Hot Green

Pub date January 24, 2007

Kale: what is to be done? Yes, kale has its virtues: it’s good for us (as indicated by its dark green color), it presents a variety of interesting textures, it isn’t too expensive, and it turns up in winter, when our farmers markets are desolate. Still, kale is among the trickier leafy greens to handle. Its flavor — much stronger than that of chard — can put people off, and its texture — much tougher than that of spinach — can result in chewiness if the cook is in a hurry or hasn’t added enough liquid to soften it.

One decent treatment for kale begins with a diced onion and some diced bacon (I use turkey bacon), cooked in olive oil until soft and fragrant. In goes the chopped and still wet kale along with a pinch of salt, and the pot is then covered to promote a combination of steaming and braising. The finishing touch, to be added when the kale has achieved an acceptable degree of tenderness, is a splash or two of good red-wine vinegar, along with additional salt and pepper to taste.

This is a good dish, but I wouldn’t want it every night. A fine alternative is the Portuguese soup caldo verde ("hot green"), which is substantial enough to serve as a main course. Begin with some oil (or butter) heated in a soup pot; add a diced onion (with pinch of salt). When the onion has softened, throw in a clove or two of chopped garlic, stir, and let cook a minute or two. Add a link of spicy sausage (andouille, chorizo, linguica) in chunks; a couple of peeled, cubed potatoes; and four cups of water (or stock or a combination). Simmer, covered, until the potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes. Puree. (You can do this in a blender or with an immersion wand.) Add a head of kale, cleaned and finely sliced, and another sausage link cut into rounds. Simmer about five minutes more, until the kale and sausage are cooked through. (If your sausage is precooked, you only care that it’s warmed through.) Balance the seasonings and serve. With some warm bread, a green salad, and a bottle of red wine, this makes a fortifying supper on a cold winter’s night. Also, you can warm your hands with the bowls — a nice extra if you happen to live in a badly insulated, freezing house. Anyone?

Paul Reidinger