Monday, January 20, 2014

Raw or Braised? The Kale Debate Rages On

I know of very few people who are more dedicated to the regular consumption of brassicas than contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food. In this essay he takes on raw kale lovers, staking out his ground on the side of long, slow cooking.

I have too many cookbooks, but that doesn’t stop me from buying more. David Tanis’ new one, One Good Dish, just arrived, and one of the first things I read as I thumbed the pages was his recipe for kale (top photo). Sorry to all the kale salad lovers, but I’m with Tanis; the leafy greens from these hardy Brassicas taste best after long cooking.

Then I saw “fried bread in the Iberian manner,” Spanish-style migas made from dry bread, another thing I make fairly often. And polentina, a Tuscan vegetable soup thickened with a spoonful of corn meal. The recipes in One Good Dish resonate because they’re just like the food I make every day. Maybe there’s some confirmation bias involved, but this is a book you could cook from for a long time.

Here are my versions of long-cooked kale and Iberian fried bread.

Braised Greens

I cook either cavolo nero (aka Tuscan kale) or collard greens every week, and I always braise them with onion, olive oil, salt, and water. They’re so good I don’t think I need to try anything else (unless it's this). The secret ingredient is time; the greens are best if cooked for at least 45 minutes.

Chop an onion and start cooking it in enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan (anything with a decent lid will be fine). While the onion cooks, chiffonade a bunch of greens: roll half the bunch into a tight bundle and cut into quarter inch slices. It isn’t necessary to cut out the central stalk since you’re going to cook them until they’re tender.

Add the greens to the onion along with some salt and about a half cup of water. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Check after 20 minutes, and add water if needed to keep the bottom of the pot covered (I’ve burned greens more than once; sometimes you can save them and just say they’re “caramelized). Let them simmer for at least 45 minutes, longer is okay (but check for water). Drizzle with a bit of fresh extra virgin at the table.


Like Tanis, I usually have some kind of old bread in the kitchen. After a few days of fresh bread and toast, I cut the rest of the loaf into rough cubes and leave it out to get dry (a much better outcome than finding a moldy slice in the bag). For migas, I’ll use it after a day or so, but even older, really hard bread can be revived by sprinkling with a couple of tablespoons of water (let it sit for 15 minutes before frying).

Use enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet; heat it over a medium flame until it shimmers, then add the bread and fry gently until it’s nicely browned. Add some chopped onion and a little garlic if you like, and the rest depends on what’s at hand.

Migas are leftover food for me, so I’ll pull out whatever bits and pieces I have tucked in the refrigerator. Spanish-style chorizo, the dry cured salami version, is classic, and any kind of cured pork can fill in. Don’t have any? Use leftover chicken, diced bacon, or just leave it out. (For other ideas: migas with ham, eggplant migas.)

I always have cabbage, so I’ll chop a little and add it to the skillet. Peppers are good, too. Let everything cook together and get a little crispy, then splash in a a tablespoon or so of good vinegar (Katz, of course) and finish with a a few shakes of the smoky Spanish paprika called pimenton. Top with an fried egg or two if you like.

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