Friday, January 23, 2009

Introducing Kale

Kale Soup with Pork and Mushrooms

I love kale. When other greens look wimpy and unappetizing, the kale in the supermarket still appears fresh and healthy, its deep green leaves doubling over themselves with earthy goodness, crisply crenellated with their own vitality. Kale has a distinct flavor, sometimes even a sweetness, and a texture that holds up in soups and stews. Kale is not merely rabbit food, and it's a damn shame it's fed to more rabbits than humans these days. It is, I daresay, a manly green. A very virile vegetable. And it's full of nutrients like calcium and iron. It will do your body good.

I often cook kale with garlic, white wine, and cannellini beans in my own version of the Italian peasant standby, escarole and beans. Since I nearly froze to death on my way home the other night, I was more in the mood for soup.

Kale goes together with pork in a magical way. The Portuguese have a variant of kale soup that uses chorizo. I did not have any chorizo, but I do keep a small reserve of cured pork fat in my freezer, which I use mainly as a flavoring. It's also true that many of the nutrients in dark, leafy greens are fat soluble, and you actually increase their benefit by cooking with a small amount of animal fat. The meat used here is a standard pork cutlet, an extremely lean cut that won't add much fat, but will make for a more satisfying and protein-filled result. Mushrooms and sherry are also a magical combination, and so I've incorporated both ingredient pairings here to wonderful effect. What you get is a very hearty soup with plenty in each spoonful. If you prefer your soup to be soupier, just add stock as desired.

Kale and Pork Soup with Mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small piece cured pork fat
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 small pork cutlets, sliced thin
8-10 button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup sherry
5 cups kale, shredded
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup tiny pasta (i.e. stars, orzo)
Black pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Grated Romano cheese (if desired)

In a deep pot, sautee pork fat in oil until it begins to brown, then remove it. Add the onion and shallot and cook until browned, then add the pork. When the pork begins to brown, add the mushrooms and cook together until they acquire some of the flavors and begin to brown, too. Add the sherry and stir everything together until the alcohol is cooked off. Begin stirring in your kale- it will cook down, and you'll soon be able to get it all in the pot. Add the chicken stock and bring the pot to a boil. Add the pasta and lower heat to simmering. Once the kale is tender, taste the soup and adjust salt and pepper to taste. You can leave it a little less salty and sprinkle some grated cheese on top instead, if you like.


adele said...

I keep meaning to get to kale, but I'm still not over my fascination with collard greens. Maybe in another month?

Foodichka said...

You can do the same things with collards, but they have a different flavor- I find them to be both more bitter and more sweet. Collards make me want BBQ, for not-so-mysterious reasons...

Kirsti said...

Animal fat is not the best way to enhance the absorption of vitamins. Instead of adding unhealthy saturated animal fats to a wholesome kale dish, try unsaturated vegetable-based fats which are delicious AND don't clog the arteries. Try olive oil, safflower, grapeseed, sunflower...