A summery fruit salad and spicy pork tenderloin might not seem the most natural pairing — until you consider the precedents of pork chops with apple sauce and Italian prosciutto with melon.
Truth is, cooks have been pairing sweet fruits and savory meats for centuries. And there’s something about the subtle inherent sweetness of pork tenderloin that makes it a prime candidate. That’s why we experimented with this recipe from our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less.
This colorful dish is a study in contrasting flavors and temperatures, sweet cool fruit balancing the warm spice of succulent pork. We draw on the fresh and spicy fruit salads of Mexico to create a dish of seared and spiced pork paired with cool, crunchy melon and cucumber. Ground cumin and ancho chili powder add a savory depth to the salad and the spice rub.
For an optional salty, tangy accent, offer crumbled queso fresco at the table for sprinkling.
Be sure not to cut the cooked pork without first letting it rest. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the muscle fibers so they don’t flow out when the meat is cut. That keeps the pork juicy.
Chili-Rubbed Pork with Cucumber-Melon Salad
Start to finish: 35 minutes
5 teaspoons ancho chili powder, divided
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1-pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin and cut crosswise into 3 pieces
2 teaspoons lime zest, divided, plus 3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons light agave syrup, divided
2 cups cubed seedless red watermelon (about 8 ounces)
2 cups cubed cantaloupe (about 8 ounces)
½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
5 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint, divided
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the middle position. In a medium bowl, mix 2 teaspoons of the chili powder, the cumin, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Add the pork and toss to coat, massaging the seasonings into the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a 10-inch oven-safe skillet over medium, toast the remaining 3 teaspoons chili powder, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the lime zest, 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the agave and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to dissolve the salt, then add the watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber and 4 tablespoons of the mint. Toss, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
In the same skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until beginning to smoke. Add the pork and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Move the skillet to the oven and roast until the center of the thickest piece reaches 140°F or is just barely pink when cut into, 9 to 12 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together the remaining 1 teaspoon lime zest, the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, the remaining 1 tablespoon agave and the remaining 1 tablespoon mint. Cut each piece of pork in half lengthwise, then crosswise into bite-size pieces. Add the pork and any accumulated juices to bowl and toss to coat.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the melon salad to a serving platter, then top with the pork. Pour the liquid from the melon salad into a small bowl and serve with the melon and pork.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap