Leave it to me to appropriate a vegetarian dish for a meaty use. We were at a housewarming last weekend thrown by the adult daughter of a friend from our St. Louis days. She and her roommate have a lovely new Humboldt Park apartment, and it was filled with a lively crowd – including an impressive contingency of fairly newly minted babies. We seem to be going through a period right now where many of our friends, old and new, are young.
A good number of them are also vegetarian – or at least are mindful of their vegetarian friends. There were no bacon-wrapped dates among the hors d’oeuvres at this party. No chicken satay skewers. But there was a delicious dip made with feta cheese and black olives. As Marion and I sampled it on bits of flatbread cracker, we did what we always do when tasting something intriguing, usually in a restaurant. We analyzed its components. Feta. Black olives. That looks like fresh dill. Is that sun-dried tomato?
Next, we did what we always do next. We thought about how we might adapt it, do something a little different with it. Marion suggested tossing it with freshly cooked pasta, letting the heat of the pasta warm the salsa and bring its flavors to life. As wonderful as that sounds, I went straight to meat. I like to claim that I’m an omnivore – and we are eating less meat these days, have been for a while. But honestly, I’m a carnivore who also happens to like vegetables.
I’ve been craving pork chops lately, and the idea of a mound of crumbled feta, chopped olives, dill and other yet-to-be-determined flavorings heaped on said chops sounded just about perfect. It was. My own version of the dip-turned-salsa included red onion for its sweetness, color and crunch, and lemon juice and zest. I pan seared the chops, but grilling them would add some smoky goodness. This would also be good on burgers or grilled chicken breasts and flat out amazing on lamb chops.
Pork Chops with Feta and Olive Salsa
4 bone-in pork chops, about 1/3-third to 1/2-pound each
coarse kosher salt
1-1/2 cups crumbled good quality feta (preferably not pre-crumbled)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped black olives
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
zest of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Dry brine the chops. This step will help tenderize the chops and keep them juicy. You can skip this step, but I like its effect on the meat. Sprinkle a generous amount of coarse kosher salt on both sides of the chops, as mush as a teaspoon per side. Set aside in a single layer on a plate for as little as 15 minutes to up to overnight (refrigerate if brining for more than 1/2 hour). Rinse chops under running water and pat dry with paper towels. If you refrigerated the chops, let the rinsed and dried chops rest on a fresh plate (aka not fridge-cold) on the counter for 1/2 hour before cooking, so they’re not ice cold when they hit the skillet.
2. Meanwhile, make the salsa. Do this just before you’re ready to cook the chops. Combine the feta, olives, red onion, dill, and lemon zest and juice in a bowl. Stir gently to mix everything together. Set aside.
3. Season chops generously with freshly ground black pepper. If you did dry brine them, do NOT add any more salt—they will be plenty salty. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet big enough to accommodate the chops over medium-high flame. When the pan is good and hot, cook the chops on the first side until nicely browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the chops and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness of chops. A little pink inside is okay—a quick read thermometer should register at least 145 degrees F when inserted into center of the chop.
4. Plate chops and top with salsa. Let rest for a few minutes to allow the juices in the chops to allow the juices to redistribute and the feta to slightly melt. Serve.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Braised Pork Chops with Earl Grey Tea, Cider and Fennel