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Friday, October 7

Gapers Block

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I love helping people to enjoy food more, so when a reader wrote in to tell me that she was being flooded with kale from her organic co-op, I quickly jumped on the research bus. Not only is it my goal to provide her (and maybe you) with a few out of the ordinary recipes for cooking kale, I wanted to learn more about this green plant.

Apparently, kale and collard greens are virtually the same plant, the only major difference being the shape of their leaves. They're related to the cabbage family and are cousins to broccoli and cauliflower. This information gave me some ideas for interesting ways to cook kale, but I kept researching.

The versions of kale and collard greens that we eat are over 2,000 years old, and they've been traded for so long that we have no idea if cultivation started in the Mediterranean or in Asia. And it's unknown whether the Celts took this plant to Britain and France or if the Romans did. Yep, kale is quite literally older than (the son of) God.

Not only is the plant rich in history, it's also rich in minerals and vitamins. This plant provided much needed nourishment to southern farmers and slaves, and more "refined" folks of the time were amazed at how healthy these people seemed to be even though they weren't eating huge slabs of meat at every meal. One cup of cooked kale provides you with 36 calories, 53mg of vitamin C, 3g of protein, 3g of fiber, 90mg of calcium, 299mg of potassium, as well as plenty of antioxidants and other cancer fighters. And it's quite often very cheap.

Kale tends to be much more bitter than collard greens, but both plants do well when combined with sweeter ingredients, especially if the leaves are large. If the leaves are small the stems are edible, but when using large leaves you'll want to trim out the stems. It's best to store most greens in a dry plastic bag for about 3 days. You can also drop them into boiling water for a few minutes, drain them and then transfer them to freezer bags, where they'll keep for months.

The plant is traditionally seen as a cold weather vegetable because it tends not to grow well during the high heat of the summer. Since states north of Illinois tend not to get as hot, many farmers there are able to grow them all summer long.

Below you'll find recipes for Collard Greens with Sour Cherries and Vidalia Onions, Kale Chips, Kale und Worst and a Portuguese Kale Soup.

Collard Greens with Sour Cherries and Vidalia Onions
1 cup of fresh sour cherries with the pits removed (or a can of unsweetened sour cherries drained of liquid)
2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of olive oil or peanut oil
3 cups of sliced sweet onion (about 2 large Vidalia onions)
1-1/4 teaspoons of salt
3 large bunches of fresh greens, stemmed if necessary, and coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries, to get a different texture

Place the cherries in a small bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Let this sit for about 10 minutes. Over medium-high heat, warm a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven and add the oil. Then add the onion and half a teaspoon of the salt. Sauté over high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Cover the skillet, turn the heat to medium and let the onion cook until it's very tender, which should take about 10 minutes. Fill the skillet with the greens in batches and sprinkle each addition with about a quarter teaspoon salt. Stir to combine and then cover with a lid and let the greens cook for about 5 minutes between each addition. Repeat until all the greens are in the skillet. When all the greens are added and the last batch has cooked for 5 minutes, stir in the fresh cherries (and the juice) and cook for about 5 minutes longer, so they've warmed through. Transfer the dish to a platter, and sprinkle the dried cherries on top. Serve hot or warm, being sure to include some of the delicious cooking juices with each serving. This is great piled onto mashed sweet potatoes or rice. If you don't eat all the liquid, freeze it to throw into a soup later on.

Kale Chips
Another way of preserving kale, is by drying it out. These "chips" are good for snacking as well as sprinkling on other dishes.

Olive oil
1 large bunch of kale which has been rinsed, dried, thoroughly, stemmed and sliced into chip-sized pieces
2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 350° F and cover a large baking pan with aluminum foil. Finely coat the foil with olive oil. Shaking as much water from the kale as possible, spread it out on your baking sheet, making sure it isn't bunched together. Bake for 10 minutes, tossing it once during that time. Sprinkle the parmesan on the kale and bake for another 10-15 minutes — check and stir every 3-4 minutes. The kale will turn a very bright green and get very soft, then it will become chewy-crisp, and then it will become dry and crispy. Once it hits the chewy-crisp stage you can eat it, but the longer you let it bake, the crisper it will become. Remove from the oven before it begins to burn and let it cool on the pan. You can now store it in an air-tight container for a week or two and there's no need to refrigerate it.

Kale und Worst (Sausage)
2 bunches fresh kale
7-8 medium-sized potatoes
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pound of lean sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon of olive oil (or half butter and half oil)
1 teaspoon of pepper

Bring 2-3 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, making sure there is enough room to add the kale and potatoes. Remove the stems from the kale and rinse it well before adding it and 1 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Now peel the potatoes, cut them into cubes, and put them in the boiling water with the kale. Let this cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the kale is cooked through but not soggy and the potatoes are able to be mashed. While the kale and potatoes are cooking, sauté the sausage in the oil and Worcestershire sauce. Once the potatoes and kale are cooked, drain the pot. Either run the potatoes and kale through a ricer, or mash with a potato masher. Sprinkle with the pepper and more salt to taste, season with butter if desired and serve alongside the sausage.

Portuguese Kale Soup
1 cup of dried navy beans that are covered in water and soaked overnight (or you can use 2 cans of beans of your choice)
1 large onion that has been sliced
1 pound of linquica (a highly spiced sausage similar to chorizo) that has been cut into bite-sized pieces
2 large bunches of kale (or 2 10 ounce packages of frozen kale) that has been torn into pieces 1 tablespoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1 tablespoon of balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 large can of crushed tomatoes, or 3 cups of fresh tomatoes that have been cored and chopped
7 cups of water or vegetable stock
2 carrots that have been peeled and sliced
1 stalk of chopped celery
2 large potatoes that have been cubed (wash well if keeping the peel on)

Drain the beans from their soaking water. If using canned beans, keep the liquid and use it to replace some of the water. In a large pot, combine everything but the potatoes. Cover and cook over low heat for 2-3 hours. Skim off any fat that is on the surface of the water before adding the potatoes and one more cup of water. Cover and simmer for another hour.

Hopefully this provides you with some ideas for how to use that kale that shows up in your co-op box every week. If you need help coming up with ideas for how to cook food in your box — or from the grocery store — send an email to . I'd love to help you find a way to diversify your cooking.

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