Use sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts, cilantro instead of basil, anejo cheese instead of Parmesan and what have you got? A Mexican pesto that has a little more body than its classic counterpart.
Here, we've extended the salty crunch of the sunflower seeds by using them to coat pounded medallions of pork tenderloin. They'll cook fast; in about the time it takes to make the pesto.
You'll have lots more pesto than needed for this dish, and that's a good thing. This pesto would be great stirred into scrambled eggs or as a soft bed for eggs Benedict, as mix-in for cold pasta salads or a dip for vegetables. It can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Serve with a corn and black bean salad.
- 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin or boneless pork chops
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 or 2 tablespoons for the skillet
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) roasted sunflower seeds
- 2/3 cup crisp fried onions, such as Lars Own brand
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1/2 jalapeño pepper
- 1 or 2 limes
- 3/4 cup (4 ounces) crumbled añejo cheese (may substitute feta cheese)
Trim any visible pockets of fat and any silver skin from the tenderloin. Cut it crosswise into 8 equal pieces. Place two at a time inside a resealable plastic food storage bag (do not seal); pound to a thickness of about 1/4 inch so that you have flat, thin and wide paillards. Rub a little oil on both sides of each one, then season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper.
In a bowl of a food processor, combine 1 cup (5 ounces) of the sunflower seeds and the fried onions in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely ground. Transfer to a wide, shallow plate.
Place the paillards in the sunflower seed-onion mixture, turning to coat lightly on both sides. (If it looks like you'll run short on the coating, just coat one side of each paillard.)
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm 1 to 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the paillards (all should fit) and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes; the meat should be white beneath the coating. Turn them over and cook until browned on the second side and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the coating from getting too browned.
While the meat is cooking, make the pesto: Wash and dry the cilantro; cut the stems at the point they have no leaves and discard. Place the leaves in the bowl of a food processor.
Seed the jalapeno and cut into several pieces. Juice the limes to yield 2 or 3 tablespoons; add both to the food processor. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and pulse several times until coarsely chopped. Add the cheese and turn the motor on. With the motor running, slowly add the 1/2 to 3/4 cup oil (depending on the desired pesto consistency). Transfer to a serving bowl and season with a little black pepper.
To serve, place 2 paillards on each plate; cut each one into diagonal slices, if desired. Spoon some of the cilantro pesto onto the meat, and place the bowl of pesto on the table for extra helpings. Serve warm.
The pesto recipe is from "Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor" by Marcela Valladolid (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick and Kari Sonde.
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