Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Do you watch Top Chef? I've been a fan since the show premiered six seasons ago, and although I haven't found the show as interesting as I did during it's first few seasons, I continue to watch because despite the entertainment deficit, the talent's stock has definitely gone up (not to mention that even at its worst, it's light years better than all of the other food competition shows--I'm looking at you Next Food Network Star). After a few seasons of ho-hum contestants and no clear front-runners, this season's cast boasts several executive chefs, James Beard Award nominees, and a duo of DC-area brothers whose dishes never disappoint. The cast runs fairly young, but you wouldn't know it from their performance and the sophisticated dishes many of them churn out week after week. There's finally been a clear top few since this season began, and those in that limited club have rarely faltered.
That was of course until the most recent episode last week. The gang was asked to cook a great meal for a special guest at head judge Tom Colicchio's Las Vegas resto CraftSteak. They all immediately began plotting how to attack a meat heavy menu when in typical reality show fashion, they sprung vegan shoe designing vegetarian Natalie Portman on the disappointed pack. Somehow managing to make gorgeous, seasonal produce look like overcooked side dishes from The Sizzler, chef after chef presented poorly executed, poorly thought out dishes to the diners. While I am generally quite the fan of meaty meals, I take my vegetables seriously as well. I typically make 2-3 vegetarian dinners a week that do a perfectly good job of leaving me full and satisfied while also being tasty (if I do say so myself). How most of these chefs failed to manage that with far more at their fingertips than is available to me on any given day is a mystery. While the chefs were bombarded with their true mission minutes before executing, I can't believe that so many of them managed to completely forget that by losing their meat element they were also losing protein, an integral part of any dish, vegetarian or not. While I'm not a chef, I do know that when I'm planning a meatless meal I do my best to incorporate a protein and a starch any way I can--it's really balance that's key for any hearty and satisfying meal, regardless of whether there's meat. Fall is actually a great time for healthy, filling vegetarian meals since we have everything from brussels sprouts and beets to squash, pomegranate and eggplant, not to mention all types of potatoes. I like to take braising greens to task since there's an abundance of kale, collards and swiss chard, not to mention beet, turnip and mustard greens this time of year. I'm shocked that not one chef used legumes (well...one tried, but her fresh garbanzo beans were a flop) since they not only pair extremely well with greens, but are packed full of protein. There was just one risotto on the side and no fresh pasta at all, both starches being excellent potential platforms for all of that fresh produce.
And so, last week, inspired by the Top Chef challenge I made what I think is a tasty and filling vegetarian dinner of kale, chick peas and turnips. I served it with a side of couscous and some crunchy oven roasted brussels sprouts to start (if you leave them in there long enough they'll crisp up into crunchy, rotund chips, like over-sized wasabi peas). This is a fast and affordable take on Kevin's winning dish, which consisted of a mushroom duo with smoked kale and a candied ginger and turnip puree. Having received both kale and turnips in my CSA it was the perfect inspiration. Trying to use only what was in my fridge and pantry (since I certainly cannot afford morels and they're out of season anyway) I decided to make one hearty dish that consisted of the kale, turnips and a can of chick peas (but white beans or even lentils would have been tasty too!) sauteed with garlic and accented with a little apple cider vinegar. It turned out great and I can definitely say that I was stuffed afterward. Here's my final recipe, and here's hoping that the final six on the show catch some wind in their sails, because I expect more!
Sauteed Kale with Turnips and Chick Peas
1 lb kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
3 medium sized turnips, peeled and roughly diced, greens also chopped
1 15 oz can chickpeas (or cooked dried chickpeas) drained and rinsed
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (about 3 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp butter
1. Heat olive oil, butter and garlic in a large, non-stick skillet. Cook on medium low heat 30 seconds (garlic should not brown) then add turnips. Cook until just starting to soften, about 2 minutes.
2. Add kale in batches until it all fits in the pan. Season generously with salt and black pepper, then add chick peas, cider vinegar and turnip greens, tossing to coat. Continue cooking on medium heat, tossing occasionally until kale is cooked, another 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly (kale often needs a lot more salt and acid than other greens). Enjoy!