Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Get Your Green On
Have I mentioned how this whole "global warming crisis" is putting a serious cramp in my style? Well, it is. Sure, I could talk to you about the adverse effects of global warming on our atmosphere, or how our overconsumption of everything is leading us into an early garbage grave, but what really sticks in my craw about the whole thing is how our planetary ignorance is messing with my meals. During my most recent weekend trip to the greenmarket, where I expected to find a cornucopia of fall ingredients, I was disappointed to discover that despite the time of year, there was very little fall fun to be had. Having already experienced the early onset of fall food shopping, I figured that (from beneath my chilly weather ready hat and scarf) I'd find at least half of what was in season during the fall. But instead I found that I was seriously overdressed for what became an almost 80 degree mid-October day, and that because of the late and mild fall, many of the season's veggies had yet to be picked.
Heirloom tomatoes and green peppers were still at many stalls along with an absurd amount of raspberries. But somehow amid the remnants of summer I found a piece of fall. Way in the back of a stall were the first few heads of kale, one of my favorite fall greens. It usually comes into season later than most greens because it holds up well to the cold, which quite literally gives it a thicker skin. The texture has more bite and it takes longer to wilt since it has to survive during the cold temperature and strong winds of late fall and early winter. Although my first encounters with kale were less than pleasant (a bad vegetarian restaurant and a hardcore vegan roommate), once I tasted it cooked properly I instantly loved it. Its texture, which always keeps a bit of its crunch, makes kale a perfect side dish to anything meaty like a juicy steak or something delicious and gamey like duck. And even though its ridged, frilly edges and firm texture make it seem complicated, it's just as easy to make as your basic spinach dish, and in fact cooks down even less, giving you a lot more bang for your buck.
It's not particularly bitter like many other greens, and actually makes a perfect foil for some sweetness and acidity blended together. I bought a green bunch and a dark purple one for a little color contrast and started out cooking it with a really basic recipe. Using the basic sauteed kale recipe as I base, I then began adding some spices that reminded me of fall. I started with a pinch of nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika then adding a bit of Chinese five spice, which really just has a perfect blend of all your favorite fall spices, including clove, cinnamon and fennel. A splash of red wine vinegar at the end of cooking cuts all that spiced sweetness with a little acidity and really rounds out the flavors of the dish. I added some chickpeas, which reminds me of a popular Spanish dish of chickpeas with greens and fish (commonly eaten on Fridays during lent). It was so good and so easy that I didn't even bother to make a protein dish. The combination of kale and chickpeas is a super healthy one, since a cup of cooked kale alone provides you with almost 90% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C, tons of fiber, and high levels of beta carotene. The chickpeas are an even better source of fiber (with no fat), and are even thought to lower cholesterol. Here's the recipe I came up with:
Kale and Chickpeas with Fall Spices and Red Wine Vinegar
2 bunches kale, washed, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp Chinese five spice
1/4 tsp smoked paprika (regular paprika will work too)
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
2 -3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
ground pepper (white tastes best)
1. Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Add kale in batches until most of it is cooked down. Add chickpeas, spices, garlic, red pepper flake and salt to taste, tossing everything to coat. Cook covered on medium-low heat until kale is wilted and tender (8-15 minutes depending on the thickness of your kale).
2. Remove skillet from heat and stir in vinegar. Taste for salt and add fresh ground pepper. Toss everything to coat and serve. Enjoy!