Spicy Braised Kale with White Beans, Garlic, Tomatoes and Capers

Let’s just begin by agreeing that kale Kool-aid would be a terrible thing. But, I’ve drunk it. Figuratively, that is, not literally. That would be gross. Whereas I once overlooked this leafy green, I now look forward to grabbing a bunch at the grocery store and absolutely can’t wait for the farmer’s market season to begin so we can get first crack at some just-picked leaves.

Leaving the visual image of kale Kool-aid behind, I’ve said before that I’m surprised it took me so long to warm up to this superfood. It had its moment and I ignored it. But that moment lasted so long that I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.

We took a Tuscan spin on this ingredient not too long ago, stewing up a braised kale and white bean dish — a fitting meal as we’re waiting for warmer spring weather. This was also a great opportunity to re-inroduce white beans to our girls, serving them mixed in with tomatoes — that perennial favorite — and some crusty bread. Just about anything is less intimidating to a preschooler when served with bread.

Comforting with a kick: spicy braised kale with white beans

Comforting with a kick: spicy braised kale with white beans

This is a sister recipe to the braised chicken with kale we made earlier in the year with one important distinction: it’s vegetarian.  Vegan too, unless you top it with grated Parmesan (if you aren’t keeping vegan, try it: Parmesan cheese really complements the flavors here). Posting this recipe feels a little like cheating because they are so similar but that speaks to the versatility of these ingredients and this veggie braising technique. Plus, I think you’ll enjoy this variation. I’ve made it spicy — as my husband and I prefer — and not so spicy for the Sprouts. We’re evenly split on this one but I find myself toning down the amount of crushed red pepper when making it for the entire family.

The braise coming together: kale, white beans, garlic and tomatoes

The braise coming together: kale, white beans, garlic and tomatoes

By forgoing meat and swapping the original chickpeas for white beans we invented a lovely dish that can just as easily be a main course as a starter. Served on bite-sized pieces of toasted french bread it makes a great party appetizer. Hey — any reason is a good reason to throw a party, and this is a pretty good reason!

A quick meal brings the flavors of Tuscany to the table

A quick meal brings the flavors of Tuscany to the table

If you can’t get away to Tuscany any time soon, try this dish instead. And if you can get to Tuscany…please, take me. Though I’ll probably find a way to smuggle the Sprouts along, I promise to do the cooking. This dish will most certainly be on the menu.

Spicy Braised Kale with White Beans, Garlic, Tomatoes and Capers

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (recommended, but optional if you don’t like the spice)
1 bunch Lacinato (Dinosaur) or Curly kale, well washed, ribs removed and kale leaves cut into fine ribbons (it’s OK for water to be clinging to the leaves)
2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes with their juice
1 15-ounce can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon capers
Additional Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Toasted slices of crusty bread
Additional drizzle of olive oil
Parmesan curls for serving (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven on the stove top over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to a minute — allow to soften, but do not brown the garlic. If using the red pepper flakes, add them at this point too. As soon as the garlic softens, add the kale and continue to sauté, allowing the kale to cook down while stirring frequently.

Cooking down the kale

Cooking down the kale

Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Add the crushed tomatoes with their liquid and the drained beans and stir well. Allow to simmer for 15 – 20 minutes to blend flavors and reduce the braising liquid to no more than about 1/4 cup.

When just about ready to serve, lightly toast thick wedges of bread, one or two per serving.

Add the capers to the kale mixture and stir well. Taste and correct for seasoning.

To serve, spoon some of the braised kale and beans over the warm toasted bread. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and several curls of Parmesan cheese if desired. (Make the curls by “shaving” a wedge of Parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler.)

Serves: 4 – 6

Making Parmesan curls is a great kid-friendly task

Making Parmesan curls is a great kid-friendly task

Kid rating: three-and-a-half stars for the low-spice version. These kind of warming dishes are growing on our Sprouts, though — full disclosure — they like the bread more than the veggie topping. But both our girls are now trying new tastes, and this combo of white beans and tomato, when combined with kale, seems to be an acceptable dish in our menu rotation. Just enough veg gets into the girls that I feel pretty good about it. I won’t push my luck, but the fact that they will eat it makes me happy!
Parent rating: four stars. Yea for this being vegetarian. Yea that it can be vegan, too. This is a simple, delicious ragu of vegetables that is incredibly healthy. Protein from the beans and tons of vitamins and antioxidants from the kale and tomatoes make this a winner. For me, this is a no-brainer dinner idea — great for those nights when you want something warm and comforting (and healthy!), but are running short on time.  Given the choice between this and a take-out pizza, I know what I’d pick. I’m not sure the rest of the family is with me, but pizza can wait for another night.


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