Kale is one of my favorite winter vegetables.
It always has been, though I have to admit that I seldom eat it was cooked when I grew up. In our home, kale was simmered all day on a back burner, in a big pot, seasoned with a ham hock or a hunk of jowl bacon. Though the leaves were completely flaccid and olive drab by the time they were done, they were smoky, sweet and so good splashed with vinegar, salt and pepper that I could eat huge bowls of them. (I used to drink the juice, too–in the South that green stuff is called “pot likker,” and it is filled with all the vitamins and minerals leached out of the vegetative matter after the long cooking process. It also tasted really, really good.)
But, I don’t cook kale like that anymore. For one thing, it stinks up the house a bit, and Zak objects to it, and for another, I have figured out how to cook kale other ways that are just as good, but which leave more of the vitamins and minerals unmolested and intact.
This recipe is a variation on one I invented years ago for my vegan personal chef clients. Thier version was more distinctly Asian in concept and form: it consisted of lacinato kale, fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms, garlic, scallion and ginger, soy sauce, black pepper, rice vinegar and sugar.
This time all I had was curly leafed kale, and I wanted to make more of a European-styled saute rather than a stir fry. So, I switched the ingredients around, though I decided to use as many Western umami ingredients as I thought would be prudent without turning the dish into a gloppy mish-mash of an ill-concieved fusion.
I definately wanted to keep the vinegar; kale, particularly the curly-leafed varieties, can be bitter, and acidic ingredients tend to tone down bitter flavors. So, I switched to balsamic vinegar. Since I wasn’t cooking for vegans, I decided to be luxurious and add a half teaspoon of saved bacon grease to the olive oil. I could have added crumbled bacon if I wanted to make the dish really over the top fattening and tasty, but I didn’t. I am still trying to chill out on the fattening food now that the holidays are done.
The other luxury item I did add, however, was a good drizzle of black truffle oil at the end of cooking. It took a good side dish and pushed it over the edge into an absolutely delicious one. The inherent sweetness of the kale is accentuated by the bacon grease, the golden shallots and the sweet undertones of the balsamic vinegar. The earthiness of the mushrooms is enhanced by the truffle oil and the garlic, and the sprinkling of herbs and black pepper bring a sharpness to the entire flavor profile that provides clarity and a rather ringing note to the ensemble.
I was rather glad that Zak doesn’t like kale and declined to try any. That meant there was more for Morganna and I.
Sauteed Kale with Shiitake, Balsamic Vinegar and Truffle Oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon bacon grease
2 medium sized shallots, thinly sliced
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper to taste (More is better.)
pinch dried oregano or thyme
1 small bunch fresh young curly kale, washed and dried, thick stems removed, leaves torn into bite-sized bits
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon black (or white) truffle oil
In a heavy-bottomed, deep frying or saute pan, heat olive oil and bacon grease until grease is melted. Tilt pan to coat bottom evenly.
Add shallots to pan, and cook, stirring constantly until they begin to turn golden. Add shiitakes, and cook until shallots turn dark golden and shittake begin to take on color. Add garlic and cook until pale gold and fragrant. Add pepper and herb, then kale.
Stir and toss to coat kale with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pour chicken broth into pan. Cover pan, and allow chicken broth to simmer, steaming kale. Remove lid–kale should be brilliant green and beginning to wilt, and chicken broth should be reduced to nearly nothing. Add balsamic vinegar and stir and toss kale until balsamic vinegar simmers away to nearly nothing; what is left should cling very tightly to the leaves.
Remove from heat, pour in truffle oil, stir to combine and serve immediately.
This is very good with a mushroom risotto, quiche or baked macaroni and cheese for a light supper.
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