Monthly Archives: October 2015

Kale 101

Even though the days are a lot shorter and certainly quite a bit cooler, several crops flourish in this environment.  Those crops that love and embrace the cooler temps are the dark green leafy vegetables that are so critical for optimal health.  Spinach reigned supreme in this category for years, but recently Kale has become tremendously popular and widely available at both local farmer’s markets as well as conventional grocery stores. Even  with its rise in popularity , I have found that many people  are still unsure what the different types are and how they should be used.  This is important because not all types of Kale are the same and might not work for every kale recipe you find.  In fact many Kale recipes I have searched online leave out what type of kale is best suited for it.  This often leads to people being turned off by kale saying it was too tough or bitter when really that particular type should never have been used.

There are 3 main categories of kale and within each of these there are several varieties.  The specific varieties are not as important and pertain more to growing environments, certain types simply grow better in specific areas.  There are also some heirloom varieties which may have a bit different flavor or coloring , but  the differences are not significant.

The 3 major types of Kale are :

Red Russian: (pictured above) this is the broad leaf kale that has frilled edges but the leaves are primarily flat.  This Kale is ideal for salads and require no “massaging” which has always struck me as ridiculous.  Red or White Russian or Siberian Kale is mild in flavor and texture so this is the best Kale for all RAW recipes, including smoothies.  Simply remove the tough ribs by sliding a knife down the length of the stem and use the rest of the leaves for those delicious salads and raw dishes.

Lacinato, Tuscan or Dino: this is the kale with the bumpy long oval leaves.  This is without a doubt my preferred choice for kale chips.  You can use this kale raw and in salads, but if you do, I recommend laying the leaves in a stack and slicing them into shreds which helps to relieve some of the inherent toughness in the leaves.  This is a great choice for sauteing because it does not shrink as much as red russian kale, which much like spinach reduces in volume by about 70% when cooked.

Winterbore or Curly Squash:  please don’t confuse these varieties with the decorative kale you can find at any nursery center though they do look quite the same.  This is probably the most common type of kale available and when purchasing frozen kale this is almost always what you get.  Curly kale is best for cooking, especially in soups and stews.  The hardy leaves stand up to simmering in a pot for hours so if you are making a batch of Portugeuse Kale soup this is definitely the type you want to use.  Again you will want to remove the thick rib before cooking because even simmering in a soup for hours these ribs stay tough and hard to chew and can easily turn someone off to kale.

Of course it wouldn’t be an Optimal Kitchen blog with a recipe so here is one for a classic:

PORTUGEUSE KALE SOUP

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped carrots

½ cup chopped onion

1 tbs. chopped garlic

1 bunch curly Kale ( or a 16 oz bag of frozen chopped)

½ small cabbage

4 red potatoes

1lb Linguica or Chorizo

1 15oz. can kidney beans

½ tbs. dried oregano

2 quarts chicken/vegetable broth

Olive oil for cooking

Season with salt and pepper

  1. Saute onions, carrots, celery and garlic in oil until onions are clear
  2. Add cut up linguica and cook together over a low heat for 10 mins.
  3. Add chicken and beef broth and bring to a boil
  4. Add chopped kale and cabbage
  5. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour
  6. Add diced potatoes and beans and simmer until potatoes are tender

I have made this recipe vegetarian and omitted the sausage and it was a delicious soup, but I wouldn’t feel right calling it Portuguese Kale Soup since the addition of Linguica or Chorizo is key to maintaining the ethnicity of this soup!

 

BRRRR! It is getting cold outside!

Thai White Bean Chili
Thai White Bean Chili

When the weather changes and the mercury dips down in the freezing area, I can’t help but think about a warm pot of soup.  Soups will be commonly featured in this blog because soups are truly the base of everyday cooking around the globe.  Visit almost any corner of the earth and the culture you come upon will have a basic soup recipe used for everyday cooking.  In Japan it is Udon noodle broths, in Africa it is a ground nut soup, in Italy we could say Minestrone and in China we have Wonton.  These are just a few examples and as you begin to think about it you will see, soup is an integral part of humanity’s everyday eating habits.

In the U.S. these days canned soup reigns supreme in most homes, but between sodium levels and added preservatives, these are not always very healthy choices.  So making a soup from scratch is really the best way to go, not just from a health perspective but an economical one as well.  There is no better home for forgotten, unused produce than a pot of homemade vegetable soup.  Soups allow us to use whatever we have on hand and ensure that we aren’t throwing food, especially expensive produce away.  Another bonus here is that cooking vegetables often releases nutrients, however if you are making a soup, those nutrients simply remain in the soup’s broth so quite literally, nothing is wasted.

Since my goal is to get people using what they already have on hand, simplifying the cooking experience exponentially, the recipe in today’s post is fluid and uses whatever you already have.  No special trips to the store for the Optimal Kitchen.  So warm yourself up by the stove and go ahead and try this one out!

PURGE THE FRIDGE SOUP
1/2 Gallon Chicken, Fish or Vegetable Stock
1 large Onion, bunch of Scallions, Shallots or Leeks
A few garlic cloves, minced
1 cup or so chopped Carrots, Celery, Turnips, Parsnips or Fennel
1 head of dark leafy greens (Escarole, Kale, Swiss Chard, Beet Greens or even Spinach) chopped
1 large can or 2 cups soaked and par cooked Beans (Red, Black, White or even Chick Peas)
Fresh or Dried Herbs, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Basil, Thyme or Bay Leaf
Sea Salt and Ground Pepper to taste
Olive Oil for cooking

Saute onions in olive oil until clear, about 5 mins. and then add carrots, celery or whatever hearty vegetables you have on hand and sauté for another 2-3 mins.
If mixture looks a bit dry add some stock, then add garlic and whatever combination of dark leafy greens you may have and sauté for a few more minutes before adding the beans and herbs
Season with Sea salt and fresh pepper at this point and then slowly pour in stock or broth
Keep over a medium high heat until it just begins to bubble then reduce to a simmer for 10-15mins until beans are tender
Serves 8-10 servings

This is the base to which you can also add lots of other goodies you find in your refrigerator. It is always best to add starches like rice, pasta, quinoa that have already been cooked so they won’t absorb all of your liquid and turn your soup into something much more reminiscent of a stew so scan your fridge and toss some in, but keep it at one starch, pasta and rice do not go together, the same rule applies if you add potatoes to your soup, that is plenty of starch. Feel free to toss in cooked chicken, turkey or any other meats you may have in your fridge that will most likely be thrown out if not used, just be sure that if it is seasoned, that the flavorings complement those of your soup and not compete with it.

So go ahead and getting cooking!

The Optimal Kitchen is Back!

After a rather lengthy hiatus, the Optimal Kitchen’s website is back up and running.We hope it will be better than ever. New features include a daily blog and membership services that will allow clients to subscribe to weekly menus, complete with shopping lists and recipes. The Optimal Kitchen is dedicated to empowering people in the kitchen by offering clear, concise and no-nonsense information to make healthy cooking simple and fun.

Raw Beet and Kale Salad with a Ginger Vinaigrette
Raw Beet and Kale Salad with a Ginger Vinaigrette
Asian Vegetable Salad
Asian Vegetable Salad
Thai White Bean Chili
Thai White Bean Chili