Monday, March 21, 2011

Kale, Yeah!

This morning, I saw a commercial that may well earn a spot in the Annoying NY1 Ad Hall of Fame alongside Pillow Pets and the Sarah MacLachlan abused-animals-wondering-what-they-did-wrong ones. In it, a woman says something like, “Don’t you wish vegetables didn’t taste so vegetable-y?”


Of course, my mind immediately went to Alyce’s “Veggie Rage” post expressing, well, rage at those who would make us feel vegetables are something to be endured rather than enjoyed. (I believe the ad went on to tout some product that made a mix of fruit and vegetable juices taste solely like fruit, but even if I did recall its name I certainly wouldn’t plug it.)

Now, I like a big hunk of meat as much as the next guy—and by "next guy" I mean Homer Simpson marveling at the “wonderful, magical animal” that makes pork, bacon, and ham. But I also appreciate the flavor and texture of veggies in their own right, not when disguised as meat or fruit or what have you. If I’m going to make vegetables, they’re damn well going to taste vegetable-y.

In that spirit, here’s a recipe for kale—much like Brussels sprouts, a super-nutritious green that is often unfairly maligned because people don’t know the simple ways to cut its bitterness and bring out its intense flavor ... which turns out to be a surprisingly great complement to a rich meat-driven dish.

The proportions of this recipe are easily multiplied. Tonight I was cooking for myself; I used half a bunch of kale, which as it turned out could have been two generous servings. Note: A bunch of raw kale looks like it could feed an army, but cooks down to a fraction of its size, so resist the urge to use far less than a recipe calls for.

  • After thoroughly rinsing the kale, remove the stems; they are edible, but much thicker than the leaves, and this imbalance will mess up your cooking time. The stems come off very easily: Just encircle each one between your thumb and forefinger, then pull the stem down through that circle so the fronds separate from it. This will make sense when you do it, trust.

  • Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, over medium heat.

  • Toss in a small, or 1/2 large, onion, sliced thin. (The pieces needn’t be uniform size.) Stir to coat with oil.

  • When the onion starts to get soft and translucent, chop a handful of kale leaves—again, don’t worry about size uniformity—then toss in, sprinkle with coarse kosher or sea salt, and stir to coat. Repeat these steps, with the exception of the salting, until (duh) you have used up all the kale.

  • Once the kale softens a little, add some coarsely chopped garlic. I like a lot, like six cloves; garlic is one important way to bring out the flavor of bitter greens. I add it at this stage rather than with the onions so that there’s no fear of it burning, which will definitely bring out the greens’ bitterness in a highly unpleasant way.

  • Unless you’re a spicy-phobe, add a sprinkle of dried crushed red pepper flakes.

  • Add 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock and turn up the heat to high. This is the crucial step in cutting the greens’ bitterness, which gets absorbed into the liquid as the greens are infused with the stock’s savory flavor. Water will do in a pinch.

  • Once the liquid is bubbling vigorously, turn the burner down to medium-low and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the kale is tender to your liking; I’d say about 15 minutes. If all the liquid cooks off and the greens are still too tough, keep adding stock, or water, and cooking until they’re good to go.

  • Stirring in half a can of white beans, drained, about 5 minutes in would make this a protein-ful veggie main, which you could serve with some grated Parmesan over rice or pasta. I served my kale over a baked sweet potato, though you can’t really tell from the photo above.

    Full disclosure: You also can’t tell from the photo that right after I took it, I slapped a reheated leftover boneless pork chop on top of the kale. Gentle reader, I didn’t want the true vegetarians out there to be turned off by the picture…but I apologize if you have read this far and now feel betrayed. I just have a thing for the “magical animal,” okay?

    So there you have it: a healthy, cheap vegetarian dish ... that happens to pair perfectly with a hunk of pork. I’m just saying. Hey, it still tastes vegetable-y.

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