Pork chops cooked with whole spices and tamarind juice; Maya’s Potatoes with Yogurt

It’s a lazy Sunday in Fishtown, Mythbusters is on the tube, and the weather is cooling off. Time for some nice Amish pork chops and potatoes. I was raised on meat and potatoes; this is just a more interesting variation.

First of all, you have to get good pork chops. We get ours at L. Halteman Amish Foods in the Reading Terminal Market. The preparation is really easy– time-consuming, because of all the simmering, but not difficult. (Which is actually a common theme in the dishes I’m making.) You heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of your stockpot, and brown the pork chops. Jaffrey says to do this in two batches, but I was halving her recipe– she called for 8 pork chops, and there are only two of us. Still, I had trouble fitting all four pork chops until they cooked down and shrank a bit. Brown them, take them out, put them on a plate for a minute. Put in two whole garlic cloves, a cinnamon stick, a couple of dried red peppers, and some cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods. Fry for a few seconds and then add a bit of salt and a cup of water. (You have hot oil going here, so I’d really recommend shielding yourself with the pot lid while you do this.) Re-introduce the pork chops and simmer for half an hour, turning occasionally. Things will be smelling really good right about now. When the half hour is over, time for the remaining ingredients. Jaffrey doesn’t tell you to do this, but I took out the pork chops for a minute while I whisked in the tamarind paste, sugar and salt– it just seemed like a real pain to mix otherwise. Reintroduced the pork chops and simmered for another half hour, turning occasionally.

Now for the potatoes. I didn’t start them until I had the pork chops simmering, which was a bit of a miscalculation– the chops were done well before the potatoes. Best to start these at the same time. I made these potatoes back at the beginning of this blog, and they were quite tasty. But between then and now, I’ve made a few spice-buying trips, so I had things like dried chillies, fenugreek, caraway seeds, and fennel, which were missing before. I also decided to do the variation with yogurt. (Jaffrey has you prepare Maya’s Potatoes and then adds a paragraph about adding the yogurt.) You fry your potatoes till they’re nice and golden brown, then drain the oil. If you’re me, you’ll lose control of the heavy cast iron pan and end up dumping some potatoes into the sink and almost burning your hand. If you’re not me, you may be able to avoid this.

Next, fry your spices. Now, technically, you’re supposed to make this mixture in the stockpot, then introduce the potatoes from the frying pan and simmer in the stockpot. However, my stockpot was busy simmering pork chops, so I had to be creative. I made the spice/tomato mixture in a small saucepan– fried the spices, then added the onion/garlic paste from the blender (no ginger this time) plus turmeric, fried that for five minutes, added tomatoes and sugar, and fried that for five minutes. The mixture smelled absolutely incredible. I added it back into the frying pan and coated the potatoes. I added in a pint of water, then remembered that I was supposed to be halving the recipe and that it should be half a pint. Yeah, I’m not too bright. I compensated by cooking this uncovered for longer than called for, then covering. This gets about 20 minutes of simmering, all told.

When that’s done, turn off the heat and let the potatoes cool for a few minutes. Jaffrey says to mix in the yogurt and heat on low heat, not enough to boil it (that would curdle the yogurt) but enough to heat it through. I found that the cast iron pan retained enough heat that merely folding in the yogurt and waiting for a minute was enough to heat the whole thing through.

Served with Flying Fish HopFish Ale. The pork chops had a nice flavor, but were a little dried out. Spooning the pot juices over the chops helped, but I’d shorten the cooking time next time.

As for the potatoes– holy shit, you guys. We both ate too much because we couldn’t keep away from these potatoes. I can’t tell you how much of a difference having the right spices made. We could taste the fenugreek and caraway seeds. It had this wonderful toasty, complex flavor that wasn’t there before. So nice. Oh my.

Notes for next time:
-Don’t cook the pork chops for the full half hour each time. Not necessary.
-Remember, Sarah: cast iron pans are heavy.
-Spiciness! One of my continuing critiques throughout these posts is that whatever I make “could have been spicier.” I’m thinking that Jaffrey, in writing an Indian cookbook for Brits, decided to be really conservative with the hot spices. She usually gives a range– one to three chili peppers, to taste (optional). And when she does, I use three– and it’s still not that spicy. Screw that. Next time she tells me one to three, I’m adding four.

To be clear: I’m a recovering spice wimp. I grew up eating food with no spices whatsoever– maybe some garlic salt if we were feeling really adventurous. When I went to college and started hanging out with Indians, my friend Deepa used to make her kebabs especially mild just for me, and I’d still be sweating and tearing up while I ate them. I’ve evolved since then, and I love spicy food, although I’m not a hot-sauce daredevil like my stepbrother AJ. In the last year or so, I’ve been deliberately trying to train my palate to tolerate hotter spices– I plan to visit India in the next few years and I don’t want to die! So: spice levels are going to rise. Be prepared.

I’m leaving on Thursday for the Socialism 2007 conference, and the food at the hotel is not allergy-friendly, so I’ll be making several dishes this week to pack and take with me to Chicago. There’s a big grass-fed chuck roast from Livengood Farms waiting for me, and some Fair Food Farmstand lamb stew meat that’s going into a chana dal recipe. Mushroom dal is also on the agenda. Stay tuned.

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2 Responses to “Pork chops cooked with whole spices and tamarind juice; Maya’s Potatoes with Yogurt”

  1. sandip Says:

    Hi Sarah, just discovered your blog last night with a search of pork+tamarind+jaffrey. It was delicious! But mainly, what prompted me to write is this: Had a girlfriend who had Crohn’s for a few years even before I met her and kept off Indian food studiously. I coaxed her to try a veg dish with turmeric, fenugreek and asafoetida(really impressed you use this in your daal) and she thought she felt better for it. She’s since then cooked and enjoyed a lot of Indian food. Yea Ayurveda 🙂

  2. therealpotato Says:

    Thanks for stopping by– that’s actually really cool! I am constantly amazed at the medicinal powers of spices. I shouldn’t be, I guess– people have been using them for thousands of years, after all, but in this society we’re trained to think nothing is medicinal unless you pay $40 for it at a pharmacy. Let’s hear it for natural healing!

    Also, I’m just kind of a spice nerd. 🙂


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