stubborn as crust

“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”

- Anna Quindlen

In addition, the longer they ferment in your lukewarm cranium, the more mature and profligate they become. Whenever an idea is conceived, it takes its time with unabated liberality right up until its eventual delivery. This bubonic pie sort of matter was one such illumination.

But then of course whenever your brain finds something worth latching on to, demons creep in and dissuade you, telling you the most realistic stories on failure and how you must be crazy to dare an attempt. “You don’t have this, you don’t have that,” he says, “ It’s not going to work.”

Well, how about this: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. I don’t have a stone oven, nor do I have a pizza stone. But the pizza’s right there.

Let you in on a few tips on how to get your oven to attain that high temperature, which is what most things boil down to anyway:

1. Blast that box. Most recipes call for a relatively timid 500 degrees F. However, most restaurants serious about their pies have specialized ovens whose internal temperatures range from the not-so-humble end of 1000 F to upwards of 1200 F (537 ~649 C). At home, the closest you can get would be to preheat your oven to the maximum baking temperature (mine goes up to 525 F). Keep in mind, broiling won’t do – you’re concern is with crisping up the crust, not reducing all those delicious toppings to sad little carbon lumps.

2. Don’t skip the oil. Huge thanks goes to water’s property of being unable of going past 100 degrees Celsius, which is roughly equal to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, simply cranking your oven to 525 degrees F will not cut it in terms of charring your pizza that’s only been dusted with flour. Yet, even bigger thanks goes to oil whose capacity to retain heat is at least twice as effective than water. Thus, the film of avocado oil (which is safe at higher cooking heats) will actually cause the moisture at the surface of the crust to quickly vaporize, and thereby dehydrate the surface. in short, minus the moisture, the dehydrated starches are now able to attain higher temperature, which results in gelatinization then caramelization. But that’s hardly relevant – the result is a light, crunchy exterior with a moist, springy interior.

But then again, all good things take practice – I’ve barely made it past my fourth pound of flour.

The kingdom of heaven is

like yeast that a woman took

and mixed into about

sixty pounds of flour

until it all

worked through the flour.

Matthew 13:33

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Adapted from Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza”

Ingredients for the pizza dough for four pizzas:

250 g all purpose flour

1 g active dry yeast

6 g fine sea salt

175 g water

To make the pizza dough, mix together all ingredients in a large bowl, cover with a lid or damp towel and leave to rise at room temperature for at least 18 hours. Once it has doubles in size, punch it down and divide it into two equal portions. If your dough is sticky, simply dust with more flour. Shape into 2 balls with your hands and cover loosely again with a damp cloth to let it rise while you prep the toppings and preheat the oven.

Ingredients for topping the pizza:

olive oil for the pans

1 cup fresh o frozen blueberries

120 g fresh ricotta cheese (ask for a taste before buying it at the deli or cheese shop – you want it to taste creamy and sweet with a bit of pale nuttiness, it should not taste watery)

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tbsp walnut oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the pizza, preheat the oven to its highest possible setting – anywhere from 500 to 550 degrees F will do, but of course, the higher the better. Drizzle olive oil liberally on two baking sheets.

Now, stretch out the dough, which should be very soft and well dusted with flour. The way I do it is I start off by pulling it into a flatter shape, then I put the dough on my knuckles to stretch them gently by moving my knuckles away from one another and rotating the dough. If this sounds too complicated, you can just leave it on the counter and pull it in every direction to flatten it. There’s only one rule: don’t use a rolling pin – it will smush out all the bubbles in the crust and leave it hard and flat.

Transfer the stretched dough onto the baking sheets and scatter the thyme and blueberries evenly on each. Dot with chunks or ricotta, drizzle on the walnut oil, and season well with sea salt and lots of black pepper.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the crust is puffed, blistered, and the blueberries have melted.

Serve with an arugula salad (toss arugula with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil then season with a bit of salt and pepper).

Enjoy!

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a monumental predicament

I say, they’re a fruit. Because the ones that taste like fruit are the best ones.

When you’re looking for a tomato, you’re not looking for a bright green one nor a very firm one. You’re looking for intense reds, (perhaps even oranges, and yellows) with a bit of give when gently squeezed  – both are signs for high sun exposure and full ripeness which imply higher sugar content and flavour compounds.

Essentially, we’re looking for all the qualities that make fruit delicious. If deep down we really believed that tomatoes are a vegetable, we would’ve probably select bred the red out of them back when cauliflower became white. By the way, most green tomatoes are actually just unripe red tomatoes. Same goes with bell peppers.

