June 12, 2019

Dear friends,

I’m into gonzo cooking these days. At least two nights a week I run out of energy and patience by the time dinner rolls around. In the bad old days, that’s when I’d order a pizza. But because of my new, healthful eating plan (I’m down 10 pounds, guys), pizza is not a good idea. So I crank up the oven, turn up the flame under the cast iron and flash-cook some protein and veggies.

This week’s recipe isn’t really a recipe. It’s a collection of ingredients and a time-saving cooking method. It’s stupid-easy so if you’re already doing this, forgive me. But I really want everyone to know how to get a great meal on the table in about 30 minutes.

My favorite no-recipe healthful dinner is seared pork tenderloin strips and roast vegetables wrapped in lettuce leaves with maybe a drizzle of sweet soy sauce and fresh cilantro or basil. It’s kind of an East-Meets-Southwest taco.

First set the oven temperature to 400 degrees. While it preheats, cut a bell pepper into strips. Trim the root and any limp green part from 6 scallions. Cut a big carrot into carrot sticks (or use pre-cut ones). Butterfly a pork tenderloin. I use tenderloin because it is lean and fairly low-cal. Boneless chicken would work, too.

To butterfly, cut the cylinder of meat lengthwise halfway through, spread it out and beat it with a meat pounder until it’s an even thickness. If the tenderloin is a fat one, you may have to make vertical cuts in each half and spread them apart before bashing them. Lacking a meat pounder (a utensil with a smooth pounding surface), use a rubber mallet from the toolbox in the garage. Wash it first.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the veggies around to coat them evenly with oil. Spread them out again. Roast them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, removing the scallions when they begin to brown. Everything should be tender.

While the veggies roast, heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is best) over high heat. When it is hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Season the meat with lots of salt and pepper and cook it until the bottom is brown. Turn the meat over, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until just no longer pink. Cut it into 1/4-inch-wide strips across the grain. I do this in the pan, which is not good for the knives. You should probably do this on a cutting board, but that means you’ll have one more thing to wash.

Mound each vegetable and the meat on a platter. Add a pile of fresh herbs and about 6 big lettuce leaves. Pliable leaf lettuce is best. At the table, arrange the ingredients on the lettuce leaves, drizzle with a little sweet soy sauce (or salsa or whatever you like) and roll to encase the filling. Eat ‘em up.

I guarantee you this is at least as good as a pizza.

What I cooked last week:
Spaghetti squash and feta cheese baked in spaghetti squash halves; pan-grilled pork tenderloin with roast carrots, bell peppers and scallions wrapped in lettuce leaves with cilantro and sweet soy sauce; crustless asparagus quiche with lemon and dill, and homegrown baby lettuces with vinaigrette; microwave scrambled egg with capers, chopped tomato and fresh oregano; sheet pan chicken thighs with Indian simmer sauce and roast lemons, pepper strips, radishes and baby potatoes; yogurt- and spice-marinated grilled chicken with a cucumber, mint and baby lettuce salad and watermelon; charcoal-grilled strip steaks, pan-grilled asparagus and grape tomatoes.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Bacon and grits at Bob Evans; tossed salad,T-bone steak and garlic mashed potatoes at Brown Derby in Medina Township; salad bar and tomato-basil soup at Buehler’s in Medina; pastore tacos with grilled onions, cilantro and lime at Taqueria Rancheros in Akron (yeow); Ahi tuna poke salad bowl at Poke Fresh in Akron (Wallhaven, near Whole Foods).

From Linda S.
The Middle East restaurants in Canton are Sahara, Aladdin’s and the Desert Inn, for your Middle East food fix. I get my fix mostly at my mom’s house!

Dear Linda:
You lucky dog. I am not familiar with Sahara; I’ll have to try it. I loved the Desert Inn when I reviewed it decades ago, and I am a regular at the Aladdin’s in the Montrose area of Bath Township. Thanks.

From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki seaweed. It showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this.

On the show, they used the seaweed in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salads with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you. I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I found was this is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?

Dear Sally:
Tony says it is eaten a lot in Japan. Try it topped with shrimp, cucumbers and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. That is known as “sunomono” and is served at sushi bars. If you’re watching your weight, sunomono, miso soup and edamame would be a filling, low-cal, high-protein meal.

Hijiki has an interesting texture, kind of like al dente spaghetti squash. I had some last weekend on a tuna poke salad. Tony said the strands of bright-green hijiki were mixed with strands of jelly fish. This is how I have seen it most often.

The other types of seaweed most common in Japan are nori, the dried sheets used to wrap sushi, and kombu. The latter is smooth, flat and wide. That’s the chopped greens you see floating in your miso soup. It is used in all sorts of other preparations, too, including the sunomonos described above.

From Jan C.:
I finished Ruth Reichl’s book a couple of weeks ago. It is truly one of her best. I enjoyed your review of the book, but in that same newsletter, the old restaurant book you linked to is spectacular.

Many years ago when I worked at General Tire on East Market Street in Akron, we would run to pick up stacks of Thacker’s burgers for lunches. Our Christmas lunch was usually at Nick Anthe’s on Tallmadge Avenue. Appreciation dinners were held at the Mayflower Hotel. What great memories. Thank you.

Dear Jan:
I got lost in that restaurant book, too. I reviewed many of them, and heard about most of the rest. The book is a stellar piece of research and nostalgia.

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