A few years ago, I went over to my dad's house for dinner, which is a far more rare occasion than it sounds. I was a bit apprehensive because I had a vague idea of whether or not my stepmom was a good cook, and the definite, unequivocal knowledge that my dad wasn't. To my surprise, stepmom Ruang knew exactly what she was doing, and even had a few tricks up her sleeve I still think about (and crave) to this day. She made a spread of various authentic Chinese meat and vegetable dishes as well as homemade dumpling soup. The one item that stood out far and beyond, however, was not food at all; it was a juice of red cabbage and red grape. Yup, two entities you'd never thought you'd see in the same sentence, let alone taste blended together in sweet, tangy, vibrant purple harmony.
Here's the thing: it tasted incredible. Not only did this strange elixir visually pop, but it made my taste buds want to audition for "Dancing with the Stars." Ever since that day, I've wanted to experiment with this unexpected pairing and elevate it somehow.
That's when I came up with this dish idea. Pork and pear are a relatively classic pairing (although I would say apple is like pork's main boo and pear is like its side piece), and pork also gets along famously with red cabbage. My gears started turing and I came up with roasted pork loin and pear on a bed of red cabbage with kale and radish for crunch, color, and a bit of bitterness. The pork loin is roasted separately with the pear and the red cabbage, kale, and radish is sautéed with a dijon mustard dressing. The whole dish is the tied together with a red cabbage and red grape gastrique to cut the sweetness of the pear with some acidity.
The end result: a perfectly balanced dish in flavors, textures, and colors. Recipe below.
1 pound pork loin
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 Bartlett pear
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 whole red cabbage leaves
4 large kale leaves
6-8 radishes, halved lengthwise
For the dijon mustard dressing:
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
For the gastrique:
2 cups red cabbage, chopped
1 cup red seedless grapes
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup water
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Rub the pork loin with rosemary and thyme and season liberally with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Cut the pear into 1/4"-inch spears and discard the core.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet or sauté pan on medium-high heat and add the pork loin and pear. Sear the pork loin until browned on all sides (about 6 to 8 minutes) and stir the pear frequently so they don't burn.
- Transfer the pork and pear to a baking tray lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven until the juices run clear, about 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook.
- Meanwhile, while pork is roasting, add the whole red cabbage leaves, kale, and radishes to the skillet with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until cabbage and kale are wilted and the radishes start to soften but still have bite (about 8 to 10 minutes).
- Toss the cabbage, kale, and radishes with the dijon mustard dressing.
- To make the gastrique, combine chopped red cabbage and red grapes into a food processor and pulse until a very fine mixture forms.
- Add the red cabbage and grape mixture to a sauce pan and add the remaining the ingredients. Bring to a boil and turn heat to low and let simmer until the sauce has reduced by half. Adjust the seasoning as it cooks, if necessary.
- Makes 4 plates.