This dish is from the recipe booklet American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland. The Eastern heartland doesn’t seem that well-defined to me. The states included in this “region” are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. There are quite a few recipes of Quaker origin, and there are some that have Philadelphia in the name, as in Philadelphia Pepper Pot. And then there’s Martha Washington’s Grand Leg of Lamb, and quite a few German recipes. I just learned that the “Dutch” part of Pennsylvania Dutch is derived from Deutsch, which explains the German influence.
The authors christened the region the “eastern heartland” for culinary reasons, but had high hopes of “geography books following suit.” I don’t think it has happened. Personally I just think the Time-Life people wanted another book in the series.
Here’s an excerpt from the introduction by James Beard:
“Eastern Heartland cooking is stick-to-the-ribs stuff, more plain than fancy, given to substantial meat dishes, dumplings, breads, pies. It does not have the austere background of the New England style, or the glamorous background of some of the Southern style; but it is hearty, appetizing, often exciting and always good.”
No matter the ill-defined description of this culinary region, the recipes all look good. According to my notes, (I always make notes in cookbooks) I loved the corn custard, the pumpkin bread, the Philadelphia cinnamon rolls, deviled short ribs, stuffed fresh ham, as well as this recipe.
I’m sure you all know how much I love lentils by now – they’re so inexpensive, and yet they’re so good for you. They require a little soaking time, but even that can be sped up with hot water, and then the cooking process is quick and easy.
I hope you can find smoked pork chops where you live, because this combination is perfect. I’ll type the recipe exactly as it is in the recipe booklet, and make comments afterwards.
Smoked Pork Chops and Lentils
To serve 6
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 1/2 cups chicken stock, fresh or canned
2 1/2 cups dried lentils
1 cup finely chopped scallions, including 2 inches of the green tops
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
6 six-ounce smoked loin pork chops, each cut about 1 inch thick
In a heavy 4- to 5-quart casserole, heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the garlic and stir for a minute or so, then pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the lentils, scallions and parsley and, when the mixture returns to a boil, add the pork chops and turn them about with kitchen tongs to moisten the evenly.
Cover the casserole tightly, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but not falling apart. Taste for seasoning and serve at once, directly from the casserole or, if you prefer, mound the lentils on a heated platter and arrange the pork chops attractively around them.
So that’s the recipe. I was really tempted to just brown the pork chops in a skillet, since they don’t require any cooking, but I decided to follow the recipe. However, I used 1 1/2 cups dry lentils, and 4 smoked pork loin chops.
For this dish I’m using little black lentils called beluga lentils. Why are they called beluga lentils? Do they look like mini whales? I have no idea. But nonetheless that’s what I’m using. And I’m trying to get the picture of little whales out of my head…
Lentils don’t require soaking, but I do it anyway. I’ve always read that when you soak beans and then drain the water away, the water takes with it the potential for bean-related flatulence, to which some people are extremely sensitive. (Personally I just think they don’t eat enough beans, but that’s just me!) So I soak lentils. It reduces the cooking time, as well, so for this recipe I cooked the lentils for only about 20 minutes, not the 45 minutes it states in the recipe.
Verdict: The pork chops, not surprisingly, are moist and delicious, and pair beautifully with these lentils. With just the simple additions of garlic,green onions and parsley, the lentils are a savory joy to eat.