Sometimes it’s difficult to know which foods are beneficial to eat and which foods are not. Seems like one day, eggs are getting a bad rap in the news…and then, another report will tout eggs as the single most nutritionally sound food one can eat.
Sugar has been getting a lot of heat lately as a culprit for weight gain and the body’s misuse of nutrients. Fats used to be a no-no, but now, “they” say that fats are not so bad- that our bodies actually need fats to function properly. Listening to all of the nutritional advice out there can be very confusing.
The biggest dietary shift I see these days is that many people have decided to take on a gluten-free way of eating in an effort to relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, pain, and allergies. Cutting out bread and grains can be tricky, especially when eating at restaurants or while traveling. But it’s far from impossible, and there are lots of GF options for breads, pastas, tortillas, and alternative flours in most regular grocery stores now. Quinoa, millet, corn, and starchy vegetables can be utilized to create GF meals that don’t feel like they’re missing a thing. I’ll share one of those meals with you today.
And hey, if it makes you feel better to eliminate gluten, then I think that’s wonderful.
I happen to be able to enjoy gluten-full and gluten-free meals at this stage of the game. Yay! My adverse food reactions seem to come from MSG and preservatives. So, amidst all the recommendations and hullabaloo about what to eat and what not to eat, I try to focus on eating real foods- whole, not processed foods with super long words in their ingredient lists, that are produced close by whenever possible. I find that paying attention to the crops that come out of the ground, and eating accordingly, encourages a varied diet full of the vitamins and minerals that we need to thrive. Mother Nature and her farming friends help us to access foods in a wide array of colors, shapes, and textures
that please my eyes, my palate, and my belly.
My eating habits have changed over the years- it’s been an evolution, really. I’m still not a perfect eater- nor do I long to be. I am a happy carnivore who loves melty cheese and all things salty. You know what though? I’m totally over striving for perfection. Excellence is much more my speed. Giving in to a hankering now and again is much better, in my book, than stressing out about it and driving ourselves crazy.
Mostly, I think we each need to tune in to ourselves, and make choices that feel good for us. Balance…that is worth working for, in all aspects of life. Oh my, I’m not trying to get all preachy up in here. I respect each person’s right to eat the way they see fit. So here’s one for all you Gluten-Free eaters out there, and for those of you, like me, who just love yummy food. This meal serves both parties!
This week, Adam and I wanted to utilize our farm fresh strawberries in a savory way. We figured strawberry salsa would be supremely delicious, and that was the starting point for this meal. I give to you Mexican Spiced Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Simple Refried Beans, Quinoa Veggie Cakes, and Strawberry Salsa. As always- please feel free to make pieces and parts of this dinner. You don’t have to cook it all together.
It begins with a spice rub.
In a small container that has a lid mix:
2 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1 T paprika
1 t granulated garlic
1 t or a good pinch of dried oregano, crumbled between your fingers into the bowl
couple good pinches salt and pepper
Close the lid on your container and shake to combine the spices. Taste. You want to be able to taste the saltiness amidst the earthy Mexican flavors. Add more salt if necessary.
Then, prepare your pork.
Place pork tenderloin in a bowl or a zip top bag. Add a good glug of canola oil, the juice of a lime, and a hefty sprinkling of your spice rub. Rub the spices into the meat to coat it well.
Place the bag or covered bowl in the fridge and let the meat marinade for at least 30 minutes. A couple hours is even better.
Get your quinoa going next.
1 Cup dry black quinoa, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes, then drained through a fine mesh strainer
1 3/4 Cup chicken or veggie broth- low sodium or homemade are best
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a small pot over medium high heat. When hot, carefully add the drained quinoa to the oil. The water within the quinoa will splatter a little. Stir the quinoa and add a pinch of salt. Let that quinoa toast for about a minute, stirring often. Then, add your broth. Stir and make sure all of the little seeds are covered by the liquid. Bring the pot up to a quick boil. Then, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Allow quinoa to simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed. Keep your eye on it towards the end. Once the liquid is gone, take the quinoa off the heat and turn it out into a bowl to cool.
Meanwhile, you can get to work on your berried treasure.
You can use any kind of peppers you like to create your salsa. And you can certainly buzz it in a small food processor or in a Ninja. I hear those things are awesome.
Strawberry Salsa: Dice all components finely.
1 pint fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1 Anaheim pepper
1 jalapeno- keep seeds or discard them- up to you
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 – 1/2 a medium red onion
handful cilantro leaves
juice of half a lime
pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar
Mix to combine ingredients well. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
Transfer salsa to a small bowl and refrigerate until you’re ready for it. The flavors will really come together as they sit.
Spring Veggie Quinoa Cakes: Don’t worry about cutting veggies perfectly at this point. They will all get blended in a food processor. Again, you can use any kind of peppers you like.
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 serrano pepper, diced
1 cherry bomb pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
5-ish hakurei turnips, chunked
1 bunch lacinato kale or 1/2 a bunch Portugese kale or any kale you like, rinsed, ribs removed, cut into big chunks
juice of half a lime
2 heaping T Mexican Spice Rub
2 Cups cooked black quinoa
*2 heaping T corn starch
*3 heaping T almond flour (not pictured…)
*If you aren’t into the Gluten-Free thang, you can use breadcrumbs to bind the ingredients instead of corn starch and almond flour. I’d start with about 1/2 Cup of homemade breadcrumbs or panko and mix. You can add up to about a cup, but you don’t want your “batter” to be too dry.
Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onions and a pinch of salt. Allow onions to cook a few minutes, becoming soft and translucent.
Add your peppers to the pan and cook another minute or so.
Then, add your turnips and garlic.
Cook for a minute or 2, stirring often.
Add your kale in batches, using tongs to turn and wilt the leaves. Once all the leaves are wilted, remove the veggies from the heat and allow them to cool.
Once cooled, place your sauteed vegetables in a food processor.
Add your eggs, lime juice, and seasoning. Whir to combine ingredients well.
Combine your quinoa with your veggie mixture. Add the cornstarch and almond flour. Stir to combine. Taste a little smidge with your finger to make sure it’s well-seasoned. Let the mixture hang out in your fridge for about 15 minutes to come together.
Meanwhile, heat your grill to medium high, carefully oiling the grates when the heat reaches medium. Pull your pork out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for about 15 – 20 minutes.
For the beans:
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained (You can definitely use dry beans. You’ll have to soak them and all…)
1 Cup chicken broth
Heat a little olive oil in a small – medium pot over medium heat. When the pot is hot, add sliced garlic and let it cook until it just begins to sizzle. Then, add the pinto beans.
Add a pinch of salt and pepper and toss to coat the beans. Then, add your chicken broth and let the beans simmer in the liquid. That’s it, really. Once the liquid has been almost all the way absorbed, use the back of a big spoon to smash the beans in the pot. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. If your beans need to sit while you pull the rest of the meal together, you can always stir a bit more chicken broth into the pot (before or after the mashing). Beans are very forgiving.
Allllllllrighty- get that pork onto the grill. Cook it for about 4 minutes per side or until the pork reaches 140° – 145° in its thickest part, according to an internal meat thermometer. Then, transfer the pork to a plate and let her rest for about 7 – 10 minutes before slicing. I have no grilling pictures, because I was cooking the quinoa cakes and hogging the camera! : )
Pull your quinoa cake “batter” out of the fridge and give it a stir. The mixture will still be pret-ty wet.
Heat a large skillet with a layer of canola oil in the bottom to medium heat. Use a spoon or your hands to scoop a lil cake into the hot pan. Just start with one cake. Cook for about 2 – 3 minutes on the first side, or until it turns golden brown, and then flip. Cook the other side until golden brown and remove the tester cake to a paper towel lined plate. Take your pan off the heat for a second.
Here’s the scoop- veggies are different from day to day. And the amount of moisture they have will vary. So, taste your tester cake and think critically. At this point, you can adjust your seasoning and you can add more corn starch and/ or almond flour if the cakes need more texture or staying-together-power.
Tweak if you need to. If not, go ahead and fry off the rest of your pretty little cakes!
Whoop! Time to plate.
Ladle some of your refried beans onto your plate. Nestle in a couple of your quinoa veggie cakes and top them with a spoonful or two of your pretty salsa. Slide a few pieces of pork alongside. Pour the juices that have accumulated on your pork platter over the sliced meat. Sit down and get ready for some serious yumminess.
Y’all, this is one very different spin on Taco Tuesday, I’ll tell you. The beans- so simple and creamy- tasted muy authentico. Not sure why I’ve never applied this don’t-do-much-to-’em technique before. But, I will do it again soon.
The quinoa cakes were amazing. The quinoa crisps on the outside and provides a certain nutty crunchiness that is awesome. The vegetables combined to make this savory, earthy kind of splendor. I didn’t taste each vegetable individually. It was just a lovely mixture of sweetness and heat from the peppers, hint of bitterness from the turnips, and slight piney flavor of the kale that turned into one harmonious flavor that oozed good-for-you. The spices mellowed during the refrigeration and the cooking- no harsh dried spice situation clouding my palate at all. Adam said he could eat these twice a day. And that is a hefty recommendation from a true “Meat and two” southern boy. You know, I think we both have eaten these cakes once or twice a day as leftovers. They are even delicious cold. Fancy that.
The pork tenderloin was tender and succulent. The smokiness from the grill added an extra layer of complexity to the dish. And can we talk about the strawberry salsa?? This stuff is the jam! So vibrant and tangy with just a touch of sweetness. What a beautiful way to showcase the versatility of this beloved spring fruit.
This is one of those meals that prompts you to drag your fork through a little bit of everything on the way to your mouth. The variety of textures and range of flavors was superb. I’d do it all over again.
I hope that this meal has sparked an idea or two for you that you can make your own. There are many ways that you can modify each of the pieces and parts to create a culinary masterpiece ala you! The quinoa cakes can certainly be adapted to accommodate a host of other vegetables. You could add beans straight to the “batter”. You could change up the seasoning and easily make the cakes suitable for a Mediterranean dinner. Ooh- I bet roasted red peppers and feta would be awesome in there! And, of course, you can plate up a few of those cakes and put a couple runny eggs over them and it would be divine.
You can slather that strawberry salsa on just about anything and pump up the flavor. You could skip the pork and go for a grilled salmon. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?
Anyhoo, here’s to the beauty of experimenting with fresh, local goodies and eating whatever makes your body feel good.
Happy cooking and eating to you,