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.

Click through for more on our Spicy Braised Kale with White Beans recipe.

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Leek and Potato Soup with Kale

It seems the whole world has gone corned beef crazy leading up to St. Patrick’s day. Not that I have anything against corned beef. Or cabbage. But what I do have something against is green beer. Or any food, really, that is dyed green despite the natural order of things.

When St. Paddy’s comes around this year, why not indulge in something that is just as authentic but much healthier than either corned beef or green beer: we’re talking leek and potato soup. The Stout Sprouts and I made a version recently with some kale that pureed down to a lovely spring green. And this is the perfect seasonal soup, making good use of the last of winter’s russet potatoes, cooked down with tender leeks, onions, and a handful of that antioxidant-packed kale. It is hearty yet delicate, warming your insides while crossing over the seasons with the promise of sunnier days.

Bring on the sun, and the leek and potato soup with kale. Get the recipe here.

Braised Chicken with Kale, Chickpeas, Cauliflower and Tomatoes

This dish is swoon-worthy. Trust me. Even reheated the next day for lunch I found myself audibly appreciating my meal: “Mmmmmmmm.” This may be the cook’s equivalent of talking to themselves — I mean, who else but I, alone in my kitchen, was going to acknowledge my enthusiastic praise for this particular recipe? But there I was, nodding my head and slowly closing my eyes in satisfaction. Yes, yes, we’ll be making this again, and soon.

It took me back to the Italian countryside I’ve never visited…or perhaps a Spanish tavern in which I have yet to set foot. But wherever it was my taste buds wandered, I was happy for the sojourn.

Give those traveling tastebuds a treat with braised chicken with kale, chickpeas, cauliflower and tomatoes.

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

I’m going to start this post with an endorsement: a six-year-old I know had two servings of this salad at a birthday party this weekend and it was the first thing he asked for at lunch the next day. If that doesn’t get you to try it, I don’t know what will!

While this dish recently joined others as part of a birthday party buffet, it is really more like Christmas in a bowl — only three months ahead of schedule. All green and red, you can’t help but dig in. And when you do, the flavors are both intense and inviting. Crunchy kale, tangy red peppers, sweet raisins, earthy walnuts, and a tart lemon/shallot/garlic dressing tying it all together. And did I mention this, too, is vegetarian and vegan? Bonus!

Feeding a birthday crowd

Feeding a birthday crowd

I sadly have to fess up and admit that, for the longest time, raw kale held little interest for me. My husband and I are big salad eaters but I’d continually pass on the kale at the farmer’s market. Or, when we had it as part of our farm share basket, I’d put it into a soup. Fairly often, I’d freeze it for some future use…which actually meant it went into cold storage until the day I could bring myself to throw it away, all freezer-burned and inedible.

And then….

It must have been another festivity years ago. The time my husband and I celebrated his birthday at Blue Hill at Stone Barn, Chef Dan Barber’s now-iconic farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York. We hadn’t yet been exposed to the growing buzz around Chef Barber’s fresh cooking philosophy. After touring the farm and then making our way through his multi-course tasting menu we were converts. And while I can’t quite remember if kale was on any of the many plates that evening (it almost certainly must have been!), what I do know is that, suddenly, I couldn’t open a magazine or read a newspaper without seeing Dan Barber’s name. And somewhere along the way, I came across his recipe for Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan. It was all over. Raw kale was on the menu at home, too, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with seasonal ingredients and tastes to really bring out the benefits of this overlooked vegetable.

Like Christmas on a plate

Like Christmas on a plate

So, be it a birthday, a holiday, or just another night packed with soccer practice or piano lessons…give this one a try. You’ll be celebrating, too.

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:
2 large bunches of kale (preferably curly kale), well washed with ribs removed
12 to 14 ounces roasted red peppers
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a pan on the stove top and broken into small pieces (not too small though)
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Lay out the kale leaves on a cutting board, stacking one on top of the other, and slice them into thin ribbons across the grain. Put the kale into a large bowl.

Kale, salad-bound

Kale, salad-bound

After removing any remaining seeds from the peppers, cut them into then ribbons as well, and then slice further so that each piece is approximately 1/4 inch x 1 inch (don’t worry too much about the size…you just want small pieces that integrate into the salad). Place sliced peppers into the bowl with the kale.

To plump the raisins, reconstitute them by placing them in a microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup with water to cover, and then microwaving on high for 1 minute. Raisins will be nice and soft. Drain them, and add the raisins to the salad.

Add the walnuts after they’ve been toasted. Be careful not to burn them while toasting.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, garlic cloves, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper until well combined (this is a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe for jam jar dressings – worth having these at your fingertips). Pour the dressing over the salad and work everything together with your (clean!) hands until the kale is well coated and the red peppers, raisins and walnuts are well-distributed.

The kale salad, being assembled

The kale salad, being assembled

Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for approximately one hour before serving. The lemon juice will begin to soften the kale leaves and make them more tender, and the flavors will really develop.

Serves: 10 – 15 as a side dish. To serve a smaller party, halve the recipe.

It’s worth noting that we’ve done variations on this salad with great results. A close friend of ours doesn’t care for roasted red peppers or walnuts, so I made a version with oven-roasted tomatoes and toasted pine nuts and it turned out nicely too! I shaved some Locatelli cheese into that version, which made it a pretty close cousin to the version Dan Barber makes.

Parent rating: The hostess at the birthday party gave me a report of “four stars” from the adults. And she really is the hostess with the mostess…so to even have a dish on the table with some of her wonderful creations is an honor!
Kid rating: I’m going out on a limb and giving this four kid stars based on the endorsement from the afore-mentioned six-year-old. Sadly, our girls would NOT try this. Perhaps kale really is an acquired taste…and a six-year-old palate is so much more sophisticated than a five-year-old one!