But don’t we “treat them like a vegetable” by roasting them, stewing them, putting them in salads, and/or pairing them with cheese? Last time I checked, we’ve been doing all of the above with apples and strawberries. Guess those two won’t count towards my morning fruit bowl anymore. Pity.

So if you’ve ever found raw tomatoes too raw or bland, you’re probably-very-likely-basically-99% missing the acid-sweet fruitiness and juiciness you’re so accustomed to tasting in red berries, grapes, and plums.  I’ve got a few tips for you:

1. Buy fully ripe local tomatoes. Like all fruit, intense color and aroma are signs of ripeness in tomatoes. Give them a little pinch between your fingers – they should feel soft, like they might burst from the tiniest bit more pressure. Sourcing locally guarantees less travelling, which means they are vine-ripened instead of being picked prematurely. Get to know the farmers and vendours, start by asking for their favourite type and a few samples!

2. Season in season. Two birds with one stone here, but first, buy in season. I can’t stress this enough, there’s a time for everything. For tomatoes, it’s July through October here in Ontario. Second, but equally important, season with sea salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. I’ve already clarified the perks of salting your fruit.

3. Make the cut. Pretty sure I don’t need to tell you to cut your beefsteak tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes deserve fair treatment also. Remember, you eat with your eyes first, and as soon as they see something red and round like a fruit they start searching for the nectar that’s presumably inside. Know that fact and manipulate it, so slice them tomatoes open and let their juice shine. (Also, salt and other seasonings tend to slide right off uncut tomatoes. That’s no rocket science.)

And let us not grow weary

in doing good,

for in due season

we will reap,

if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

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I have to admit, the first salad I ever became drawn to since being exposed to western culture was the caprese. Yet, I seldom attempt it simply because it’s so difficult to find truly delicious tomatoes that are bright and robust in flavour. Indeed, there is not a single perfect tomato, but as I was reading Andy and Michael’s Collards & Carbonara one morning with a lovely pairing of coffee that’s cooled significant from when I first poured it, I realized that I needed a variety to cover all the notes I wanted to hit in my caprese (for me those would be a mellow-sweet one, a bright-sweet one, and one that has a strong “tomato-y flavour”) . So don’t be discouraged by a couple of bland attempts! Go try out varieties that are grown close to you, ask for a taste, and choose the ones you loved most. Remember, if you liked it enough on its own, it can only get better from there!

Ingredients for the heirloom caprese, serves 4:

30 g fresh basil leaves

125 ml extra virgin olive oil

450 g local tomatoes (I used zebra cherry, lady finger, cerise orange, sweet olive, and lemon drop)

150 g fresh mozzarella, torn into 4 pieces

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the basil oil, pound the basil roughly with a mortar and pestle (or cup and muddler, whatever to thoroughly bruise the basil),  with a drizzle of the olive oil. If you want the oil to stay clear, don’t grind, just stick to pounding. Pour in the remaining oil and let it steep while you slice the tomatoes.

To get the best slice surface, observe your tomatoes. There is a wall of membrane down the center of the tomato that spans across the flatter, slightly pinched-in sides of the tomato. Make your slice perpendicular to that membrane to expose the juicy seed chambers.

To plate, put the mozzarella on four small plates, arrange the tomatoes on and around each. Drizzle with the steeped oil generously (leave out the basil), and season to taste.

Enjoy!

 

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all in eh?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the result of other peoples’ thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

-Steve Jobs

It’s that awkward time of the year where the skies are churning thickly with blobs and streaks of saturated grey and the air is heavy like an underground parking lot on a rainy day. In the morning I look out the window and glumly pull out the next season’s clothing, which I didn’t think I’d need for another three weeks.

I slip into brick red jeans, and wiggle my head through the peppered sweater. Two seconds later, both articles of clothing are scrunched and stranded beneath my bare feet as I grope in dull frustration for the familiarity of nude shorts and a faded T.

Such a curiously bland event has happened more times than necessary in this past week. Indeed, summer being washed away by an early arrival of autumnal shower.

There is no time as melodramatic, though hardly sorrowful, as the current: the thriving green of summer sent upwards in vibrant splashes as the heft of autumn’s amber abundance falls into place.

Gremolata and kabocha, there is not a better time for the two of them to marry. Of course, goat cheese would be more than welcome, as always.

Love colour. Send those sparks flying against the walls raining down.

Let no one despise you for your youth,

but set the believers and example

in speech, in conduct,

in love, in faith,

in purity. 

1 Timothy 4:22

 

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Ingredients for the gremolata:

8 almonds

1 lemon, zested

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

1 c lightly packed flat-leaf parsley

1 large garlic clove

sea salt, to taste

To make the gremolata, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it forms a textured sauce. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover and set aside as you roast the squash and onions.

