Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by the book coauthored by the two, Almost Meatless, due out in spring 2009.
If you're bent on adopting the Meat Lite lifestyle, take a page from the ancient book of Asian cuisine. Far Eastern kitchens have always been stocked with less animal protein and saturated fats than Western counterparts (even well before Western kitchens ever existed), calling on vegetables and grains as the bulk of a dish and using meat as something of a garnish. Even traditional recipes for a dish like panaeng neua--a signature Thai dish centered on beef, coconut milk and curry paste--call for less than a pound of beef for 4 to 6 servings.
In addition to an emphasis on non-meat ingredients, Asian gastronomy employs a variety of fermented protein condiments and sauces as flavoring and seasoning agents. Fish sauce, bean sauces and pastes all pack a mouth-filling punch because of glutamic acid, an amino acid brought forth during natural fermentation. These amino acids are the foundation of "umami," or that meaty, satisfying "flavor" that's so distinct, yet so difficult to articulate (this flavor is replicated in controversial MSG).
Scientific mumbo-jumbo aside, Asian food is delicious, often simple and quick to prepare and versatile. This recipe is sweet, salty, tangy, and sour, from tamarind, miso, sugar and lime. It's full of texture, from a bit of pork, sturdy carrots, crunchy bok choy, chopped cashews and crisp, vibrant scallions. Serve it on top of rice and alongside garlic sesame green beans.
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 3 scallions, green and white parts sliced and separated
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large carrot, diced small
- 3 baby bok choy, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate or tamarind paste
- 1 1/2 cups stock or broth (chicken, pork, vegetable or mushroom)
- Juice of one small lime
- 1/2 cup cashews (roasted and salted or raw--whichever you prefer), roughly chopped
Heat the oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook to brown the meat, about 5 minutes. While the pork browns, break it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the sliced white parts of the scallions and the garlic, and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the carrot and bok choy, and stir fry the vegetables and aromatics for about 1 minute.
Whisk together the sugar, miso paste, tamarind concentrate, stock and lime juice. Pour over the vegetables and pork. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the liquid thickens.
Add the green parts of the scallions and the chopped cashews. Serve over cooked rice or rice noodles.