Simple Pork Stew

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When Spring and Winter are fighting over who gets to be around, it's time for stew. The new willow tree outside is holding onto its light green buds through the flurry of white flecks. Wood for planter boxes sits ready to transform into a garden. The chickens peck around looking for grubs and warmth away from the wetness. Spring in a snow globe.

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When the weather is like this, however close the promise of Spring, venturing outside, specifically to shop for ingredients to make something to eat is one of the last things you want to do. It's up there with finishing your taxes or finding all the dog poop leftover from backyard winter potty breaks.

Hence, the beauty of stew is that it's a very easy and forgiving thing. Open and flexible to what's on hand. Recipe-driven folks who like to stick to every line of ingredient and method may not like the idea of winging it. But when it's this cold, overcast and with so much to do as is (life throws alot at you), you learn to overcome your anxieties.

So eschew strict recipe adherence. Stew doesn't need it. Meat seasoned and browned in a pot. Water. Maybe some aromatics. And life is renewed from a big bowl of hot stuff. Sure, you can make it as complicated as you desire, but when everything else around strays a bit crazy, simplicity is a salve.

In my case, it's defrosted pork short ribs, cubed. Browned in my trusty white Le Creuset pot. Add salt, a bisected whole head of garlic, peel and all. Carrot and celery would be nice, too. But the last stick of carrot has withhered into a faux mandrake and celery and I have had a love hate relationship since I was in pre-school.  For now, garlic will do just fine.

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Deglaze it all with the leftover bottles of red that have been sitting way too long in the fridge. It's still good for stew purposes. And plus, I hate throwing away undrunk liquor as much as I hate wasting food. At this point, aromatics are good. But garlic is good enough, especially with some salt.

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But I found a recipe in Mark Bittman's Best Recipes of the World that adds coriander to the simple mixture. An echo of the North Africa in Southern Spanish cooking. Thanks to the pouches of coriander seed I stocked up on at Southeast Market, I was more than ready to try a new dish.

SIMPLE PORK STEW (From Best Recipes of the World)

The recipe is fine without adding cracked coriander which Bittman thwacks with a pan and packs into a cheesecloth pouch. I'm fine with bashing it in a mortar and pestle or with a rolling pin and a ziploc bag. Of course, you can powder it. The lemon juice isn't optional. It adds a bit of sunlight to this otherwise very wine dark stew.

1 tablespoon olive oil * 2 pounds boneless pork (shoulder, short rib, etc.) cut into 1-inch cubes * 1 head of garlic, bisected through its equator * 2 cups red wine * 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted and crushed * 1 tablespoons butter * salt * Fresh lemon juice to season * chopped cilantro (stems are actually quite good minced here; never throw them out, they'got FLAVA)

Heat the oil into a soup/stock pot over a medium high heat and add the pork, letting the surface brown. This takes anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes. Give it a stir and add the garlic and stir again for a couple of minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the red wine and the crushed coriander. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer gently for at least an hour. I cook it for up to four and have had tender results. Then stir in the last bit of wine, bring to a boil for a couple of minutes. Add the butter, salt, lemon juice and half of the cilantro. Garnish with the rest of the herb when you're serving. Really nice over boiled and buttered small potatoes. The starches soak up the wine dark juices.

RecipesVanessa Chang