I didn’t think it was possible to feel full from half a dozen oysters, but that was before I went down to The Big Easy.
It was only my second visit to New Orleans. The first was right after Katrina, and much of the city was still recovering. So needless to say, this trip really felt like the true taste of all the city had to offer.
Our first stop was at Peche, a modern seafood joint that was raved about by nearly every friend I pestered for food recommendations. By 6pm, there was already a 2 hour wait for a table. So Charlie and I posted up at the bar and did what we usually do: we ordered oysters.
When the big baddies from the Gulf showed up, we were equal parts impressed and terrified. One was as hefty and long as my palm. It looked more like a cow’s tongue than a shellfish—an ideal body mass for deep-frying and stuffing inside a po’boy, but not for taking down in one slurp.
I struggled awkwardly to bite them in half after my gag reflex and I came dangerously close to admitting defeat. Not a good look at an intimate table for two, but even less so at a crowded bar full of locals. Luckily, Charlie manned up and took the last few off my hands, which felt like the right team decision since I was already suffering through watching him eat some ridiculous-looking catfish stuffed shrimp.
Unfortunately for us glutards, the best things in NOLA are deep fried and/or stuffed inside a sandwich. And if it hadn’t been for the bowls upon bowls of late night jambalaya, the FOMO might have killed me quicker than the flour.
Despite the theme of breading and beignets, one small healthy hedonism brownie point we can all find solace in is that NOLA specialties usually contain a much more modest amount of meat (with the exception of the plate of ribs I enjoyed at The Joint). Rice is used in jambalaya and gumbo to make a little protein go a long way. Cajun shrimp is served atop grits. And while none of those dishes are the face of healthy whole food porn, they’re much less likely to give you the meat sweats than an 8-ounce pork chop in the middle of your plate.
These are principles that, without even realizing it, I integrated into this Southern-inspired sheet pan roasted pork tenderloin recipe before I left for NOLA.
One of the reasons why I like working with the tenderloin is not because it’s leaner than the aforementioned pork chop, but because you can stretch it to feed more people. It may be pricier, but you don’t need much to create a deceptively grand centerpiece. And by slicing it thin, you can play tricks on certain meat-loving significant others who might not realize that their four pieces of pork amounts to only half of the pork chop they’re used to eating.
This leaves more room to fill the plate with other healthy southern favorites: butternut squash, black-eyed peas and leeks.
The best part about this meal is that it seamlessly comes together on one sheet pan. The squash gets tender and silky, the leeks sweet and caramelized, and the peas crisp and hearty. A combination of whole and Dijon mustard in the pork marinade adds a bright, peppery pop that offsets the sweetness of the veggies. And the remaining sauce can be served as a vinaigrette on the side.
There are endless variations on this one pan meal: swap the black-eyed peas for garbanzos, leeks for shallots or delicata squash for butternut. Dress it with any spices you like, including, say, a creole blend from a recent trip.
Regardless of how many bowls of late night jambalaya and plates of ribs you’ve enjoyed in the last week, this weeknight roasted pork tenderloin recipe with warming fall veggies is a great way to find more balance while still enjoying your favorite other white meat. Or just pretend it’s made with the other other white meat (baby!) and real eyes and serve it for Halloween to scare the kiddos.
From one healthy, southern-inspired hedonist, to another,
Sheet Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Squash, Black-Eyed Peas and Mustard Sauce
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- 2 pounds pork tenderloin (about 2 loins)
- 1 leek, dark green section trimmed
- 4 cups finely diced butternut squash (from one 2-pound squash)
- 2 cups cooked black eyed peas (from one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the mustards, maple syrup, cider vinegar, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the pork tenderloin in the center and spoon half the mustard sauce over the top. Using a spatula (or your hands!), slather it over the pork and make sure it’s in every nook and cranny. Set aside at room temperature.
Half the leeks lengthwise and rise them under cold water, fanning out the layers to make sure any grit gets washed off. Thinly slice into half-moons and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the squash, black eyed peas, 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Arrange in an even layer around the pork and transfer the sheet pan to the oven.
Roast the pork for 25 minutes, or until lightly caramelized on the top. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the pork to a cutting board to rest under foil.
Redistribute the vegetables in an even layer and return to the oven to roast until caramelized, another 10 minutes.
Once it's rested for 10 minutes, thinly slice the pork and transfer to a serving platter alongside the vegetables. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.