Saturday, February 11, 2006

Green greens

There is no doubt that southerners love their heart-attack inducing fried chicken and barbeque brisket. But no proper southern table is ever complete without an offering of greens, which invariably includes at least one of collards, mustard greens, or kale. Tough and fibrous, these hearty veggies are terrible choices for a salad, but when simmered slowly in the rendering of bacon and/or a smoked ham hock or two, they turn into stars with bold flavors that stand up to their meaty companions. More than once I have order veggie plates with heaping ladlefuls of these greens and managed to slurp it all down.

My only gripe with cooking these greens southern style is that the slow and long simmering, which breaks down the tough fibers, also turns the lovely deep emerald into various shades of brown. Besides being much less attractive looking, the “browns” also retain significantly less amounts of vitamins and other goodness. “Is there a way to serve tasty green greens?” I pondered and soon began a quest for a recipe that would deliver a huge punch of flavor without compromising the green factor.

The winning recipe was conjured up completely by accident. I happened upon a southern greens recipe a few days back that included raisins, an unusual idea to me. I didn’t think a shot of sweetness from the raisins would do very well with the often vinegar-brightened southern greens. The yellowish green color of the raisins would also get lost in the sea of browns. But something about the raisins appealed to me. Fruit accents always played well with pungent flavors, as demonstrated in classic pairing of pear with Roquefort. Maybe a dose of intense savory would set off the fruitiness of the raisins. Then a light went off and Sautéed Kale with Raisins, Currants, and Anchovies was born. The anchovies, once broken down in hot oil, leave no traces of fishiness, but impart an intense nutty flavor. The combination of yellow raisins and dark currants provide visual contrast with the greens and bursts of sweetness. The just tender kale offers a bit of crunchiness and more of its original green flavor. All in all, this is a dish with strong flavors and complementary textures.

Sautéed Kale with Raisins, Currants, and Anchovies
Serves 4-6

10 cups of washed and chopped kale (mine were about ½ inch stripes)
6 fillets of oil-packed anchovies, drained
1/3 cup of currants
¼ cup of raisins
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup water
2T of olive oil

1. Heat the olive oil on medium high in a large Dutch oven or thick bottomed pot large enough to hold the kale and has room to allow stirring.

2. Before the oil begins to smoke, add the anchovies and break them up using a spatula. Cook until the anchovies have completely disintegrated into the oil. In the mean time, cover the raisins and currants with water in a bowl and microwave for 25 seconds.

3. Add the kale to the pot all at once and stirring to coat with oil. The kale should wilt a bit from the heat of the oil.

4. Add the raisins, currants, and chicken stock and simmer without lid until the kale is just tender and still green. About 5-7 minutes. A little longer if you like it a bit softer, but don’t cook so long that it starts turning brown. Add a bit more chicken stock if the pot looks dry. Stir the kale occasionally so it wilts evenly. The done kale will be about a little less than ½ of the original volume.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

No comments: