Into the Deep Valley

North of Sequoia National Park and contiguous of it, is Kings Canyon National Park.  Departing from the Grant Grove where many giant sequoias resided just like Sequoia National Park, CA 180 quickly and steadily descended from the rocky peaks of Southern Sierra Nevada. Although Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in the US, registering 8,200 feet from top to bottom, it does not seem to enjoy the fame it deserves among the many popular destinations the Sierra has to offer.  And yet as soon as we stepped into its periphery, we realized its beauty and grandeur were not to be dismissed.

Kings Canyon from the mountain top

The giant shady trees were gone.  Instead, cliffs and domes were bare and rugged, sporadically covered by short shrubs.  The rocks themselves displayed an amazing variety of colors and hues under the crispy clear California sunlight, some golden and shiny like brass, some gray and dense like steel.  On one side of the windy and steep road, the deep valley gradually became visible.  The silver-white traces of rivers stretched across the entire range of solid land in between two lanes of towering mountains, outlining the paths where the massive glacier had mightily scraped through.

At the bottom of the valley, the cliff faces were nearly vertical, with white granite reflecting sunlight beautifully, which once again evidenced the power of glacier that formed and shifted this landscape millions of years ago.  Water was still the main character of the stage here.   Rivers were rushing and roaring among boulders, demonstrating yet another  formidable facet of nature’s forces.   Waterfalls could be found in many places in the valley.  Some were turbulent, immense, and boisterous, others slender, lofty, and delicate.  At places where water became placid, grass and trees flourished, forming patches of green land that were serene and tender.  Water brought such deep and complex character to this geological wonder .

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The Sierra Nevada nourishes California as its main watershed.  Kings Canyon and its humble beauty, despite being shielded by the stark mountains, is a manifestation of the range’s deep nurturing power.  On an otherwise desolate land, what can compare to this source of livelihood that dates back to the beginning of time and endures on?

Although mentally satisfied by Kings Canyon’s unparalleled marvel, we were physically drained after an entire day’s exploration.  In Fresno, which was one of California’s largest cities and only one hour from the park, we enjoyed a relaxed dinner at Koja Kitchen.  This modern Asian Fusion chain was such an interesting depiction of how the culture of Central Valley had evolved over time.  Their miso-coconut braised pork bowl, was an ultimate comfort food to me, mixing deliciously cooked meat, bold flavors, and balanced nutritions.  Coconut is not the most common ingredient in Eastern Asian cooking, but its sweet rich fragrance added a unique flavor to the pork, and the use of miso brought out the best earthiness (or umami) one could ever anticipate from pork.  The inclusion of masago and kimchi in this dish was also ingenious.  Masago brought a delightful burst of saltiness when we bit into the rather mild meat, and kimchi simply balanced the overall flavors with its signature spicy acidic notes.  Fortunately these ingredients are all available in the Asian market near us, and using a crock pot basically means very little time is needed in the kitchen to bring this dish to our dining table.

Original Koja burger and miso-coconut-braised pork bowl from Koja Kitchen
Miso-coconut braised pork with kimchi, masago, salad greens, and brown rice

Recipe serves 6–8

3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch thick slices
1 can (14oz) reduced-fat coconut milk
1–2 TBSP white miso, depending on its saltiness
1 TBSP fish sauce
1 TBSP sake
1 TBSP minced fresh ginger
Half a medium-sized onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/3 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1 scallion, green and white parts, thinly sliced
3-5 oz masago (capelin roe)
Salad greens of choice, with any light vinaigrette, if needed
Unsweetened coconut chips, for garnish (optional)

  1. In a large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tsp vegetable oil on medium heat until hot but not smoking, and sear sliced pork shoulder in batches until all sides are lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes per side.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic with the leftover oil in skillet until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Mix coconut milk, miso, fish sauce, sake, ginger, and cooked onion and garlic in a large bowl. Use a whisk if needed to disperse the miso paste.  Taste the marinade to determine if more miso is needed before marinating the seared pork in the refrigerator overnight.  The saltiness of marinade should be about the same as that of cooked meat to your liking.
  4. Reconstitute shiitake mushrooms, and make sure to wash thoroughly to get rid of any sand they may carry.  Transfer pork with marinade into a crock pot, and cook at low heat for 7-8 hours, or at high heat for 4-5 hours.  Flip the meat at the middle point of the cooking time, and add the mushrooms.
  5. On a large plate, use forks to shred the cooked pork. Transfer the desired amount onto a serving plate, add some liquid and mushrooms from the pot to it, and sprinkle masago, scallion slices, and coconut flakes on top.  Serve warm with the salad greens, kimchi, and rice or bread of choice.  —WZ

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