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Sunday, November 16, 2014

How to be not scared of kale

It was maybe two years ago. I was standing in line at the grocery store, Kamal in his little infant carseat stashed in my cart. The lady at the front of the line was buying at least eight bunches of kale. After she'd paid and left, the guy right behind her and ahead of me asked the cashier, in tones full of trepidation, "Was all of that kale?"

"Yes," the cashier told him. "Lots of kale. Maybe she's a juicer."

"I don't know," said the guy. "I don't know about that kale. I know everyone says it's so good for you, but I had it once and it was disgusting."

I hate unsolicited advice, and I try not to give it, but man was it hard to bite my tongue. I wanted to write down a million recipes for the guy. I wanted to feed him caldo verde. I wanted to stand on the conveyor belt, waving curly, verdant bouquets of kale and shout: "THIS STUFF IS DELICIOUS! GIVE IT A CHANCE! GIVE THE KALE A CHANCE!"

Like I said, though, I hate unsolicited advice, and I let the poor man go back off to his kale-deprived, tragically misinformed life. You, however, don't have to live like him. If you already love kale, awesome. I'm preaching to the choir! But if you don't, please let me show you some easy ways to prepare it, and how delicious it can be. Let's not even talk about how good it is for you. You already know that, and there are plenty of other places for you to read about it. Let's talk about its general yumminess and convenience.

First of all, I think the biggest reason people don't like kale is because they've had incorrectly-prepared kale. When I was visiting my dad several years ago in Florida, I wanted to make this super-healthful vegetable for him. Unfortunately, I couldn't find kale in his local grocery store or at any farm stands. (Here in Northern California, I realize I'm in a bubble where easy access to kale is taken for granted.) I finally found some pre-bagged kale in a giant supermarket. When I got it home, I was dismayed to realize it was clearly older kale that had been pre-cut without being stemmed first.

Kale tends to be a pretty sturdy, tough vegetable. Older kale is tougher kale, and the stems are the toughest part of the kale. There are times when I eat the kale stems, especially if the kale is on the younger side, but I cook them separately and for much longer than the leaves. Cooking them together--which was pretty much the only thing to do with the unstemmed, pre-cut kale I had purchased--results in a very unpleasantly fibrous eating experience. Or rather, alternately fibrous and mushy, as there's no way to sufficiently cook the stems without way overcooking the leaves. Blech.This experience, unfortunately, left my dad thinking he did not like kale, and I couldn't blame him. I wonder if the kale-hater in the grocery store had had a similar experience. To save the world from a gross misunderstanding of kale, here is a step-by-step of proper kale prep.

Step 1: Get a big, sharp knife. Run the blade along each side of the stem, as close to the stem as possible, to separate the stem from the leafy part.

Step 2: Make two big piles. One pile is leafy. One pile is stemmy. You can compost the stems, save them for making vegetable stock, pickle them, or feed them to your chickens.

Step 3: Stack, roll and chop. Stack leaves one on top of the other, roll the stacks up, and slice away to make wide ribbons of kale.

Step 4: Scrubba scrubba. I find the best way to clean my kale ribbons is by using a salad spinner, but you can also just use a colander. Or if you don't have a colander, rinse a few times in a large bowl and then spread out the kale ribbons on dishtowels to dry. 

Step 5: Stash. Put your cleaned, dry kale ribbons in ziploc bags, with as much air sucked or squeezed out as possible. 

Now you have kale ready to go for a simple sauté that's perfect for topping your congee or serving as a side dish: just heat coconut oil (or olive oil, or whatever your favorite cooking oil is) in a pan, add some slices of garlic and sauté those till they're golden and fragrant, then add your kale and sauté that till it's tender--depending on how old your kale is and how soft you like it, anywhere from two to ten minutes.  (If you've saved your stems and want to cook those too, just chop them up into inch-size pieces and get them started sauteeing well in advance of the garlic.)

Kale saute as congee topping...

and as side dish.

Oooh, or scrambled with eggs and a little parmesan--so good.

Other ways to enjoy your beautifully prepared kale:

Make a kale salad. Adam and I love this recipe, from the Northern Spy restaurant in New York City's East Village. It's wonderfully flexible and forgiving: we've subbed apples and nectarines for the butternut squash, and walnuts and pecans for the almonds, depending on what we have in the house and what's seasonal. Also, we find using a good-quality cheddar--our favorite by far is Cougar Gold--makes a huge difference.

Make kale chips. Use your hands to toss your prepped kale ribbons with olive oil and a little salt and whatever seasonings you like. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown. Let cool. Crunch happily. 

