Wednesday, December 16, 2009

lake, kale

Awhile ago I was eating dinner out when a beautiful woman walked into the restaurant. Everything about this woman was eye catching: Not only was she beautiful, she was tall and statuesque, elegantly dressed, perfectly coiffed. Throughout the evening I found my eyes wandering to where the woman sat, first at the bar, then at a nearby table. And I wasn't the only one: Everyone in the restaurant watched her, some people staring outright, others glancing over every few seconds, like swimmers coming up for air.

I've had a similar feeling lately about our lake. There's just about no place I'd rather be than Vermont in the summer, but our lake is at its most beautiful during the darkest days of winter, and I've found myself wanting to look at it as much as possible. I take long walks back and forth along the bike path that runs next to it, I explore the streets that border it hoping for a glimpse, I loiter in the park on the hill that overlooks it, I bring my poor dog down to the pier and we shiver and watch the waves crash against the breakwater. Basically, I'm stalking the lake.

Stalking the lake has taken me down several streets I rarely walk, and while I was out one day recently, I noticed that there is lacinato kale growing outside the Burlington Police Station.

Lacinato kale is the opposite of a drop-dead gorgeous woman in a restaurant, or a violently beautiful lake in winter. Kale is not pretty to look at and something most people don't want to have think about, let alone see on their plate.

But here in our utopian little city, people feel differently about kale. It's grown outside municipal buildings, apparently, and a local restaurant has a neon sign advertising when kale is being served inside.

In spite of its popularity in my little hometown, though, I was slow to convert. My few experiences being served kale (steamed, usually) epitomized everything that can be wrong with gruel when cooked by the wrong hands: It tasted like health food, and not in a good way. So when I first tried the dish below, I used a mix of greens, as the original recipe suggested, usually one bunch of kale and one of chard. And it was good, but I noticed that my favorite bites were the ones that contained kale, and I found my fork seeking it out in the bowl.

Braising brings out the best in this hearty green—when cooked properly it is tender but toothsome and slightly sweet. The chick peas are a nice addition both for flavor and a bit of protein, though the dish would be good without them if you're not a fan, and the lemon juice adds a splash of sass.

What I'm trying to say is that while kale may not catch your attention, this dish is worth taking a look at.

Braised Kale With Chick Peas
adapted from Orangette

2 bunches of lacinato kale, ~1½ pounds total
3 tablespoons evoo
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ medium yellow onion, minced
1 can (15½ ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Trim the central ribs from the kale and discard them. Wash the leaves and drain well in a colander. Don't bother to pat them dry; they should be slightly damp when they go into the pan. Stack the leaves a few at a time, and slice them crosswise into ¼-inch-wide ribbons.

2. In a large skillet that has a lid that fits, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté until the onion is soft and just translucent, about 5–10 minutes (stop before they brown). Add the chickpeas, and stir to mix. Add the kale to the pan, season well with salt, and stir to blend. You will most likely have to add the kale in batches, letting it cook down slightly to make room. Cook, stirring occasionally, until you've added all the kale and can cover the skillet.

3. Once the pan is covered, lower the heat so that the kale is braising gently, and cook until it is tender, 10–15 minutes. You'll want to taste as you go to ensure you don't overcook the greens, removing them from the heat when they are tender but before they are mushy.

4. Remove the kale from the pan and drizzle with fresh lemon juice to taste (I usually use the juice of half of one lemon), add more salt if necessary.

This dish can be served warm or at room temperature, as a side dish or the main course (as long as you're not feeding the yachtsman). It makes great leftovers, which I keep in the fridge and often eat cold for lunch, or, if I'm patient enough, I let them come up to room temperature. Since the yachtsman is not around to make gagging noises, I think that tomorrow I might try them warm with a soft-boiled egg on top, after which I'll head out for my morning gawk at the lake.


  1. Ok Kater, you've made me reconsider my morning thoughts (following a FRIGID walk with the pooch) of burning down my house - for both the warmth and to regain the freedom my recently acquired mortgage seems to have absconded with - and moving to some warm dry place. Instead I'm committing to trudging through the woods behind my house and visiting the little beach that looks out on Mallett's Bay more often this winter. You should feel free to join me - it's easier to sneak up on the lake when you come at it from the woods and surprise it in a new location.

  2. So, did you pick your kale in front of the police which case one of us needs to stand by to bail you out. They have this camera thing going, you know.

  3. William, I hope I get to see that house of yours before you burn it down, and I like the way you think re: sneaking up on the lake. But don't think I'm above (below?) stalking you, too, as it seems like the way I'm most likely going to get inside your new home.

    Suzanne, I think of braising as cooking something in liquid over low heat, but here's the definition from the dictionary of food terms at "A cooking method by which food (usually meat or vegetables) is first browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. The long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes foods by gently breaking down their fibers. Braising can be done on top of the range or in the oven. A tight-fitting lid is very important to prevent the liquid from evaporating."

    And Him Momma, I did consider stealing that kale but was worried that if caught I would be charged not with a misdemeanor for petty theft but some kind of Homeland-Security-related felony that could get me extraordinarily renditioned to a lawless country where I would be braised live until I confessed to, um, poaching some kale.

  4. I'll go on that stalking mission of William's new house with you! We need to get a posse together and stalk that shizz!

  5. Wait, wha happen! I'm not mojie anymore for some reason. Hmmmmmmmmmmm...