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COOKING FOR TWO: Pernil-style pork tenderloin has a spicy red kick

by G. Daniela Galarza, The Washington Post | April 21, 2021 at 1:57 a.m.
Pernil-Style Pork Tenderloin With Mojo Potatoes and Coconut Creamed Spinach (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)

Pernil is Puerto Rican-style roasted pork, and though it’s easy enough to make at home — no large outdoor spit required — it does take a long time to cook. Inspired in part by a recipe in Von Diaz’s “Coconuts and Collards,” her lush memoir and cookbook, this pork tenderloin can be cooked in just 30 minutes after being rubbed with a pernil-style adobo, or marinade. Rich in garlic so as to evoke the flavor of traditional pernil, it also incorporates chili powder — a spice blend of ground red peppers, cumin and oregano — to bring a touch of heat and reddish hue to the pork. Serve it with soft potatoes covered in a quick lemon-onion-garlic sauce and five-minute coconut creamed spinach.

Leftovers may be refrigerated in covered containers for up to 3 days.

Pernil-Style Pork Tenderloin, Mojo Potatoes and Coconut Creamed Spinach

  • For the pork:
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder/seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon or lime (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin
  • For the potatoes:
  • 1 pound (2 or 3 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ small onion (any kind), thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice (from 1 lemon or lime)
  • Pinch finely ground black pepper
  • Small handful torn fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, for garnish (optional)
  • For the spinach:
  • ½ tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
  • 5 ounces (about 5 cups) baby spinach
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • ¼ cup coconut cream
  • ¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus more for garnish
  • Pinch finely ground black pepper
  • Pinch ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated (optional)

Make the pork tenderloin: In a large zip-top bag or bowl, combine the salt, chili powder, oregano, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.

Pat the pork tenderloin dry, then cut 5 or 6 small, shallow slits into it with the tip of a knife — this will help the meat absorb the spices — and place it in the bag with the adobo. Massage the adobo into the meat until well coated on all sides. If you’d like, you can let the meat marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 1 day in advance.

When you’re ready to roast the pork, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, place the tenderloin in the center of the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Using tongs or a fork, flip the tenderloin and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees; the exact roasting time will depend on the thickness of the meat. Let it rest at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Make the potatoes: While the pork cooks, in a large pot over high heat, bring the potatoes and a large pinch of salt to a boil in enough water to cover. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Tip the pot into the sink and drain out almost all of the water, leaving a few tablespoons in with the potatoes. Return the pot to the stove, off heat, but cover and keep warm.

While the potatoes cook: In a small skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, just until the onion and garlic turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and black pepper. Set aside until the potatoes are cooked.

Pour the mojo sauce over the hot potatoes. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Serve garnished with cilantro, if using.

Make the coconut creamed spinach: In a large skillet over medium, heat the coconut oil until it melts. Add the spinach and let it begin to wilt. Add the salt, and let the spinach cool down, release its liquid and mostly dry it out, about 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut cream, orange zest, pepper and nutmeg, if using, and simmer until the coconut cream reduces slightly and thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm, with a bit more orange zest on top.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Carbohydrate choices: 2.

Recipe partially adapted from “Coconuts & Collards” by Von Diaz

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