Ingredients for the roasted kabocha and onions:

1/2 small kabocha squash, seeded and cut into 1-inch thick wedges

2 small brown onions, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges

3 tbsp avocado oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

few dried rosemary needles

To roast the vegetables, preheat the oven to 410 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the vegetables gently with oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Arrange on the baking sheet and sprinkle on the rosemary needles.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are caramelized and tender.

To serve, drizzle the gremolata over the roasted squash and crumble on some goat cheese, if using, to finish.

Enjoy!

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slake

“1. to allay thirst by satisfying

2. to make less active, vigourous, intense, etc.

3. to cause disintegration by treatment with water”

- dictionary.com

That’s slake for you.

For some reason I thought that would be appropriate for this post, which is all about watermelon, which we’re all very familiar with. Most of the time we just eat things without giving it a second thought. Don’t worry, it’s not about world hunger today, nor is it about the dark side of food production. None of that sociological stuff. Rather, today we’re going a little deeper. Let’s get lost in chemistry.

Osmosis, actually.

Ever wonder why people salt their watermelon? Or if you’re gawking a what you’ve just read, you should start doing it too. Well, aside from what I mentioned over last time, salt also makes your watermelon sweeter. In a spoonful, a light sprinkle of salt makes osmosis happen on the surface of the watermelon – the water inside the cells get “sucked out” in attempt to balance sodium concentrations in and outside of the cell.

Blah blah blah, did I just lose you?

That’s okay, because here are the important 1-2-3 bits:

1. the drawn-out moisture that’s now sitting on the surface of your slice of watermelon makes it look more juicy and appetizing. You eat with your eyes first.

2. the moment you bite, the moisture is the first thing that comes in contact with your palate, so you’re tricked to thinking that it tastes juicier.

3. that moisture quickly leaves your palate, and you’re left with the slightly dehydrated watermelon, in other words, a mass of cells which are carrying a higher concentration of sugar.

But of course all that’s just too much info, so let’s just get down to the noshing bit. Who needs knowledge?

Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;

learn to use good judgment.

Proverbs 9:6

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Ingredients for the balkan granita:

1/2 c balkan style yoghurt, 6% MF

To make the balkan granita, place the yoghurt in a freezable container and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Take it out, stir it, and freeze again for 30 minutes. Repeat until icy and set but still scoopable.

Ingredients for the assembly:

chilled watermelon slices

small handful fresh sweet basil leaves

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To assemble, first chill your serving plates; place them in the freezer for 7-8 minutes. Meanwhile, roll up the basil leaves tightly into a cigar. Pour some olive oil over it and slice very thinly with a sharp knife. (The oil coats your knife as you slice and seals the broken cells from the air to reduce oxidation – keeping your lovely green basil from turning black.)

Once that’s done, take the plates out of the freezer. Put the watermelon on the plates, dot with the balkan granita, garnish with basil, drizzle with olive oil, and season. (Just get everything on that plate.)

Enjoy!

 

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Resistant Little Heart

If you’re cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad. If you don’t have time to make dessert, you can go and buy some macaroons to have later.”

-Wolfgang Puck

The man’s right. On so many levels that probably never crossed his mind when he said those words.

One. Women I know love risotto. While there’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of rice that’s so immensely creamy and sensuous that it becomes one with your tongue, I would argue that it’s the al dente heart of that rice, a proof of perfect sensibility and restraint, that makes risotto that much sexier than rice pudding. You can quote that.

Two. Women are defensive of their toys, I mean, kitchen. Because, just like how children are forever fearing that their out-for-the-evening parents are late to return because they’ve died in a car crash, we girls grow up to fear that boys will burn down our kitchens once 30 minutes pass. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. But that doesn’t matter – risotto only takes 25 minutes, phew.

Three. Women love men who can cook. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It’s just that everyone loves to have someone close who will, on the right occasions, cook for them. It could be a best friend, a brother, perhaps from a different mother, who cares? Who cares if they bought the dessert? They cared enough to make you risotto.

I cared enough to make risotto.

In all honesty, that’s all you need to make a good risotto. It’s not some pretentious art as gastromedia casts it. The only thing, which isn’t even difficult, is the constant stirring. Stirring increases the amount of the rice’s surface area which comes into contact with liquid, which in turn helps release the starch. This means you will have a very creamy risotto as the “creamy” texture is essentially the married portion of stock and starch.

And at all costs, keep tasting – that’s key to catching your perfect al dente!

I remind you that you should

stir up the gift of God

which is in you through

the laying of my hands.

