually char a few garlic cloves along w/ the other veggies when I'm using it for that purpose.  Just add them in and proceed as usual.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, pour in enough oil to coat the bottom well.  Make sure your pork is dried off, sprinkle it with salt and then add the hot pot until all sides are golden. Do it in batches, if necessary.  Transfer them to a rimmed plate or bowl.  Pour off all but a thin coating of oil from the pot.  Make sure to leave all those gorgeous golden bits (fond) that are stuck on the bottom...that's flavor, baby!

Add the garlic and onions to the hot pot, stirring occasionally until the liquid released from them has stirred up from pot and coated them and they have just begun to soften.

Pour the salsa verde into the hot pot and then nestle the browned pork back into the pot.  Bring it to a boil, then cover the pot and place in the preheated oven until the meat has begun to get tender, 75-90 mins.  Remove the lid and poke those potatoes into the spaces between the meat.  Cover and cook an additional 20 minutes. 

Now, throw those handfuls of Verdolagas into the pot and stir them around a bit.  Cover and cook another 10 minutes.

Set on the counter to cool for ~10 minutes or so...until you can handle it without searing the skin fromm your fingers.  It'll be hard...the smell will do that little cartoon-waft into  your nose and  you may go a bit crazy from the wait!
Ladle big spoonfuls into bowls and prepare to be blown away.  Wrap some in hot corn tortillas.  Eat it as is.  Just enjoy.
You might think I'm exaggerating. But you'll never know until you've tried it for yourself.  Best. Meal. Ever.

Pile the leftovers onto a sope for another taste sensation!
Equally fabulous piled onto a thick, crispy sope!  This is how we ate the leftovers the second day...topped with cilantro and drizzled w/ crema.  The flavor explosion and textures of the carnitas con verdolagas were amazing atop the sope...again, I don't know how to convey to you the mind-blowing experience of each and every mouthful of this!





*This is my entry into GYO (Grow Your Own) this month hosted by Andrea also the creator from Cooking, Gardening & Four Hungry Guys...where you enter a dish you've prepared from something you've either grow, foraged, caught or hunted yourself!
GYO
*Update 3/28/11: I am submitting this to BSI: Salsa hosted by my pal Tina at Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor this week.

Make a vegetarian taco filling by cooking up some potatoes and verdolagas in salsa verde!

"Purslane is a low-lying weed with fat stems and small, thick leaves, which thrives in midsummer heat on neglected ground...one nickname for purslane is pigweed...people in many countries enjoy its combination of tartness and soothing, mucilaginous smoothness...is noted for its content of calcium, several vitamins, and an omega-3 fatty acid, linolenic acid."   ~Harold McGee from On Food and Cooking The Science and Lore of the Kitchen