Monday, July 20, 2009

A new way to eat your greens

One of the challenges of belonging to a CSA is that you generally get a lot of greens. Like, a lot of greens. Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, various cabbages, some stuff I was unable to identify... You'll be eating greens at least once a week, often two or three times a week, so you'd better find a way of preparing them that you enjoy.

Cooked kale. What am I gonna do with this?
I'm generally fine with just cooking up my greens in a bit of olive oil and garlic, but that tends to get old after awhile, and in any case my wife doesn't care for it that way. She finds that it's almost impossible to get them seasoned to her liking, i.e. they are either too salty, or else underseasoned and bland.

We both enjoy beans and greens quite a bit. For those that don't know, you just take canned cannellini beans, cook them with the liquid from the can until it starts to thicken, then add your greens and some chicken broth, maybe a little seasoning too, and cook until the greens are done. It's delicious and filling, but this gets old too if it's your only way of preparing the copious amount of greens that come from a CSA.

So last night, faced with some kale that desperately needed to be used up, we set about to find a new way to prepare greens that we both would enjoy.

Inspired by a recipe we found online for a potato and kale puree, I came up with the dish that follows. It was a big hit with Mariah, and easy to make too.

Baked mashed potatoes with chopped kale
  • 2 lbs. potatoes, cut into large pieces (peeled or unpeeled, your choice1)
  • one large bunch coarsely chopped kale, about 3-4 cups
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2-3/4 cup milk (whole milk is tastiest, other milk is healthier)
  • 2-6 Tbsp butter or oil (more butter is tastier, less is healthier -- duh)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan
Mashed potatoes with kale. You could eat these just the way they are, but why not bake some cheese on top?
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring two pots of aggressively salted2 water to a boil. Place kale in one, potatoes in the other. Drain kale when it is tender, about 5-10 minutes. Drain potatoes when they are soft enough to rice/mash, about 15 minutes.

Finely chop cooked kale. Pass potatoes through a ricer, or mash with potato masher or wooden spoon. Combine potatoes, kale, milk, and butter or oil in medium bowl. Do not overstir, or your potatoes will become gluey. Add pepper to taste, possibly salt if necessary -- check first.

The finished product.
Transfer potato and kale mixture to a casserole dish and cover top with parmesan. Place uncovered in oven and bake until cheese on top just begins to show some brown.

1You may have heard that it is healthier to leave your potatoes unpeeled. This is a myth. While it is true that the skin is much more nutrient-dense than the flesh of the potato, think about it: the skin is paper-thin, while the flesh makes up something like 99+% of the potato. Sure, the skin is healthier, but do you think it is one hundred times as rich in nutrients? Nuh uh. Now, my family happens to prefer mashed potatoes with the skins, because of the rustic texture and earthy flavor. But if you don't care for it, don't feel compelled to leave them in for the nutrients. The nutritional benefit is insignificant.

Juniper wants to help!
2When you are boiling potatoes, cooking pasta, or boiling greens, salt the shit out of the water. Seriously. In my experience, the amount of salt the food absorbs is relatively independent of the salinity of the water, I think because it can only absorb salt so fast regardless of the concentration. Too little salt and your food will be underflavored. Too much salt, and... well, you can't really put in too much salt. I guess if you made like a brine or something, that might be too much salt. But don't worry about it. Put in what you think is enough salt, then put in some more just to be safe. You'll be glad you did.

To give credit where credit is due, I get the proportions I use for mashed potatoes from Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food.

As the main course, we had barbecue-flavored pan-seared chicken thighs. This is a recipe Mariah came up with. It's nothing fancy, but doing it this way will give you very tender flavorful chicken.

Pan-seared barbecue chicken thighs
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Place chicken in shallow dish or bowl. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, then coat with barbecue sauce. Let sit 15 minutes to an hour (if longer than 20 minutes or so, put it in the fridge).

Mmm, this chicken looks done.
Thoroughly heat heavy skillet3 over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then chicken. Cook until barbecue sauce starts to carmelize, about 3-5 minutes, then turn over and repeat process on the other side. The FDA would like you to use a meat thermometer to verify that the internal temperature of the chicken is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The nice thing about this recipe, though, is that in my experience, when it looks done on the outside, it's just right on the inside. Alternatively, cut into one piece and check it.

3I use a cast-iron skillet for this, but be warned: It makes quite a mess, and I am pretty sure that the tomato and other acids in the barbecue sauce is bad for your cast-iron unless it is really well-seasoned. If you have a ceramic-coated cast-iron skillet, that's probably ideal.

Update: My wife has pointed out the the chicken thighs we buy are the organic free-range boneless skinless thighs from Wegmans, which may be somewhat smaller than conventional chicken thighs. My comment about "when it looks done, it is done" only applies if your chicken thighs are the same size as the ones I buy... so be warned.

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