Wednesday, August 26, 2009

DF24: Lacinato Kale

Since I'm not eating dairy, it's important for me to choose other high-calcium foods. Leafy greens (except spinach) generally are high in calcium. Organic Lacinato Kale was on sale half-price at WF, and I've always wanted to try it. It's a lovely dark green color with sort of savoyed leaves, and looks a lot more like chard than the typical kale, which I think is usually called Russian kale. So into the cart it went.

Lacinato kale is an heirloom Italian variety and is popular in various regions of Italy. It's a relative newcomer here, at least to the stores where I shop, probably due to the difficulties of getting the heirloom seeds for commercial production.

I am one of those strange individuals that adores cooked greens in just about any form. I've been trying to convert DC into a greens-lover as well, and have had good success with chard. He was not big on the Lacinato, unfortunately. I served the Lacinato with Turkish Burgers (yeah, we just had those, but I needed something easy to fix). True to his meatatarian tendencies, DC ate his burger with gusto.

Fresh chard, kale, and other greens are really a bit of a pain to prepare, so don't choose them when you are rushed or preparing several other dishes. They are a pain because they require quite a bit of care and handling. If I am planning to use them in a soup rather than as a side dish by themselves, frozen chopped greens will answer very well to this purpose, and what could be easier than opening the bag and dumping them in the soup?

First, always wash fresh greens carefully, as many greens tend to trap sand. This bunch was pretty clean, but better safe than sorry. A mouthful of grit will surely turn anyone off greens. The easiest way I have found to wash them is to put them in a sinkful of tepid water for a few minutes, and then carefully lift them out and drain.

The dirt will sink to the bottom of the sink and stay there, as long as you don't churn up the water when removing the greens.

Second, kale, and lacinato is no exception, has a very tough center rib/stem that must be removed before cooking. Again, the easiest way I have found to do this is to turn the leaves over and cut alongside either side of the rib, up to the part where it's small enough to get tender at the same time as the leaves, and then chop it off at that point.

This leaves you with a kind of swallow-tailed remnant.

I have seen suggestions to cut the kale stems into pieces and cook with the leaves, but I have never found them to get tender or be particularly tasty. I toss 'em. Yeah, seems like a waste. They aren't even good for vegetable stock, as they are a cruciferous vegetable and you never want to put those in your stock, as they will dominate the flavor and make it bitter. They might be ok in a long-cooking soup where you might use cabbage. Lacinato leaves are supposed to stand up to long cooking times better than other types of greens, making them ideal for soups.

Finally, stack the leaves 5 or 6 at at time and slice cross-wise into 1 inch strips.

They cook down amazingly, so you will need a large pile of raw greens to serve 3-4 people.

I will share my free-form recipe for sauteed greens below. You can adapt it for many kinds of greens. If you are cooking a more tender green, like chard, it will need much less cooking time to become tender, probably 3-4 minutes of saute time and 5-6 minutes of braising time, depending on how tender you like the stems.

I find most greens to have an affinity for garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes, so that is my standard seasoning combo. Of course, traditionally you'd use some part of the pig (hog jowls, ham hocks, or bacon drippings) to season the greens, but extra-virgin olive oil works fine for me, since I'm doing a quick rather than a long cooking technique.

I really don't think you can have too much garlic in the greens, so I use quite a bit, at least 1 T minced.

I heat a couple of T of EVOO in a large skillet over medium heat and add the red pepper flakes, usually 1/4-1/2 t., depending on how adventuresome I'm feeling. After 2 or 3 minutes of letting the red pepper flakes infuse the hot oil, I add the garlic.

You have to watch it closely so it doesn't burn and ruin the whole dish. I toss in some salt at this point too.

Once the garlic has cooked for a couple of minutes, I add the fairly damp chopped greens and a little more salt to the skillet.

Be careful, since the water clinging to the leaves can cause the oil to sputter. Turn the heat up to medium-high and saute for about 5 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup of water to the skillet, cover, and turn the heat down to medium low. Since this is kale, and it's pretty sturdy stuff, it will need another 10-15 minutes of cooking to become tender.

While the Lacinato was braising, I prepared the burger mixture and cooked the patties. I also sauteed 1 Hungarian wax pepper, seeded, stemmed and cut into strips, to top the burgers. Along with some chopped raw tomatoes tossed with mayo, garlic, salt, and pepper. This time I didn't make homemade pitas, but cut a sesame-seeded kaiser roll in half, toasted it, and spread each half with mayo (one for me, one for DC), as the platform for the burgers. Yeah, I'm not supposed to eat white bread, but I couldn't face the thought of a Turkish burger served on Ezekiel bread.

Once the burgers were almost done, I checked the Lacinato and it was nice and tender. I love to season greens with vinegar and use various kinds, depending on how the mood strikes me. Today I used some Umeboshi Plum vinegar, which added a nice acidic and salty bite to the greens. After tasting I felt they still needed more of an acidic note, so I sprinkled in a T or so of white wine vinegar, and some black pepper. It was perfect to my taste.

Of course, in the South, it's quite traditional to serve greens with a cruet of vinegar at the table, sometimes even the kind that has tiny little fiery peppers stuffed into the bottle. Interestingly, acids, such as in vinegar or tomatoes, helps your body to absorb the iron in the greens. Our ancestors were pretty smart to come up with the greens/vinegar flavor combo, weren't they?

Out of 2 bunches of Lacinato, I got about 3-4 servings, maybe a little more. I gave myself a good 2 servings worth and DC about half a serving. Which turned out to be a good idea, since he basically did not touch them. And I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

In addition to vinegar, some people like to serve greens, generally the long-cooking kinds like turnip, collards or mustard greens, with chopped hard-cooked egg and sometimes some bacon bits or pork "side meat" (you'd remove whatever kind of pork part you used during the cooking, such as ham hock, and cut the meat off the bones and into tiny pieces). Some people also like chopped scallions on their greens. The traditional accompaniment would be cornbread, of course, to sop up all that good ol' pot liquor (i.e., the cooking liquid).

Since we were having the kaiser roll, and there was no pot liquor with this cooking method, I didn't bother with the cornbread. Besides, it's best made with buttermilk, so is not dairy free.

I liked the Lacinato much more than traditional kale, which can sometimes get a little bitter. The Lacinato was also much more tender than other varieties of kale, so easier to use with my quick-cooking technique.

One of these days, I'll make some real Southern greens, the kind that cooks all day, so you can see that. Although for most people, that is really an acquired taste. Of course, DS and I love 'em, so I try to make them once a year or so for DS. (They are not the healthiest thing with those pig parts in there, which are also getting harder and harder to find.)

Something I find amazing is that DS is named in memory of my dad, who, although from the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota originally, was an enthusiastic convert to my mom's Southern-style cooking. Dad passed away some 13 years before DS was born, so they never knew each other. Dad's favorite foods were probably black-eyed peas and greens. They are also among DS's big favorites, and he will typically order them any time he gets a chance (e.g., at Cracker Barrel). DS has LOVED greens since he was about 9 months old and kept trying to reach for my bowl. I gave him a little pot liquor in a spoon, and he slurped it down and licked his chops! He's been a big fan ever since.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I always like my greens with some sort of pork product...but without, too! Great source of nutrition here!


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