Saturday, July 11, 2015

STOP THE PRESSES: I found a use for kohlrabi!

I actually love kohlrabi, but I can never think of what to do with it. So in the past, that's meant that I've picked it up at my CSA farm, left it in the fridge till it's a bit tough, and then half-heartedly thrown it into something. Not smart, because perfectly fresh it has a lovely taste -- a crunch like an apple and a flavor like broccoli stems (which I happen to adore).

Picked some gorgeous ones up today from Caretaker Farm, determined to do right by them, along with some fat, tall scallions. I had some pork belly in the freezer -- an impulse buy at the Asian grocery a little while ago. A little prep, a few Chinese sauces, and voilà -- twice-cooked pork with hot bean sauce, one of my favorite restaurant dishes.

Twice-Cooked Pork with Hot Bean Sauce
Serves 4-6, as part of a Chinese meal

The hot bean paste is a staple of the Chinese kitchen, and many well-stocked grocery stores will have it in their international section. Lee Kum Kee makes a version called "Chili Bean Sauce." It also goes by the name of toban djan or Pixian bean sauce. This dish uses pork belly, aka bacon before it's cured and smoked. Needless to say, a little goes a long way.


12 oz pork belly, in one piece
2 medium kohlrabi
3 big fat scallions or baby leeks, or 1 bunch of regular old scallions
1/2 red onion (optional)
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
1-1/2 TB canola or peanut oil
salt and pepper
1-1/2 TB Szechuan hot bean paste, or up to 3 TB if you like extra spicy
1-1/2 TB dark soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 TB sherry or Shao Xing cooking wine

1. Earlier in the day, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the pork belly, and allow it to simmer for 20-25 minutes. It won't be entirely cooked through by that point. Remove it from the water and put it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hrs to firm up.

2. When you're ready to cook, get your ingredients ready. Slice the top and bottom off the kohlrabi. Place it on your cutting board, and peel it with a knife, taking the skin and a layer of the white flesh off with each downward cut. Slice the peeled kohlrabis into thin rounds (1/4") and then cut each round into matchsticks. Set aside.

3. Slice the onion in half, and then slice each half lengthwise into thin strips. Cut the garlic cloves into thin slices. Cut the scallions or leeks into 2" sections, cut on the bias. Mix the hot bean paste, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and sherry or wine in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

4. Take the pork belly out of the refrigerator. Using a sharp knife, cut it into very thin slices, and then cut each slice into sections 1" wide.

5. In a wok or large sauté pan placed over high heat, heat 1-1/2 TB oil until smoking. Add the kohlrabi. Toss in the pan every 30 seconds or so, allowing it to pick up a bit of color; this will take about 2 mins. Add the onions (if using), and the scallions or leeks. Season lightly with salt and pepper. When the latter turn bright green and all the vegetables are softened slightly, about 1 minute, remove to a bowl.

6. Wipe out pan with a paper towel, then add 1/2 TB oil. When smoking hot, add the garlic slices; when they start to sizzle and brown, add the pork slices, spreading out so each piece comes into contact with the pan. Press down with the back of the spoon so the fat browns, and toss occasionally so all the pieces and sides come into contact with the hot pan. When the pieces are browned and the fat has become translucent and golden (about 4 mins), tip the pan and spoon off the excess oil.

7. Add the vegetables and the sauce mixture to the sauté pan and toss together until the sauce bubbles and everything is well amalgamated, about a minute. Serve hot with steamed white rice.

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