This is no Time to Cook…and Yet…I Do. Just Minimally.

by Marina Chotzinoff

This week’s Food52 contest is Your Best Mint. I was not overjoyed at this ingredient considering all we have growing, mysteriously, is chocolate mint which I have yet to find any application for. I was going to sit this one out, but of course that fragrant ingredient kept coming back to me and once I decided to pair it with pork I knew I’d be making something related for dinner.

My many ideas were this:

  1. Some variety of fragrant, tiny pork and dried shrimp meatball on a stick that you dip first in a sweet, spicy mint sauce and then in a toasted rice
  2. A more stewy ground pork dish using similar ingredients of shallots, garlic, ginger, but thickened with coconut milk and peanut butter and served on rice with something green
  3. A crisp mound of many vegetables with a quickly sauteed pork and a minted dressing

Because it has been so stupidly hot, I could not bear to do any long term frying, baking or simmering. The meatballs still sounded fun but I needed dinner, not some cute hors d’oeuvres. So I settled on the latter and went to buy a pile of colorful veggies.

I often use zucchini in raw noodle form, but have tired recently of it in a more plain state, but figured that properly dressed in a potent dressing, it would be good, textured filler. I knew I wanted sugar snap peas for the sweet, sweet crunch and had carrots on hand already. I added radish for color and a slight, peppery bite, rinsed red onion and the green of green onion for a different kind of bite and some chili pepper for heat. A pile of mint, basil and cilantro rounded out the herby needs.

The pork would be aromatic, but simple as it, too, would be dressed. I simply cooked it with shallots, garlic and lime zest, then tossed in some toasted rice powder for a nutty taste and tossed the lot with a tangy, sweet, fish sauce dressing.

It was exactly what I had hoped for on this toasty night.

Minted Dressing:
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
juice of one lime (zest saved)
1/2 cup mint, chopped

Salad:
2 small zucchinis, julienned
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, julienned
2 green onions, green parts sliced, rest saved for another use
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon uncooked glutinous rice
1 tablespoon vegetable/canola oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 serrano (or jalapeno), minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
zest from lime
3/4 pounds ground pork
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
6-8 basil leaves
1/4 cup cilantro

Put zucchini in a strainer, toss liberally with salt and allow to drain in sink or over bowl. Soak onion in cold water. Allow to rest until wilted while you prep the rest of the dish.

Mix all dressing ingredients together until sugar has dissolved. Can be made a day or so ahead of time.

Toast rice in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking often, until light brown. Put into spice grinder and allow to cool completely before grinding to a fine powder.

Add oil to pan and brown shallots over medium heat.

Rinse zucchini and red onion and pat dry. Toss with carrots, radishes, peas, green onions. Add about half of dressing and toss to coat. Allow to sit for at least 5-10 minutes while you cook the pork for any liquid to be extracted from the veggies.

Add lime zest, garlic and chili (to taste) to shallots. (We shared this with a kid who does not eat spicy food and just added raw chiles to our own bowls, but you can add them here adjusting to your heat tolerance). Stir until fragrant and add pork. Cook until pork is no longer pink and some liquid has formed in pan. Add toasted rice powder and cook a bit longer until starting to brown.

Remove from heat and set aside.

Toss salad again and pour off excess liquid. Toss with sesame seeds and pork adding more dressing to taste. Garnish with basil and cilantro.

This dish would work with any number or variety of raw veggies (asparagus, corn, spinach, cucumber…) as long as you try balancing the peppery and sweet and provide a nice assortment of colors and textures.

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