Make caldo verde: Literally translating to "green broth" caldo verde is a hearty, traditional Portuguese soup made with lots of kale, potatoes and linguiça or chorizo. Emeril's recipe looks delicious; you could also sub in different types of sausage (I'm kind of dying to try it with chicken-apple sausage). 

Now you're prepared in case you ever run into a kale-hater. Don't tell him off--he's not a bad person, he's just a little scared of the unknown. Awww. And don't tell him what he's missing; he probably isn't ready to hear it. Just smile politely while you feel smug about the giant bags of prepped kale in your fridge and all the delicious things you know you can do with them.

How do you like to eat your kale?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Adam's loco moco congee

I told you in my last post about how Adam had the phenomenal idea of combining congee with loco moco, that beloved, decadent breakfast local to Hawai'i.

Here's how you can make loco moco congee, too.

First, make bai zhou, plain white rice congee: bring to a boil a cup of white rice with five to eight cups of water, depending on how thick you like your congee. Once it's boiled, reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow to simmer until the grains have begun to lose their borders and the bai zhou is porridgey in consistency.

Here's what my bai zhou looks like after about 25 or 30 minutes of simmering. The rice grains are still more or less distinct, but you can't quite tell where one grain ends and another begins. 

Here's what longer-cooked (one hour or more) congee looks like (along with some hei zhi ma  for a garnish and some greens mixed in)--no distinction whatsoever between the rice grains. Neither way is more right--it's really about your preference. 

Lightly salt and pepper about one quarter of a pound of ground beef--Adam used grass-fed ground chuck, 80% lean.  Gently form a patty with your hands.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet on high heat. Put your patty in the skillet and cook it for about 3-4 minutes a side. There's no need to oil your pan first. Don't touch it at all for at least the first couple of minutes on each side; Adam insists: "It'll let go of the pan when it's ready." During those first couple of minutes, you're building a nice crust on the outside of the burger and also building up the fond, the nice crusty bits that are left stuck in the pan that will be the basis for your flavorful gravy.

Take burger out and set it aside, or just set it on top of a bowl of bai zhou.

Take the pan off the heat, let it cool a bit. There will be some fat in the pan that has come off of the ground beef. If it's more than a couple of tablespoons, remove some fat. If it's less, add some butter to make up a couple tablespoons of fat total. Then return the pan to medium heat and whisk in two or so tablespoons of flour; whisk (or stir with a wooden spoon) for two to three minutes till the flour starts to brown a little bit. Gradually whisk in beef or chicken stock (we used chicken stock)* very slowly--make sure each bit of stock is smoothly incorporated before adding more. Continue adding stock, more or less a cup in total until you have your gravy at the consistency you like it.

*It's worth noting that if you're not making your stock at home, storebought chicken stock is generally far superior to storebought beef stock.

In another pan, cook an egg over-easy.

Assemble your loco moco congee: bai zhou in a wide bowl, then hamburger patty, then egg; top it all with gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste, plus hei zhi ma if you like. Enjoy.

OMG, you guys. 
This morning, Adam made me a healthier version of loco moco congee--bai zhou topped with an egg over-easy; a turkey patty he formed with salt, pepper and smoked paprika; sauteed kale; and his homemade sriracha. It hit the same heartwarming, nostalgic spot for me as a "real" loco moco, and kept me going through a busy morning with a fussy, fevered toddler (who is, thankfully, all better now).

Okay, so it was my idea to call this "a healthier version of a loco moco." Adam insists that he was not trying to imitate a loco moco, and that without gravy, this is not a proper loco moco at all, and that I shouldn't even call it that because I am bound to disappoint the masses. But I really, really liked it. 
If you've never had a loco moco, please try it. I mean, once, at least. There are all sorts of versions of it, but I'm a purist: steamed white rice, beef patty, gravy and an egg over easy. A runny egg yolk is critical, because it needs to mix with the gravy and that mixture has to sort of saturate the rice. (I remember one time, years ago, Jenjen called me from a visit home to Honolulu all outraged; she'd gotten a loco moco somewhere, but they'd cooked the egg all the way through. "Then it's not a loco moco!" I shouted, instantly beside myself on her behalf. "I KNOW!" wailed Jenjen. "Do it right, or like, what's the POINT?")

I love that Jenjen knew that she'd get a sympathetic ear, calling me about an improperly executed loco moco.I'm not saying you can't mess around with your loco moco--I mean, I'm messing around with it just having it over congee, or suggesting you have it with turkey and kale and no gravy. But all that being said, no matter what I do to your loco moco, I promise, gravely and sincerely, that I will never, ever, ever serve it to you with an overcooked egg.