Banana leaves add a tea-like herbal note to the pork. The accompanying sauce, called manchamantel (or “tablecloth stainer”), is a specialty of Oaxaca, Mexico, and combines the sweetness of banana with smoky chiles, earthy pine nuts, and fragrant spices. Serve this pork as a taco filling along with tortillas, queso fresco, and avocados, or use it in pulled-pork sandwiches.
Toast the cumin seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant; let cool. In a spice grinder, finely grind the cumin seeds, oregano, paprika, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Transfer the spices to a small bowl and stir in the brown sugar and 1 Tbs. salt. In a large bowl, toss the meat with the spice mixture to coat.
Rinse the banana leaves and pat dry. If using fresh stiff leaves, use tongs to briefly hold the leaves over a gas stove burner on medium heat, or under the broiler, moving them around constantly to avoid singeing, until they are flexible, 15 to 30 seconds. (If using frozen, this step is not necessary.)
Line a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven with one of the banana leaves, allowing the excess to hang over the edge of the pot. Cross the second banana leaf over the first, again allowing the excess to hang over the edge. Spoon the pork onto the banana leaves.
Place a sieve over a medium bowl and drain the tomatoes, pressing them to extract the juice. Pour 1-1/2 cups of the tomato juice over the pork. Reserve the tomatoes for the sauce and discard or save the remaining juice for another use.
Sprinkle the pork with the garlic. Cover the meat with the overhanging banana leaves and then cover the pot with its lid. Braise the pork in the oven, basting occasionally with juices from the bottom of the pan, until fork-tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a colander set in a bowl and let drain for 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the banana leaves and pour the pan juices into a fat separator or large measuring cup. Add any juice that drained from the meat and let sit until the fat rises to the top. Separate the fat from the juice and discard it. If there is more than 1 cup of juice, reduce it in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat to just about 1 cup; transfer to a heatproof container. Shred the pork into the Dutch oven; keep warm.
This recipe worked well. We made soft corn tacos with cilantro, lime and queso fresco, which we enjoyed. The sauce was well balanced but a little on the sweet side for our taste. I may make it again and serve the braised pork without the sauce. It was delicious at that stage.
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