For healthier holiday, try Christmas pork, not ham
AP Photo | Matthew Mead
In many ways, I'm a totally different person today than I was seven years ago.
Back then, I was about 30 pounds overweight, carting around an unhealthy 20 percent body fat. I mean, I love food. I'm surrounded by food. And it was awfully hard to resist enjoying all the things I love. Especially at the holidays.
But then I realized I could have a healthier attitude about food and a healthier body. I could have the foods I love and maintain a healthy weight. Much of my success came down to learning to tweak the recipes I love into versions that tastes just as good, but with fewer calories and less fat.
My biggest challenge since making these changes has been surviving Christmas. After all, it's a holiday jam packed with great-tasting stuff, from cookies to candies to mashed potatoes to ham. But I really wanted to avoid starting the new year with a round little belly that shakes when I laugh like a bowlful of jelly.
For me, Christmas dinner means ham. I just have to have one. But sadly, ham is loaded with fat, calories, salt and nitrates.
So with this holiday recipe, I decided not to use ham, but to cook and season a healthier pork loin in way that reminds me of ham.
Ham comes from the hind leg of a pig, from the shank to the hip. Pork loin comes from the top back of the pig, making it one of the leanest cuts of pork available and comparable to chicken breast. Pork loin also has other advantages — it's relatively inexpensive, easy to carve and pairs beautifully with pretty much any kind of sweet glaze.
The trick to producing a moist and tasty pork loin roast is to make sure the meat is prepared with plenty of moisture, and to then preserve as much of that moisture as possible. I achieve this by brining the meat, roasting it, then sauteing it.
As with ham, glazing a pork loin roast is important for flavor. Technically, a glaze is a thick sugar coating (think doughnut). I make my own sweet, though sugar-free, glaze with antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice and calorie-free stevia, then thicken it with arrowroot.
I brush the glaze on during the final stages of cooking and serve extra as a sauce on the side (with some mustard and horseradish added to the side sauce). Sounds odds, I know, but combined with the pork, it is magnificent. For additional sweetness, I've studded the pork with cloves, just as you'd traditionally do with a ham.
Complementing this roast are turnips, a vegetable I love. They taste a bit like potatoes, but are lower in starch and calories. Consider: a cup of mashed potatoes can add up to 237 calories; a cup of mashed turnips, only 51 calories. In this recipe, I've sauteed the turnips with the glaze, for something truly delicious.
The other gift in this Christmas dish is how much you save in total calories. My "ham" dinner has just 313 calories and 8 grams of fat per serving. Now that is a sign of happy holidays!
— Be sure to buy a pork loin that does not have any added water or tenderizing solution added to it.
When making the glaze, taste and add packets of stevia sweetener until you are satisfied with the flavor. Stevia brands vary widely in sweetness, so start with one packet and taste as you go.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
3-pound fresh pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat
8 whole cloves
1/2 gallon cold water
1/2 cup kosher salt, plus extra
6 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch wedges
Ground black pepper
1 cup pomegranate juice, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot
Packets stevia sweetener powder, to taste
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup coarse ground or stone ground mustard
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Place the pork on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, make shallow diagonal crisscross cuts over the top and bottom of the roast at 1-inch intervals. Use a metal skewer or meat fork to poke about 60 holes over the surface of the roast, making sure to push the skewer all the way to the center of the roast.
Insert the cloves into the intersections of the cuts on the top of the pork. Set aside.
In a large oven-safe pot, combine the water, 1/2 cup of salt and 4 sprigs of the thyme. Stir to dissolve the salt. Gently submerge the pork in the water and cover with the lid or foil. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until the pork registers 145 F at the center.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium-high, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Add the turnips and toss to coat evenly with oil. Season with salt and pepper, then place in the oven and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the turnips are tender and nicely browned, stirring once or twice.
Pick the leaves off of the remaining 2 sprigs of thyme and add to the turnips. Toss to coat, then set aside.
In a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of the pomegranate juice and the arrowroot until the arrowroot is dissolved. Pour the remaining pomegranate juice into a small saucepan. Add 1 packet of stevia and the cinnamon and heat to simmering. Whisk in the arrowroot mixture. Continue to cook and stir for about 30 seconds, or until the sauce is thickened. Taste and add stevia as needed for desired sweetness. Set aside.
Remove the ham from the cooking liquid and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is smoking, add the pork roast and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned on both sides, turning once. Remove the pork from the pan.
Add half of the pomegranate glaze to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add the pork back to the pan with the glaze and turn to coat the meat completely. Remove the pork from the pan and place on a cutting board. Add the turnips, half of the pomegranate seeds and the tarragon to the glaze in the saute pan. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the turnips are heated through and coated with the glaze. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Whisk the mustard and horseradish into the remaining half of the pomegranate glaze and pour into a small serving dish.
Remove the cloves from the pork, then thinly slice the pork. Place the pork slices on a large platter. Add the turnips to the platter around the pork and sprinkle with the remaining pomegranate seeds. Serve with the mustard and horseradish sauce.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 313 calories; 8 g fat (24 percent calories from fat) (2 g saturated); 107 mg cholesterol; 11 g carbohydrate; 39 g protein; 1 g fiber; 1,421 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rocco DiSpirito is author of the "Now Eat This!" and "Now Eat This! Diet" cookbooks.