In the time it takes to lick your lips at the dinner table–over corn on the cob, or chicken tikka masala, tacos or bratwurst–all sorts of boundaries are met, sometimes crossed, often shared. My interest in food writing stems from an abiding interest in where cultures meet. You don’t have to think too hard to understand that that happens often over the dinner table.
Because I am interested in this, and because I see food as a direct link to place, to land, to sustainable health, to the agricultural hands it takes to feed us, I find myself looking at the foods on a plate in a way that takes my mind to history.
So when my husband, Terry, decided to make pork vindaloo recently, I immediately began thinking about the root of the word. I know, this is strangely off the topic of eating, but aloo is a word for potato in India and potatoes are not traditionally a part of this dish. I could not let it rest. Turns out, the word vindaloo stems from Portuguese history in India (as I knew): its Portuguese vinho = wine-vinegar and alho = garlic (which I didn’t know) ingredients combine into a savory and tart dish.
But too often, vindaloo can be a tongue-scorching curry that has little left of its original unique tartness. Since diners are likely turning red and sweating and not noticing much but the piquant chiles, I am all forgiveness. But when vindaloo made its way to India in the 15th century along with Portuguese explorers and the chile peppers they carried from the Americas, the recipe was not that way. Local ingredients like tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom were incorporated, naturally since Indians know what tastes amazing. However, dark things then began: the dish was exported by the British and it became another hot curry. The tang of vinegar was quieted, and the balance of spices was lost under a searing excess of chiles.
Seems a shame. So, the one made in my kitchen is staging a revolt. We used simple spices this time. It has a touch of tang, a dollop of chile-heat, not a wallop.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 fresh red chiles, to your taste
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves picked and stems chopped
4 ripe tomatoes
1-3/4 pounds of diced pork shoulder
1/2 cup hot curry paste such as Patak’s
1-1/2 teaspoons salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 cups water
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the chopped onions, garlic, chile, ginger and cilantro stalks and cook for 10 minutes on medium high. When the onions are soften and golden, add the pork, curry paste and salt. Stir well. Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, honey and water. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 45 minutes covered. Add black pepper and salt if needed. Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro leaves and serve with rice or Indian breads.