Our eating habits have done another 180 in the past few months. Happily, we're back to eating more local foods.
Early this year I wrote about the challenges of shopping and cooking on a budget. While I learned a lot during that time, and cooked some tasty meals, our financial situation has changed again. J got a full-time, permanent job! And it pays really well, too. So now we can afford to eat out once in a while, pick up a few things at Planet Organic, and shop at the farmers' market.
Happily, this change coincided with the downtown farmers' market opening up in City Hall. It's been glorious to return to the market every week. We usually treat ourselves to a chunk of Smoky Lake goat cheese, some vegetables like peppers and cucumbers from Doef's Greenhouses, fresh eggs if we can find them, and maybe even some meat.
We both craved meat a lot through the fall and winter. We decided not to buy meat that wasn't locally and humanely raised, and we couldn't afford that good stuff. So the first biteful of local ground pork sure tasted amazing.
It was pork from a business called Serben Free Range, newly open at the market. They raise pigs, lambs, cows, turkeys and chickens near Smoky Lake, northeast of Edmonton (they're also at many other area farmers' markets - see their website for details).
J and I had both forgotten how delicious farm-raised pork tastes. It has a deep, rich flavour, nothing like the pale "other white meat" you see in grocery stores.
Here's one of my favourite ways to use pork - either ground or sliced. This recipe is adapted from an amazing cookbook called Seductions of Rice. It's one of several travel-anthropology-food books by cookbook-writing team Naomi Alford and Jeffrey Duguid. This is the only one I own, but they all look fantastic.
This dish convinced me how good it can be. It may look like sludge, but the whole things turns creamy and unctious, melding with the earthy saltiness of the soy sauce, the kick of fresh ginger and garlic, and the flavourful pork. This is a simple meal that's good every time. You can make it as spicy as you like with the chile paste or pepper flakes.
When I made this dish last week I used Irvings’ Farms ground pork – Serben didn’t have any on Saturday. It was just as good. For vegetarians, you can also make it without the pork.
We still treat meat as something special, and we usually only eat it once or twice a week, and often not as the meal’s main ingredient. It still satisfies our craving.
As for the market, I can’t wait to visit this weekend when it’s back outside on 104 street!
Simmered tofu with pork
adapted from Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Several green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground or thinly sliced pork (either one is great, but I think I prefer ground because then you get some in every bite)
1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons hot chile paste or 1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons soy sauce
About 1 pound fresh (soft) tofu (I usually use firm silken tofu)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
salt to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
Heat a wok over the highest heat. Add the oil and swirl it around. When it’s hot, add the green onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then toss in the pork, ginger, chile paste or flakes, and stir-fry for 30 seconds more, tossing and pressing the mixture against the sides of the wok. Add the soy sauce and continue to cook, scooping and stirring, for another 30 seconds.
Add the tofu and stock and bring to a vigorous boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the salt (Taste first - I usually don’t need any because I use Braggs soy sauce and it’s salty enough) and stir well, then taste again and adjust the seasonings if you wish. Stir the cornstarch mixture, then add to the wok, raise the heat, and stir-fry for about 20 seconds more, until the sauce thickens and becomes clear.
You can turn it out into a serving bowl to serve, or just scoop from the wok. Serve over rice.