Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kale and Other Winter Greens

First in our recipe series is the common winter green known as kale. Most people in the U.S. have heard of it before, but if asked if they’ve ever eaten it, many would say no. High in nutrients and also a traditional ingredient in dishes from many European countries, kale is most often found in the U.S. as a garnish. That firm, leafy green vegetable under your turkey sandwich? During the winter months it’s often kale. One of the reasons we’re starting with kale is because many people don’t have any idea what to do with it in the kitchen, and we want to show you that even a vegetable as often maligned as kale can be turned into a tasty winter dish.
We’re going to start with a quick profile of the plant and from there offer some recipes that use kale, and could also use other, related winter greens as well.
Kale is a form of cabbage (it’s scientific name being “brassica oleracea,” from the “acephala” group) that’s green in color but has central leaves that don’t form a “head” as with other types of cabbage. Some of kale’s properties include high levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory characteristics, high levels of beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and also some calcium.
Kale, along with cabbage and other vegetables in the family, for example broccoli, has sulforaphane, a chemical that is believed to have cancer-fighting properties. Also, in a recent study, kale was found to reduce the chance of getting glaucoma by a whopping 59 percent if eaten only once per month. Here’s a link to the study:

Kale Study

From a “health food” standpoint, kale is pretty awesome stuff but eaten raw, it’s fairly bitter in taste, and you’d get sick of it pretty fast. When cooked the right way and in the right types of dishes, though, it actually makes for some pretty good eating. So what can you make with kale?
One of the most well-known dishes made with kale is Irish in origin, and is made for the holiday of Halloween night, which is traditionally the eve of the Celtic new year. Known as colcannon, this combination of greens, scallions (a.k.a. green onions) and potatoes is a hearty, comforting dish made for cold winter nights.
I got the idea from issue 91 of Saveur magazine but adapted it to what I had around the house.
I made a variation on this recipe that used yellow onions and garlic instead of green onions. Otherwise the recipe was pretty similar, and ended up tasting good by the time I was done. I used the potatoes that I had on hand (a mix of small red, yellow and purple potatoes), and it turned out well, but I’d suggest using Yukon Gold or another good mashing potato for a more “traditional” style of colcannon.



12 small potatoes or 5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces)
4 cups lightly packed kale and other winter greens (collard greens, cabbage works too, etc.)
5 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, diced or half a medium onion (also diced)
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Basic Ingredients

1. Boil the peeled potatoes in a large pot of salted water for about 35 minutes or until they are soft enough to mash.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, wash all the greens, remove the leaves from the tough stems and chop the leaves into smaller, salad-greens-sized pieces.

2. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup water and 3 tbsp. of the butter to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Add the washed greens, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well, discarding the liquid, and set aside.

Greens, onion and garlic cooking.

3. Melt 2 tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the diced onion to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and saute the onions for about 2-3 minutes then add the minced garlic. Saute the garlic and onion mixture for another minute or two (take care not to let the garlic burn) and then add the greens. Add salt and pepper to the greens at this stage. Cook the greens, onion and garlic mixture for another 5-10 minutes over medium to medium-low heat until the greens are the texture you want (some people like them very wilted, others with a crunchier texture). Once you’re done cooking the greens, drain off any excess liquid.

Mixing it all together.

4. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain the water off by pouring the potatoes into a colander. Then add the cooked potatoes back to the large pot. Add the cup of milk and begin mashing the potatoes. Once the potatoes are sufficiently mashed, add the mixture of greens, onion and garlic to the potatoes. Mix well. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Toss a pat of butter on top and serve hot.

The other recipe from that issue of Saveur that I decided to try was a way of making use of leftover colcannon by turning them into cakes. It’s pretty basic. It just involves adding flour and butter to leftover colcannon, making little cakes from the mixture and then frying them in butter. Not exactly the most nutritious way of making use of leftover colcannon, but these potato cakes taste really good. The recipe from Saveur follows.

Colcannon Cakes

Saveur credited this recipe to Irish grocer Peter Ward. From issue 91 of Saveur.

1 cup Colcannon
1⁄3 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. butter

1. Put colcannon, flour, and salt and pepper to taste into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Shape mixture into 3 equal patties, each about 3/4" thick.

2. Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, add butter, and melt until foaming. Fry cakes in butter, pressing cakes lightly with a spatula, until golden brown, 3–4 minutes per side.

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