Monday, December 1, 2008

Kaling Me Softly

Kale is an underappreciated vegetable, and I know this for two reasons. One, Trader Joe's doesn't sell it and, at least here in Bethesda, Trader Joe's decides what everyone eats at home. Two, a pound of it costs only a buck-twenty at Safeway. Do you know how much kale it takes to get to a pound? Considering that its weight is comparable to looseleaf paper, the answer is quite a lot.

BUT! Kale is great, and everyone should eat more of it, especially when you are feeling as zaftig as I feel now. Thanksgiving came and went, and all I got was this lousy back flab. Until recently, though, I did not take full advantage of kale's health benefits. I would cook it for a very long time, usually in bacon fat. I'm no scientist, but I surmise that whatever vitamins (K, C, A, and B6) and other nutrients (fiber and potassium come to mind) kale offers somehow disappear when cooked this way, leaving you with little more than a discolored, if quite tasty, slop to pair with your boiled ham.

The kale in the following recipe is cooked for a much shorter period, which I hope makes it healthier and I know makes it better for reheating as leftovers. Also, thanks to the addition of beans, it rises among the side dish ranks and is possibly up for promotion to main course. Certainly, it makes an ideal light main course for those of us who fear we might soon develop cankles. Oh, who am I kidding? Next post will feature cornbread-crusted chili.

Recipe: Add-a-few-years-to-your-life Kale and Beans
This recipe is inspired by, but loosely based on, Deborah Madison's kale with cannellini beans from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I omitted rosemary, which probably would've been good, but I didn't feel like buying it. I added some sugar as well as lemon, since I happened to have one and since I thought it would somehow make the kale taste fresher. Her recipe calls for white wine, which I don't usually buy -- but I had some red on hand. I plan to continue to use red, as the reduction sauce looks much more dramatic this way. You could also use vinegar, if you or your budget prefers. But you definitely need some kind of acid here to temper the bitterness of the kale. Assuming you already have the majority of the ingredients, this recipe need not cost much more than $2, or about 33 cents per serving.
Serves 6 as light main course.

1 lb kale, ribs removed
1.5 T olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, minced
1/2 t sugar
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 C red wine (preferred) or white wine or vinegar
1.5 C white beans (may use any other bean, too)
juice of one lemon quarter (optional, but highly recommended)

Place all of the kale in a large pot and fill it with water so about half the kale is covered. Bring to a slow simmer on medium heat. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Drain and return to pot. This technique is sort of a lazy man's braise. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in another relatively large pot over medium heat. Add the minced shallot or onion and sugar, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cooking an additional minute. Add the wine or vinegar, and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until wine or vinegar is reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add beans, kale, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to your taste.


Sara M. said...

mmm, delicious kale! but where's the monkey bread, lady?

DEO said...

Never fear, friend, but thanks for reminding me! The monkey bread will soon be featured -- I'm thinking it would be great around Christmastime.