Pork Sandwich with a Twist

Johnny Autry
by Kim Severson - Georgia - December 2012/January 2013

An Indian riff on an iconic Southern sandwich

At the heart of things, chef Asha Gomez will tell you, the South is the South, whether you’re in her native India or in her adopted American hometown, Atlanta. “Southern regions across the globe are tied,” Gomez says. “We are all close to the tropics. We all grow the same kind of produce. That is huge for me. I can get almost anything here I grew up eating.”

At her restaurant, Cardamom Hill, Gomez turns those familiar ingredients into dishes that show that the door to cultural exchange can easily swing both ways. Take chicken and waffles. Hers features crispy chicken with the light heat of Kerala cooking and rice-flour waffles that sponge up spicy syrup.

Then there is her tribute to that triumvirate of the Southern table: pork, greens, and cornbread. Gomez uses the deep heat of a garlicky pork vindaloo and accents it with cornbread made sweet and aromatic with cardamom. A chop of green beans cooked in oil flavored with mustard seed approximates collard greens enhanced with a piece of streak o’ lean. The resulting dish, piled high to resemble an open-faced sandwich, dances happily between the American South and the Indian one, and underscores the similarities between cultures.

“Southern food is unpretentious food,” Gomez says. “It’s food from the soul. It’s just delicious food on a plate.”

Pork Vindaloo 
with Cardamom Cornbread and 
Green Beans
serves 6

Ingredients (Pork)
12 cloves garlic
1 tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cut into medium dice
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

In a blender combine garlic, paprika, sugar, salt, tomato paste, vinegar, and water, and blend until it is a smooth paste.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, and stir until light golden. Add meat and paste; stir well to coat and reduce heat to medium. Stir in red pepper flakes. Cover and cook for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover and check consistency of sauce. If it seems thin, cook over high heat for three to five minutes to thicken.

Ingredients (Green Bean & Thyme Verrakka)
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 lb. green beans, sliced into ¼-inch-thick coins
10 sprigs of thyme, chopped
1 tsp. salt

Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add cumin seeds. Stir in beans, thyme, and salt. Stir-fry for about four minutes.
Ingredients (Cardamom Cornbread)
½ stick unsalted butter, plus more for pan preparation
½ cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp. baking powder
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. crushed cardamom seeds
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch-square pan or large cast-iron skillet with butter.

Melt butter in the pan or skillet, and stir in sugar. Add the buttermilk and eggs, and stir to combine. Stir in flour, baking powder, cornmeal, cardamom seeds, pepper, and salt.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

To serve, place a square of cornbread on a plate, spoon pork over the cornbread, and top with a large spoonful of stir-fried green beans.

Meet the Chef: Asha Gomez

Hometown: Thiruvananthapuram, India
Restaurant: Cardamom Hill, Atlanta, Georgia
On the menu: Braised short ribs with polenta; roast duck
Her son’s first words: Gomez brought 
Ethan over from India when he was two. He didn’t speak for a year. Then the first thing he said was “Mom, I’m hungry.”