-2 Timothy 1:6

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As much as I love risotto, I think I would still appreciate it more if it goes along with several varying textural components, not to mention a even coverage of all the flavour bases. Here, aside from the creaminess and al dente of the rice, there is equally the buttery firmness of the halibut, the crunchiness of its skin, as well as the near-transparent crispness of the fried basil and ginger. The acidity of the lime is hardly detectable in the finished dish, but it is crucial to the balance of flavours – it’s what keeps you coming for another bite without feeling weighed down.

Ingredients for the green basil risotto, serves 6:

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 c diced white onion

1 1/2 c short grain rice, do not rinse this!

2-3 tbsp green curry paste, depending on its strength

4 c unsalted chicken/vegetable stock

1 can unpasteurized full-fat coconut milk

1 c gently packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 lime, juice only

sea salt, to taste

To make the risotto, melt the coconut oil in a deep saucepan or small pot. Add the onions and sweat them until soft, being careful not to brown them. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil and are translucent. Stir in the curry paste until fragrant.

Pour in 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, still stirring and keeping the heat low for about 15~18 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the fatty portion of the coconut milk with the basil and lime juice to a vibrant green milk shake. Chill until needed. Stir the remaining watery portion of the coconut milk into the rice.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, taste your risotto and see if you like the doneness. It should be very creamy, but still retaining a bit of nutty texture in the center of each grain.

Incorporate the coconut basil mixture and take away from the heat. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the seared halibut, fried basil and ginger (follows).

Ingredients for the crispy-skinned halibut, fried basil, and ginger:

2/3 c mild vegetable oil, for frying

12 ginger slices, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife

18 fresh basil leaves

1 lb thick halibut fillet, cut into 6 neat portions

sea salt

To make the fried garnishes, heat the oil in a small saucepan until a chopstick’s point submerged bubbles vigourously. Add half the ginger slices and fry, spooning the oil over the slices occasionally until golden and crisp. Take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

To fry the basil, lower a couple basil leaves to the hot oil – be careful, it will sputter. Fry for 5-10 seconds, until crispy and bright green. Drain on paper towel.

For the halibut, blot the portions dry with paper towel and season the skin side generously with sea salt. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.

Add a couple spoonfuls of the basil frying oil to the pan and swirl to coat in a shimmery layer.Place the halibut portions (don’t crowd the pan, do it in two batches if you need to), skin-side-down in the pan and leave them there for 3 minutes, to really crisp up the skin. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes, you want to see a thin line that is still translucent beige along the sides. Transfer them onto the plate, keeping the skin side facing upwards, and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before plating.

Plate up and serve with a salad as WP suggests or, if it’s a chilly day where you find yourself, consider steaming some green beans and yellow zucchini to brighten up your day!

Enjoy! (And for once, dessert is optional!)

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honey makes it hot

Parents are such sources of wisdom. Even if they’re fuzzy on the mechanics of things, they know the outcome. I guess, most of the time, that’s enough to help a kid grow up without slicing their hands open, putting a crater in their cranium, or in my case, scorching off my entire palate.

For that, in particular, I am so grateful.

I figured this out, not too long ago, and was very intrigued. I’m actually so excited to share this with you. Nerdy, whatever.

So let’s start with the basics. Water, that is, pure H2O, cannot stay in liquid form beyond 100 degrees C. Now, add anything, and since we’re in the kitchen, make that anything be salt or sugar. Now that boiling point temperature becomes higher. In other words, a pot of boiling salted water is hotter than a pot of boiling pure water.

Not cool, I know. Caught that? Good. Let’s keep rolling.

So what do you care? Well, that higher temperature is what makes your pasta taste better, as in with a bite that has a bit more bounce. In fact, the higher temperature results in a more quickly denatured (cooked) gluten (protein), which gives it a more resilient chew. On the other hand, you don’t want this to happen to your meat if you’re simmering or blanching it, the extra pinch of salt will make it tough, same principles.

What about sugar, though? Exactly the same. So, coating your carrots with honey, makes them cook more thoroughly, and results in a sensuously tender, rich, and sweet interior. This you cannot achieve by boiling, which adds water to the flesh, making it mushy, not by simply roasting, which takes forever and leaves them dry and chewy (or worse, with an uncooked center).

Yeah, so the 101 of this whole post: honey, squeeze that bottle.

Is not my word like fire,

declares the Lord,

and like a hammer

that breaks the rock

in pieces?

