Pick of the Month, January ’08

January 23, 2008

So, the holidays are over, and with their departure left a way of eating. I’m not referring to any personal battles with avoiding extra holiday weight — it’s more about the flavors and types of foods that carry us from Halloween straight through until New Year’s Eve (and yes, those happen to be foods that can reputedly add a pant size to many an overzealous soul). There’s lots of sugar, baked goods, and fragrant spices; much thought of roasted poultry and rich sauces. And in my case, for some reason, a lot of time spent consuming dark chocolate. (Still not sure what that was all about, but it was a personal highlight of The Holidays, ’07.)

Then comes January. The party’s over, people start regretting their resolutions, and tax season looms. The clothing stores are already stocked with bathing suits (is that some sort of sick retail joke? payback for a less-than-stellar Black Friday?), and winter viruses start spreading like Santa-Ana-fueled wildfires. All of the flavor excitement of the past 3 months is history, and we’re left wondering what meal can comfort and keep our interest until the weather warms and the trees return to green.

Well, it won’t help you with your 1040s, but this month’s Pick can both warm your soul and boost your immunity. This winter I encourage you to utilize one of my favorite of the green veggies: kale.

For many years, I thought kale was an inedible. My first experience with it was using it as a garnish in the displays at Chic-fil-A (my first food service job, in high school), and I really thought that it was purely decorative greenery, like a pine-needle centerpiece. The first time I ever ate it was as a side-dish in the infamous Lula, where I worked as a server. It took one bite for me to like it, and I immediately started cooking it at home, trying to mimic the Lula preparation. A few years after that, I started to understand how good for you kale really is.

It is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. A few ounces can pack in a majority of an adult’s daily needs of Vitamins A & C, and beta-carotene. Not to mention respectable doses of calcium and iron. It has trace amounts of a host of other good things, and plenty of anti-oxidants to boot. The wiki page even mentions its use in WWII, where it was grown and consumed by troops to help supplement the nutrients missing from their meager frontline diets. If it can help keep men killing each other, seems to me it could do a lot to help kill the common cold.

But…

No buts.

It’s a green.

I know.

I don’t eat greens. They’re slimy, and bitter. I’ll just take a multi-vitamin and hope for the best.

Oh, but read on: kale is delightful. It is unlike any other green in texture and flavor. It is — get this — mild. And not the least bit slimy, even when cooked. All it takes is a few minutes, a hot skillet, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and you have a side dish that complements almost any entrée. It makes a hearty and comforting addition to soups such as the Portuguese caldo verde, and could replace spinach or collards in many other recipes. My favorite variety is plain ol’ green kale (other varieties in the grocery store include lacinato and red). You can keep it unwashed in a plastic bin in the refrigerator for about a week. One bunch, sautéed, can feed about 4 people. Here’s my method for sautéed kale:

  • one bunch kale, washed well and patted dry with paper towels, leaves torn from the tough center stems and rough-chopped into palm-sized pieces
  • a tablespoon or two of olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add as much kale as will fit in the pan (it will pile high, but cook down), and cook, stirring and tossing the leaves frequently. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the leaves reduce, turn bright green, and soften. Add a few drops of the vinegar, and a touch of salt and pepper. Taste for texture and seasoning (I usually let mine brown a little in spots, it gets a slightly crunchy texture that way), remove from heat, and serve immediately.

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