July 10, 2012

Spicy Carnitas with Homemade Wheat Tortillas

There has been a proliferation of catchy songs this year that have become very big over the summer. Carly Rae Jesperson's "Call Me Maybe" is as ubiquitous as the Macarena of the mid-90s and Gotye's "Somebody that I Used to Know" is getting close. (At least in my car last week it was.) Then, on the deeper side of things, there is this exquisite duo of Swedish sisters called First Aid Kit, who sing a haunting single called "Emmylou." Emmylou is quickly becoming the sound of summer for me. I can't get over those pristine thirds, the tight harmonies, the cold, dusty guitar accompaniment. The words are poignant - they speak of the end of summer and ghosts of the past, but of partnerships that stand pure and unwavering. Interestingly, these young sisters illustrate their passion for American music duos through references of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash and his beloved June. The chorus goes like this:

I'll be your Emmylou and I'll be your June
I'll be your Gram and your Johnny too,
No I'm not asking much of you,
Just sing little darling, sing with me. 

I love the simplicity of these lyrics - as if there is nothing sweeter and more meaningful than singing (or dancing, or cooking) with the one you love. I've been so enamored with First Aid Kit, their perfect American accents and their references of American music, that it's caused me to think about authenticity. When I first heard them I could have sworn they were from the American West. The music video (seen here) is even filmed out in Joshua Tree National Park. How funny to think of these Swedish teenagers in the Arizona desert paying homage to Gram Parsons, broadening the horizons of modern folk music. Inauthentic? I don't think so.

Turning a sharp corner, I think about authenticity in cooking as well. How can I ever presume to cook Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, or anything that I enjoy with more authenticity in restaurants? I guess it's because "authenticity" is really just illusion; the concept certainly is changing in our globalized world. Perhaps being "authentic" is simply being true to your own style, friendships, and relationships. Not making excuses for your imperfect, jagged tortillas and making classic Mexican dishes in a crock pot plugged into the wall. Maybe that's just me, but perhaps I can just pull off this dish in the taste department.

And speaking of crock pots, I've been trying to find ways to use my new one (which I adore and can't imagine not having in my life) while still embracing the cool tastes of summer. Turning on the crock pot for a few hours is certainly a better alternative than an overworked oven emitting hot, sticky waves all through your house. So last week I found this tasty summer crock pot treat that truly embraced our summer tastes but didn't crank up the heat. We slathered these pork carnitas onto chewy homemade tortillas and topped them with cool sour cream, sliced avocado, and lime. Put on some modern folk music, throw a classic margarita in the mix and you have yourself a fine summer night!

Spicy Crock-Pot Carnitas
Serves 4-6

2-pound pork sirloin, fat trimmed
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dry adobo
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf

Season pork generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat in a heavy skillet until sides are just brown and crispy. Let rest for about 10 minutes to cool; meanwhile, prepare the rub. 
Mix adobo, cumin, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. When pork is sufficiently cool, rub minced garlic on all sides and follow up with the dry rub. 
Place pork in crock pot and cover with chicken broth and bay leaf. Cook on high for 4 hours. 

After 4 hours, pull pork apart with two forks and let simmer for a little while longer in the crock pot. While the pulled pork finishes, make your tortillas.

Wheat Tortillas
Makes about 18

4 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
3/4 - 1 cup vegetable oil*
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3/4 cup very hot water (slightly cooled from boiling point)

*While lard is the typical fat used in homemade tortillas, I found that vegetable oil worked almost just as well. I also used a combination of vegetable and sunflower oil but I think the sunflower was just a bit too light and smooth for tortilla purposes. 

Heat a griddle on medium high. Mix flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in oil and then water on top. Mix with hands until just combined then dump onto a floured surface and knead for a few seconds until dough becomes smooth. If your dough is too dry, you may add more water incrementally until it is easier to handle.
 Break off 18-20 pieces and roll in round balls. Place balls on a sheet of parchment paper or even back in your mixing bowl and let them rest for about half an hour. This allows the dough to puff up and gives the finished tortillas a beautiful lightness. 
With a rolling pin, roll each ball until fairly thin, about 6-8 inches round. Place rounds onto griddle and cook about 1 minute on each side. Note that these cook up very quickly so watch them! When the sides and middle start to bubble, that's when you flip. Overcooking will lead to a dense and chewy tortilla. 
 Place finished tortillas on a plate and cover with a warm towel until ready to eat. Serve with carnitas, sour cream, avocado, lime and cilantro to garnish. 

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