Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mexican Fiesta - Spicy Vegetable Soup & Pork Carnitas

Photo: NK 
This past week, with the weather turning cooler, some spicy and comforting Mexican style food seemed like just the thing. The two dishes I decided to make ended up being polar opposites. The first, a healthy Mexican-inspired chunky Vegetable Soup, could not have been more light and virtuous. The recipe uses no fats and packs a major flavor wallop.  

On the other hand, our second dish, an all-afternoon project perfect for a lazy Sunday, was a luscious, slow-cooking, meaty and rich batch of Pork Carnitas. Garlicky, Jalapeno-inflected goodness melts into shreds of delectable Pork finished with a bit of Orange Juice. Just perfect for serving in a warm Tortilla, the Carnitas can also be optionally topped with just a little Lime Juice, a sprinkling of chopped Poblano or extra Jalapeno, and a dollop of Sour Cream. 

Sometimes when I am deciding what to eat, I envision a cartoon angel and devil on on my shoulder. I feel like they take turns whispering to me: "eat healthy, eat naughty, eat healthy, eat naughty." So, in short, the two dishes featured below will allow you to choose your food based on whether you're feeling naughty or nice. Both recipes will feed a family of two for several days and they actually work very nicely when served together. Enjoy!

Mexican Vegetable Soup with Cilantro Hominy Crema & Pepitas
Adapted from Weight Watchers - Original recipe was 1 point on the Points Plus plan
Serves 10 or More
*Cook's Note: This recipe has the potential to come out Very Spicy. Depending on variations in the spice factor and size of the peppers you buy, you may want to lessen the pepper profile if you are spice averse. To make it milder, be sure to de-seed the Jalapeno and perhaps use a bit less of the Poblano. You can always add more at the end. The spice level as listed below was just fine for me and my husband, but when I brought the leftovers to work, only the people with super spicy palates could handle it, even though they all told me it was tasty :) Thanks for bringing me back to reality guys!


3 large Cloves Garlic, minced
2 medium Raw Zucchini, cubed
14 Oz Can Diced Tomatoes - we used Muir Glen Organic Brand
1 medium Vidalia or Spanish Onion, finely chopped
1 medium Green Pepper, chopped
1 Cup Tomatillos, chopped
1/2 Medium Jalapeno Pepper, finely chopped (leave out the seeds for less spicy)
1/2 Medium Poblano Chile, finely chopped
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
6 Cups Organic Vegetable Broth
3/4 Cup Roasted Red Peppers Jarred in Water
1 tsp Canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
1/2 Cup fresh Cilantro, chopped + 1/4 cup extra for optional garnish
1 Tbsp Lime Juice
1 tsp Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp Salt
1 Can Hominy, drained
Optional Cilantro Hominy Crema & Pepita Topping
1/2 Cup Pepitas 
1 Cup Fromage Blanc
1/4 Cup Cilantro
1/4 Cup Hominy (you may borrow 1/4 Cup from the above can or use it all in the soup)
1 tsp Lime Juice
Salt to taste

Put Garlic, Zucchini, canned Tomatoes, Onion, Hominy, Green Pepper, Tomatillos, Jalapeno, Poblano,Oregano and Cumin in a very large soup pot.  Pour Vegetable Broth into pot.

Next, in a mini food processor combine the Roasted Red Peppers and Chipotle in Adobo Sauce into a puree. Add this mixture to the soup and combine well. 

Stirring In Red Pepper Chipotle Puree, Photo: NK 
Cover pot and bring to a boil of high heat. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook, partly covered, another 10 minutes. Stir in Vinegar, Lime Juice, Cilantro and Salt. Serve now or prepare the Cilantro Crema. Do so by combining all the ingredients except the Pepitas in a small bowl. Spoon a dollop over soup and scatter Pepitas over it everything. 

Mexican Vegetable Soup With Cilantro Hominy Crema and Pepitas, Photo: NK 
Enjoy! Next up, the perfect slow-cooking pork Carnitas. Attempt this recipe when you know that you'll have the 5 hours needed to monitor it. The active time is very little, so even though the timing may seem daunting, the result makes this well worth it, and as I said, it will feed you for quite some time. The Carnitas store well in the fridge and will keep for about 3 days. 

Conventional Oven Pork Carnitas 
Lightly Adapted from Food and Wine
Serves 6 
Total Time - 5 hours, 40 minutes Active Time 
About 4 Tbsp Vegetable Oil for drizzling on the Pork
One 3.5 Lb Boneless Pork Shoulder 
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Chile Powder (original recipe calls for Ancho Chile Powder, if you can find it)
2 Unpeeled Garlic Cloves 
3 JalapeƱos, seeded and diced
3/4 Cup Orange Juice 
Warm Tortillas, for serving
Lime Wedges, for serving

Preheat Oven to 325. Place Pork in a roasting pan with high sides. Drizzle with Oil and spread it all over. Turn Pork fatty side up and sprinkle with the Chile Powder. Season liberally with Salt and Pepper. Add about a 1/2 Cup of Water to the Pan and cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour. 

Add Garlic Cloves all over the pan and toss in Jalapenos as well. Bake uncovered for another 2 hours, rotating the pan midway for even cooking. 
Before Pulling the Pork, Photo: NK 

Raise oven temperature to 375. Remove pan from the oven and carefully slice pork into 4 or 5 thick slices. Using two forks, pull the Pork apart until large chunks form. Arrange chunks in the pan with the browned parts facing up. Remove Garlic from the Pan and peel it carefully (it may be hot). Return peeled Garlic Cloves to the Pan. Continue to Roast pork another 30 Minutes until nicely browned and slightly crisped. 

Again, pull Pork using two forks into smaller pieces and cook another 30 minutes longer. Transfer Pork, Garlic, and Jalapenos to a large platter for serving. 

Pour off all but 2 Tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place on top of stove burners over medium high heat. Pour in Orange Juice and boil until reduced a bit, scraping the bottom of the pan to catch some of the browned bits for extra flavor. Pour over Pork and toss to incorporate. Season with additional Salt and Pepper and serve in warm tortillas. 
Carnitas served with Lime Wedges, Extra Jalapeno, Cilantro, and Tomatillos, Photo: NK 
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