Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day in San Diego. Granted, these are not so few and far between, but the past week has been a bit chilly, gloomy, and grey. The sudden onslaught of bright sunshine and warm temperatures, coupled with the cancellation of the afternoon number theory lecture that Henning and I attend, just begged for us to be outside. We decided to go for a little hike in the Elfin Forest, which happens to be relatively close to my parents’ house in Cardiff, and then go for a swim and cook dinner for my dad afterwards.
While we were hiking, I thought about what to make for dinner. I had visions of a beautiful, bright spring pasta with spinach, peas, feta cheese, and lemon. Then I called my dad. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey dad, we’re coming to make dinner for you tonight.”
“Oh, great! I’ll heat up the hot tub. So what are you going to make… steak?”
“Steak is so easy, and so good.”
“Oh, well.. uhm, we’ll see.”
My dad is definitely a steak man—he’ll eat it ’til the cows come home (har har, geez, I’m funny!). I’m not a huge fan of beef, and reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma isn’t helping much. I decided to compromise and cook some pork, in the form of one of the standby dishes I usually serve for company: Island Pork Tenderloin Salad.
I’ve been making this salad for a couple of years, though my mom was the one who first found the recipe in Gourmet and made it for some of my sister’s friends. It is the perfect ending to a warm, sunny day outdoors, and it is an able ooh and aah getter at dinner parties. The presentation is just plain gorgeous with bright, happy colors, and once your guests taste it, they’ll think you slaved all day. In reality, it takes just an hour or so to put together, and most of that is prep. The searing and roasting of the pork requires little attention, and the salad is easily assembled once the prep is done.
First, the pork is coated with a fragrant spice rub and seared before it is coated with an ingenious glaze of brown sugar, Tabasco, and garlic, and roasted in the oven. The gorgeous, juicy-sweet-spicy pork is served over a bounty of fresh veggies and fruits, all dressed with a tangy-spicy-sweet curry-lime dressing.
Over the years, I’ve made a few personal adaptations to the original recipe. I think that Chipotle Tabasco gives the glaze a smokey depth while abating some, but not all, of the hotness. I use mangoes rather than oranges, and I often add fresh cut corn off the cob, when it’s in season. I also love to plump the golden raisins for half an hour in some orange juice heated in the microwave.
Island Pork Tenderloin Salad
adapted from Gourmet
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 pork tenderloins (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 lb total)
2 tbs canola oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Tabasco (chipotle is wonderful, or a mixture of chipotle & regular)
5 oz baby spinach, trimmed (6 cups leaves)
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (from 1 medium head)
1 large red bell pepper
2 ears fresh corn (optional)
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 firm-ripe Hass avocados
Stir together salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon, then coat pork with spice rub. Allow to stand at room temperature while you prepare some of the salad ingredients (refrigerate if more than half an hour).
For vinaigrette, whisk together juices, mustard, curry powder, salt, and pepper, then add oil in a stream, whisking until emulsified.
Peel the mangoes, cut the cheeks off, and slice the flesh into long slices. Slice peppers into long strips. If using corn, cut the kernels off the cob, and taste a kernel. If it is too starchy to eat raw, blanch in boiling water for one minute, then rinse under cool water.
For glaze, stir together brown sugar, garlic, and Tabasco.
Now everything is prepped. You can do everything up to this point several hours ahead, just cook the pork half an hour before you want to eat the salad.
Heat oil in an ovenproof heavy skillet or small roasting pan over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke, then brown pork, turning, about 4 minutes total. Be sure that the pork has thoroughly seared before turning, as otherwise it may stick. Pat Tabasco-sugar mixture onto top of each tenderloin. Roast in middle of oven until thermometer inserted diagonally in center of each tenderloin registers 140°F, about 15 minutes. Transfer pork to a carving board and let stand at room temperature 10 minutes. (Temperature will rise to about 155°F while standing.)
While pork stands, toss spinach and cabbage with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette in a large, shallow serving bowl or platter. Top with corn, if using, and golden raisins. Halve and pit the avocados. Use a large spoon to scoop the flesh from each avocado half in one piece. Lay avocado halves flat on a cutting board and cut them into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Cut pork at a 45-degree angle into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Decoratively arrange mango, peppers, avocado and pork on top of spinach in the serving bowl. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the vegetables and pour any juices from skillet over pork. Serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8.