Jeremiah 23:29

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These carrots are basically candied, and would go well with cool, slightly acidic cheeses like labne, quark, or fromage blanc. Of course, an addition of some crunchy bits like toasted baguette slices, toasted pistachios and some coarse salt and black pepper would make these irresistible. Serve these as part of an appetizer or, equally fitting, a cheese or even dessert course. Just be careful, the carrots will literally burn off the insides of your mouth if you eat them straight out of the oven, and even five minutes after. Experience and my mother’s words of wisdom have taught me restraint when it comes to these.

Ingredients for the lavender honey roasted carrots:

450 g baby heirloom carrots (regular ones will taste just as good)

2 tbsp grape seed oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp chopped lavender leaves (or 2 tsp dried lavender)

1/3 – 1/2 c buckwheat or organic honey

To make the roasted carrots, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with the rack in the middle of the oven. Toss all ingredients, except for the honey in an ovenproof dish until combined. Roast for 20 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Add one third of the honey and continue roasting until the mixtures appear dry. Repeat until carrots are tender and well caramelized.

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

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Pulled Over

“No sir, you can’t just throw barbeque sauce onto some grey pork floss and call it pulled pork.”

We all have something to fight for, something grounded jn the depths of our memory that we treat in a do-or-die sort of way. That is, if you’re going to do it, you better do it right, or don’t even.

Most often our brain’s preference of these subjects is based on our upbringing, in my case, that would be my mother. A treat to imagine though, that my timid, loving, born-and-raised in Taiwan mother is actually a barbeque pulled pork enthusiast.

Thus, by default, I fall somewhat in that category too. Genetics, man.

But I think that gene is secretly inherent in any human being. Seriously, that moment when the pork fibers fell apart at the tip of my fork, the steam burst forth, and the dark amber fat cap unraveled to reveal the rusty pink hued, scallop textured flesh beneath…something instinctive resonated within me.

Epic.

Four ingredients is all you need,

so thank me for blowing your mind up, you’re welcome.

Finishing is better than starting.

Patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

 

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You don’t need a smoker or anything fancy for this. All you need is time, and not even that much of it compared to some other methods you’ll find. One could certainly power through the entire recipe and have it on the table in 7 hours, otherwise you can chill it after shredding for up to 5 days, then finish with the last 2 hours of baking before serving, which thickens the sauce into a sticky, molasses-like glaze. The choice of fruit juice is arbitrary, but I like mango because it reduces into the richest glaze.

Ingredients for the pulled pork, serves 16:

8 lbs local pork shoulder, choose one that’s well marbled

3 tbsp kosher salt

1 bottle (400-425 ml) barbeque sauce ,use your favourite, but if don’t have one, get a darker one that’s more smoky than sweet

1 bottle (400-425 ml) mango juice (I’ve also succeeded with pomegranate, peach, and apple)

To make the pulled pork, remove any string from the pork if it’s in the form of a tied roast. Make a deep cut to butterfly the pork so it is about 3-4 inches thick throughout. Do not trim any of the fat.

Rub the pork all over with salt and place, fat side facing up, in a roasting pan. Squeeze the barbeque sauce over the pork without smearing – you want the sauce to form a cap and sit on top of the meat. Fill the barbeque sauce bottle with the juice and shake it to dissolve the bit of sauce remaining. Pour the mixture around the pork.

Seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil, overlapping a couple of sheets.

Bake at 295 degrees F for 5-5 1/2 hours, until the fat is rendered and meat shreds effortlessly. Shred the pork with two forks while it’s still hot in a separate large bowl and return it back to the pan of pork jus. Discard any visible lumps of fat.

Bake at 300 degrees F, loosely covered for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the sauce reduces into a thick glaze and the color intensifies.

For the coleslaw I did not want anything heavy or mayonnaise-y at all since the pork itself is rich enough. In fact, this method of making coleslaw is inspired by the Taiwanese pickling technique of first making a vinegar simple syrup, then pouring the hot syrup over the vegetables and letting it sit for three days. The result is something incredibly flavourful with a gutsy balance of acidity to cut through the pork’s fattiness just barely mellowed by a touch of mayonnaise.

Ingredients for the lime slaw:

100 ml rice vinegar

100 ml sugar

1 kg coleslaw blend (shredded green cabbage, purple cabbage, and carrots)

1 lime, zest and juice

3 tbsp good quality mayonnaise

To make the lime slaw, dissolve the sugar with the vinegar in a small sauce pan. Pour over the coleslaw blend and mix thoroughly with the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill at least overnight, though it will be best three days later.

To assemble the sandwiches, just pile the warmed pork and cold slaw onto your favourite buns, I recommend a stronger-bodied bread, but really, anything goes. You can’t go wrong with pulled pork.

Enjoy! (And don’t forget the napkins!)