Side Dishes

The Kale-Converter

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Hallelujah, the first kale is out of the ground and onto my table for the spring season! Due to the insane weather for the last couple of days (torrential rain intermixed with muggy summer sunshine), I’ve been spending a little less time on the farm and significantly more time with me, myself, and I. Today during a brief, clear-skies interlude, I managed to hightail it to a local grocery store that carries organic, seasonal, local produce from the North Country area. Expecting to pick up my thirtieth bundle of asparagus, I was pleasantly ecstatic to see fresh bundles of curly kale next to the sweet potatoes (two of God’s best works).

Kale has definitely been gaining popularity lately. When I began my Paleo/real-living adventure a little over a year ago, I had never tasted it. Enticed by the many references to it in the Paleosphere (and for that matter, any healthy-diet community), it was one of the first vegetables I subjected to my kitchen experiments.

After trying it, I was frankly stumped. People willingly eat this? What’s the big whoop? It was soggy but chewy at the same time, and vaguely reminded me of watered-down soap. I was not impressed. So I shamefully went back to buying my tried-and-trues: broccoli, carrots, spinach. Brussels sprouts if I was feeling particularly daring.

Oh little Amy. How much you had to learn.

After a little more reading, and considerably more practice in the kitchen (mostly at the expense of my patient family), I tried kale again. This time, it was SPIRITUAL. It was so good I made kale three times in the next two days. So good that I regularly consume it for breakfast now. So good that I rather aggressively count myself among the crazed kale worshippers.

What I am about to share is not a recipe. It is a method to an epicurean pinnacle of greens opulence that can be applied to almost any green (we’re talking chard, collards, brussels sprout greens) with success- though I will always champion kale as the best use of it. It is: THE CHIFFONADE. This method, if applied correctly, will convert the most stubborn, the least adventurous eater. Go forth and change your world.

Stir-fried Kale to make the Unconvinced Weep in Retribution

First, let’s examine the anatomy of kale. It’s pretty simple, actually. You’ve the got the rib (the hard, skinny green thing in the center, and the leaves, which is – well, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Refer to the picture below.

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Your first step (after washing the kale) is to separate the rib and the leaves. I do this with a sharp knife. You should get a relatively clean rib, and just pile the leaves to the side.

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Next, take your pile of ribs (mine looks really skimpy because the kale is young. Depending on your bunch/type of green, you will probably have thicker ribs), and chop them into little pieces.

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Now, the truly daunting task: tackling the leaves. This is the important part. The part that makes ALL the difference. Chopping your leaves finely allows them to cook quickly in a hot pan and be the perfect size for spooning into your salivating mouth. So. You will have a pile of leaves in front of you. Depending on your greens, it may look pretty haphazard, but do not be deterred! Your job is to roll the leaves up into a compact little log. This is much easier with chard and collard greens and flatter varieties of kale. For my curly kale, I sort of had to squish and smash the wild leaves into submission. Once rolled, you are going to chop the log, VERY thinly, with a good chef’s knife.

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Alright, the hard bit’s done. Smooth sailing from now on! Slice up some onions and mince some garlic (this is extremely personal, depends on how much you like onions and garlic. I happen to be rather enamored of both, so I use a LOT), and heat up a pan on moderate heat.

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Once warmed, melt a good pat of butter, or coconut oil, or lard (lard will be the yummiest, let’s be honest) in your pan. Add the onions and garlic and chopped ribs and allow to cook until softened and beginning to brown. Separating the ribs and leaves allows you to have both parts fully and perfectly cooked. The ribs need more time, the leaves less, so in this case, a quickie divorce is really the best option.

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Once softened, turn your heat up a little, and add the chopped leaves. There will be a satisfying sizzle upon contact. This is how you know the pan is hot enough. Let the leaves sit for a moment, then dive in with a spatula and turn the leaves. Your mission? Get the onions and ribs to the top, and the leaves to the bottom where they can cook. Continue doing this until the leaves are a bright green and slightly wilted. If you’re cooking a lot of kale, you might have to add the kale in two or three batches, waiting until the first batch has wilted, then adding the next batch and turning until the newest kale is on the bottom of the pan.

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It’s emerald green and gorgeous yes? Add a pinch of salt and pepper, fetch a little water or some stock and throw in a splash. Give the greens a stir, and immediately cover. Step back and leave the kale alone for 2-5 minutes (2 if you’re making a small batch, 5 if you’re feeding the family). This will cook everything through by steaming. Undercooked kale = seriously disgusting.

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Take off the cover and allow to cook just a little longer, until all the liquid is gone. If it seems dry, either take it out or add another small pat of oil. It’s done when a) it’s not soggy but still moist, b) the color is a dark green, and c)you can feel it in your bones. The more often you cook your greens this way, the better you will get at pinpointing the “aha! it’s done to perfection!” moment. But don’t stress, it’s going to taste good no matter what. Remove and serve pretty immediately. I like cold kale, but not everyone else does, so get it in their tummies while piping!

I know this post seems sort of long and geared towards toddlers, but I assure you: follow the method, and you will succeed. Follow the method and rejoice. Follow the method and convert the non-believers. If you really want to guarantee your success, render some bacon at the very beginning, remove it, and cook the onions/ribs in the bacon fat, adding your crumbled bacon bits to the serving dish right at the end. FAIL-PROOF. I don’t know what it is, but kale + bacon is magical. Transcendental, really. I just didn’t have bacon.

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So that’s it. My real contribution to the world. This method comes to you directly from the Spanish. I wish I could find the original website, but no matter how many times I google variations of chiffonade + kale +spanish, nothing. It was a brief line, something like:

“to cook quickly and maintain the integrity of the leaves, you must finely chiffonade your greens in the traditional style of the Spanish”

I then had to google chiffonade and watch a couple of tutorials to get the hang of it, but it was ALL WORTH IT. Thank you unknown-spanish-cooking-website. Thank you. We are all eternally in your debt.

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2 thoughts on “The Kale-Converter

  1. Pingback: Sauteed Rainbow Chard Ribbons (aka Embrace the Leafy Greens. Embrace them!) | amy + fire

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