Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eat local? Like kale!

I bought a mess of kale.

It was in the middle of butter-white flour-sugar season and I felt compelled to do something really healthy for myself and my family. I remembered having a spicy kale dish with peanut butter sauce two autumns ago at a potluck celebrating eating foods grown within 50 miles. Going against that principle, regretfully, I bought a 1-pound plastic bag of prewashed and chopped kale greens. Wouldn't you know, when I got home, I couldn't find my cookbook with the recipe in it? Searching for one like it, I found two recipes for other kinds of dishes that I tried this week and used up the kale. I say "I tried" when I should say "My husband made them." I've been sick with the respiratory crud that seems to have everyone down. No better time than to eat nutrient-rich leafy greens, and in hot soup, too! Thanks for picking up the slack, honey!

A champion of local foods shared the recipes with the newspaper for which I used to work. Susan Sauter is a retired market gardener of USDA-certified organic vegetables, dabbling for a time in cooperative farming. She lives on a farm in my county where her husband raises grass-fed beef. I fear I would disappoint her if I told her I used store-bought kale in her recipes. But I meditated on that while I ate my soup tonight.

I did purchase local Italian link sausage for the soup recipe, but my choice was easy because the store carried that product. Would I have driven out of my way to buy just the sausage because it was local? No. Many times we get eggs from a guy in town. But when he doesn't have enough, such as when his free-range hens are molting, there's nothing wrong with getting a dozen from the grocery store until he is able to supply us again. And there's a potato farmer right out the road from me, where I would purchase many pounds of local-grown spuds if I could store them and use them before they went to waste. Sometimes being a good steward of your resources means cutting corners or letting things slide. 'Tis nobler to burn less gasoline in one trip to a superstore than on several stops for the sake of buying local. 'Tis also nobler to buy 5 pounds of potatoes at a time at the superstore because that is what your family of three will reasonably use than the minimum 50 pounds from your neighboring farmer and throw away more than half of them when they rot before you can eat them. I respect the goal of consuming locally produced goods to support my neighbors and to know the origin of what I put in my body. But I can do only so much. The mantra in any movement, green or not-so-noble, should be "progress not perfection." Sure, strive for perfection, but don't beat yourself up when you make only a small change or two. It all adds up. Do what you can now. Try to do more or better next time.

I recommend these without reservation and with just minor adapting.

2 2/3 cups chicken stock
2 large potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
16 ounces any kind of local link sausage (Susan uses hot Italian; I used Demus' mild Italian and it was still pretty hot)
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups shredded kale

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, saute onions, sausage (cut into 1/2-inch chunks), and pepper. Add the stock, potatoes and kale.
Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are softened. Serves 6.
We ate ours with buttered toasted sourdough bread.

9- to 10-inch pie or tart crust, pre-baked
4 cups coarsely chopped kale (or chard) leaves, the tough rib removed (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil or other vegetable oil (Canola is a weed!)
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large local eggs (my husband would probably add one more)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese *See note.
1/2 cup half and half

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add kale; cook over high heat until wilted and somewhat tender but still bright green, about three minutes. Drain. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan. Add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently until turning golden brown, about 6 ninutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Add feta, half and half, kale and onion mixture. Stir to mix and pour into the prebaked crust. Bake until the center of the pie is firm, 40-45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool 10-15 minutes.

*Note: I had only 1/3 to 1/2 cup of feta. I made up the difference with some mild-and-melty Havarti and some shredded Parmesan. It was a good blend.

I think this dish would go great with Hunt's Original Recipe Stewed Tomatoes, but we didn't have any.

Adapted from "The Gardeners Community Cookbook"

1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pound kale or collards, chopped (8 cups)
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter, chunky or smooth
1-2 teaspoons hot water

Pick over the kale, removing its tough ribs. Plunge it into a large pot of boiling water until it is slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain -- a salad spinner works great for this, just watch you don't scald yourself.

In a large saute pan, saute the onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil.

Add the spices and cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the greens and stir to coat.

Stir together the hot water and peanut butter and add to the pan, stirring to coat.

Slightly adapted from "Simply In Season"

A footnote: Surely a corollary to the green movement is not wasting anything, especially food and, it follows, money. So plan meals every week, paying attention to using up ingredients before they spoil. I knew better than to make a huge pot of stewed kale and try to make my family eat it. Instead, I planned two smaller meals that were different. If they didn't like one or both (and they scarfed both down, almost so fast I nearly didn't get photos for this blog), then I didn't have a lot of leftovers to either choke down or throw away.

The soup used up not only the last of the kale, but our potatoes and an open box of chicken stock. For the pie, I didn't have a whole cup of feta but I didn't go buy another package: I used other cheeses I had on hand. (Incidentally, using up the scrap of Havarti leftover from Christmas morning breakfast rolls. The majority of the feta having been used in Christmas Eve appetizers and a Christmas Day salad.) That's where having experience in the kitchen and at the plate comes in handy. Likewise, I didn't have half and half, nor do I keep regular coffee creamer on hand. I did however have a carton of whipping cream for another recipe. I used ... I mean, I instructed the husband to use, 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and 1/4 cup of 1 percent milk. Don't buy something when you need just a bit of it for one recipe and the rest of it will likely go to waste. Educate yourself (by reading blogs like this one) and substitute. Plan to use it up. Experiment.

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