In the year after publishing company Condé Nast decided to shutter Gourmet Magazine, the James Beard Award-winning food writer, critic and then editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl, suddenly found herself in the wake of uncertainty. She recalls, “Compared to those of many others, my problems were small. I was in good health. I was not about to starve. But I was sixty-one years old, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get another job. I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life…”
And so, Ruth took solace in the one place that has always given her the most comfort, and she disappeared into the kitchen. The very physical and meditative act of cooking, together with the 136 comforting recipes you’ll find in My Kitchen Year are the ones she credits as having saved her life back in 2009.
One of the lifelong recipes she includes in her book is one for Pork and Tomatillo Stew. While in her twenties as an aspiring writer cooking for a Berkeley commune, she first discovered tomatillos and cilantro. By combining these “strange green orbs” with orange juice, dark beer and lots of garlic, she came up with a stew that turned out to be a big hit with their customers and still remains a standard in her repertoire today.
“My kitchen year started in a time of trouble, but it taught me a great deal. When I went back to cooking I rediscovered simple pleasures, and as I began to appreciate the world around me, I learned that the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things.”
Pork & Tomatillo Stew
Yield: Serves 6
2 lbs pork shoulder, butt or loin, cut into 2” cubes
1 lb tomatillos, quartered
1 lb Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1½ cups of fresh orange juice (approx. 6–8 oranges)
1 bottle dark beer
2 large onions, diced
2 jalapeños, minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 head of garlic
1 cup cooked or canned (drained) black beans
Grapeseed or canola oil
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
For the stew: Begin by cutting the pork shoulder, butt or loin into 2” cubes. Sprinkle them with salt.
Remove the husks from the tomatillos, wash the sticky surface off and quarter them. Place them in a pot with the tomatoes, dark beer and 1½ cups of fresh orange juice. Let everything stew for half an hour or so, until everything has become tender.
Brown the pork in a casserole, along with 8 to 10 whole cloves of peeled garlic, in a few tablespoons of grapeseed or canola oil. You’ll probably need to do this in batches, removing the pork as it browns. Sauté the onions in the now-empty casserole, along with the cilantro and jalapeños. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be sure to scrape the bottom, stirring in the delicious brown bits.
When the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, transfer the tomatillo mixture along with the pork and garlic back into the casserole. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover and cook slowly for about 2 hours.
Squish the garlic cloves into the stew with the back of a spoon. Add a cup or so of cooked black beans (or a can of drained beans) and cook for 10 more minutes.
To serve: Serve over white rice. Stir the juice of a lime into a cup of sour cream and serve as a garnish.