Howard was away all week, which worked out well because anything savory with fruit sauce wasn’t going to go over with him anyway. In his absence, a couple of my friends came over to watch a movie, and I made this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe to share with them for dinner first.
I could not find lychees. I looked really hard, but was unsuccessful. I was really hoping I could find them because I have a story about lychees that I wanted to share. I was thinking that if I left out the lychees, I couldn’t tell you the story. However, the more I thought it over, I decided I’d tell the story anyway.
Many years ago, maybe twenty, I worked for a man named Tudor who was from Romania. A real mad scientist type. Our work was in the software field, but he was a physicist by training, and quite brilliant. At the time, my job involved a lot of travel, mostly to Michigan. To be fair, I don’t know what it’s like now, but twenty years ago in the Detroit area, most of the restaurant food on offer was horribly dull. I did a systematic study of side salads, and the uniform result was a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with one green pepper ring, one wedge of an ice-cold tomato and maybe one slice of cucumber, with dressing on the side.
One of these trips, Tudor was there too. After a long day at the office, we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant near the hotel. I’ll admit that the meal itself was not memorable. As we were finishing up, Tudor starting talking about leeches. He was nostalgically recalling eating them and telling me how delicious they were. He was going on and on. I was confused. I had a hard time imagining that anyone would be excited about eating leeches, especially if they knew what they were. He couldn’t believe my disbelief and that I’d never tried them before. In retrospect, it was a comical exchange. All was revealed when, along with the fortune cookies, the waiter brought a small bowl of fruit that I didn’t recognize. Tudor was thrilled because they had served us none other than his beloved leeches. It turns out that, he had been talking about lychees all along.
I opted to make a pork tenderloin instead of a pork loin. I know that loin and tenderloin are not the same cut of meat and that the cooking technique best for each cut is quite different. Slightly fattier pork loin can handle a slow braise while the lean tenderloin shines with a quick and hot roast. So I changed things up a bit for, hopefully, a similar result.
Rather than braising the pork loin in the sauce, I roasted the pork tenderloin in a hot oven while I made the sauce on the stovetop. The sauce was a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce. The vinegar and lime juice gave it the tang while the honey added sweet and the soy sauce and white wine worked to blend it all together. As I said, I couldn’t find lychees. I only vaguely remember what they were like on that one occasion when I’d had them before. I substituted a can of sliced water chestnuts and a diced Asian pear, plus the called-for sliced mango . I let the sauce simmer while the pork finished cooking.
I served slices of pork topped with the sauce, accompanied by basmati rice and roasted broccoli. One of my friends put sauce on the rice too. Reviews were thumbs up all around. The leftovers made a nice rice bowl: leftover rice topped with pork and sauce and garnished with a few stalks for the roasted broccoli.
If you’d like to know whether the other Doristas liked the pork, check out their links here. The recipe is over on the WBUR website (my local NPR station). Of course, it’s also in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table.
We enjoy eating fish, any variety, but I usually prepare it very simply and then fancy up the side dishes to make an interesting plate. Most of the fish we eat are heftier ones that lend themselves to grilling in summer and broiling in winter. Others, such as cod or halibut, I typically bake. Only fillets of lighter white fish, such as flounder, sole, or tilapia, are cooked on my stovetop. This week’s recipe for spice-crusted tuna pushed me to mix up and cross over my known boundaries. That’s part of what French Fridays with Dorie is all about, right?
I’ve discovered that frozen ahi tuna steaks are a regularly-stocked item at Trader Joe’s, so I only had to plan ahead for thawing. Fragrant spices are pounded with a mortar and pestle (so satisfying) to coarsely crush the peppercorns, cardamom and coriander seeds and turn the fresh ginger into a paste to loosely glue it all together. The tuna is lightly rubbed with oil, coated in the spice mixture, and seared in a hot skillet. The whole process from pantry to plate takes less than 10 minutes.
The mango chatini was a little more time-consuming because it involved a lot of chopping. It was not onerous, and it was definitely worth it. The chatini is like a salsa. In fact, it is very similar to the mango guacamole that Howard makes when Champagne or Ataulfo mangos are in season. His concoction includes avocado, which would have been at home in this chatini, and doesn’t use any ginger. Otherwise, they’re pretty much the same.
The chatini was the perfect topping/garnish for the spice-crusted tuna. I really liked the way the ginger flavors in both the chatini and the spice crust pulled the meal together. We ate the leftover chatini with tortilla chips, just like we do with guacamole.
Tuna is one fish that I’ve only cooked at home for French Fridays. I really enjoyed the spiced crust in this recipe. Even though I was the one who prepared it, the flavors popping in my mouth still surprised me. However, as much as I do like tuna, honestly, I prefer it as sushi (or canned, which is its own thing) rather than cooked.
This week, I’m enamored with this recipe for roasted root vegetables. I served the tuna with jasmine rice and these vegetables. To me, the key parts are the roasted vegetables and the honey topping. The honey topping makes more than you need for one batch, so I’ve already made it again. The bacon adds great flavor (of course), but I made my second batch without and it was equally delicious. Winter squash isn’t a root vegetable, but it would be perfect in your custom vegetable medley. As Mikey always said, “Try it, you’ll like it!”
I invite you to check out my friend Lisa’s new blog Hawley’s Food Path. Lisa is my (in-person) friend who I met at a Nantucket basket weaving class at least a decade ago. We also belong to the same local garden club. Lisa loves to cook, and recently, we were talking about French Fridays. She was inspired to order the book, create a blog, and jump in with us this week. She’s really excited. Please visit her blog and give her a warm welcome to our group! I know you’ll enjoy her warmth and humor as much as I do.