Blog Archive

Monday, March 12, 2012

Green Inspiration

Bright Lights Swiss Chard

Green Inspiration
by Victoria Challancin

If you never thought of Florida as being a part of the South, think again.  I'm talking rural South Florida.  Rural Palm Beach County.  South of the Big Lake.  The place where I was born and raised.  Reminiscent of the Old South in culture, food, and speech.  And I, after not having lived there in over 37 years, still have a Southern accent to prove it.

And in that little corner of the South, we ate greens regularly. 

What, you might ask, exactly are "greens"?  In my family they could have been turnip greens, collard greens, or mustard greens--any one would qualify, always cooked with some bit of pork, whether it was a ham hock, a streak-o-lean, or some fat back.  And you always cooked a "mess" of them.  I never knew exactly how much a "mess" of greens was, but I knew it was a lot.  At least it was in my family, where my Dad always had a minimum of two acres of vegetables growing in his garden in that rich black Everglades' soil and where my Mom cooked daily like she was preparing for the army of hungry mouths that always, always appeared at meal time.

 Kale and mustard greens

Of course, in my modern kitchen, "greens" have taken on a new scope. Spinach, chard, purslane, Mexican quelites, and kale all have been added to my list of "greens."  And I prepare them in a way that would probably make my Dad wince.

This past weekend my husband and I visited our local Saturday Organic Market, where I was dazzled, as I always am, at the variety of produce, the astounding number of artesanal products, the cheeses, the breads, the jams and jellies, the nut butters, the herbal remedies, the freshly-prepared foods, and more.  So much more.  Oh my, it is so lovely to see the organic movement take wings in my beloved San Miguel.  And it inspires me.  Especially those greens.
 Fennel and beets

What did I buy, you ask?  Three bunches of kale.  Beautiful kale.  Two different varieties.  Luscious.  Scroll down to see what I did with them.

 Mizuna or Japanese mustard

 Salad yum

 Fresh lettuces by the heads

 ...and loose by the leaves

 Not greens, but pretty nevertheless

 Keeping it all fresh with a bunch of lettuce as a sprinkling device

And just outside the market on the street, fresh baby nopal cactus paddles, cleaned and ready to go

My Kale Inspirations

 Kale Chips

I first became enamored of kale chips when I saw them in Encinitas, California, a couple of years ago for sale for the staggering price of US$8.25 for a tiny, tiny bag.  Well, I liked the idea of fresh dried chips made from "greens," of course, but it was the price tag that was the real challenge.  My head was reeling over how I could go into the business of making kale chips and selling them as if they were gold.  By now, the world has discovered kale chips, knows how easy and cheap they are to reproduce, and beams over how healthy they are (yes, yes, full of vitamins and antioxidants...full, full, full).  For 10 pesos or around 80 US cents, I made an entire tray.  And they were delicious.  I think even my Dad would have approved of my use of his beloved greens.

Recipe:  Kale Chips
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
Cook's Notes:  I used a few grindings of a chemical-free, all-natural spice blend that I occasionally use, but cayenne pepper is also great if you really want a kick.  Also, just sea salt and freshly ground black pepper work just fine.  It's the taste of the kale you are looking for, after all.  There are several types of kale, any one of which would work fine.

One large bunch of curly-leafed kale
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (or see notes for substitutes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  

With a sharp knife, cut out the coarse part of the kale stems and tear the leaves into even pieces of desired size.  Place the kale in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Using your hands, "massage" the kale for a minute to soften the texture.

Spread the kale pieces over a cooking tray/rimmed cookie sheet.  Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until lightly crunchy.  Be careful not to over bake.


Now for a main vegetarian dish for our lunch.

 In the sauté pan

Next I decided to make something vaguely Mediterranean in flavor with another bunch of kale.  I had a big bag (it was from Costco, after all) of mini sweet peppers in a variety of colors.  Add a scary amount of garlic, a glug of good olive oil, a handful of raisins, some feta cheese, and voilà, another kale dish was born.

 The finished dish

Recipe:  Sweet Pepper Sauté with Kale and Feta
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
Cook's Notes:  Of course you can substitute regular bell peppers.  Goat cheese would also work well.  And why did I not remember that I had pine nuts--toasted, they would be wonderful with this dish. Toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds or any nut of choice would also be great.

2 cups mini sweet peppers, halved and seeded
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
One bunch kale, tough stems removed
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Pour oil in a non-stick sauté pan.  Heat over medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds.  Add the peppers and cook, stirring occasionally for the amount of time it takes to remove the stems from the kale leaves, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, remove the coarse kale stems.  Tear the leaves into manageable pieces.  Add the leaves and raisins and toasted pine nuts to the pan, stirring to coat with oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Top with a lid and allow to steam for 5 minutes or until kale is soft and peppers are cooked, but retain firmness.

Place in a serving dish and sprinkle with feta cheese.  Serve warm.


 Sweet Pepper Sauté with Kale, Raisins, and Garlic

Two bowls with kale...

What did I do with the third bundle of kale, you wonder?  I left those for my husband to nibble on raw--just as he prefers them!

If you enjoyed this, you might like my Raw Kale Salad and Avocado with Japanese-Inspired Vinaigrette.

I am submitting this post to Weekend Herb Blogging, begun by Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen and hosted by Ancutza from Matrioska's Adventures.  I will also submit it to Nancy of the beautiful Spicie Foodie for her YBR round-up of best recipes for March.  

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.


Lynne Daley said...

What a lovely post on these beautiful greens! I love all of them, especially the kale. I've never had kale chips, very intriguing recipe! The kale sauté looks amazing, too!

FOODalogue said...

OMG...if you still lived in FL, we'd be in driving distance of each other and I sure would love to meet you! I must say the produce you pictured is much nicer than anything I see locally.

Eha said...

I cannot believe the joy and colour of these pictures! Being an inveterate reader, often of the literature of the 'deep South' I never could figure out what 'a mess of greens' meant! Well, have known awhile, but still did not know all which could be considered such! Of all the goodness in basket and plate, love the fennel most . . . .

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Oh I always thought that kale chips were deep fried but these are so much better for you than what I thought! I'm going to look for some kale this weekend!

Hotly Spiced said...

What beautiful images Victoria. Your greens look incredible. I love the story of your upbringing. How I wish I had two acres to grow my own produce! And what a great looking organic market. So much variety and the produce looks top quality. I keep hearing how good kale is for you - love what you did with it. Great post! xx

Reese@SeasonwithSpice said...

Love all the gorgeous fresh produce in your market, Victoria! Indeed they are so inspiring. You captured them well. The kale salad looks absolutely flavorful & healthy. I've been wanting to try kale but will have to wait until we move back to the US.

Don Cuevas said...

Gorgeous images.

Don Cuevas

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

The sweet peppers and kale are as beautiful as can be and I'm sure delicious. Your farmer's market is wonderful.

Victoria Challancin said...

It's so true, Ben. Traditional are and always were simply a joy. And now here in SMA we have a once-a-week market that features organic products and it is absolutely a marvel (as in these photos). It is so wonderful to see the locavore and organic movement take wings here. said...

I wish also that you were in PB as I said prior I was visiting Joan and what a treat if we could have met. If ever in New York City, please let me know.

Your pictures are perfection and the kale chips are always in my kitchen...great treats.

Nancy said...

I can see how all the color and variety of produce available is inspirational. Great post and recipe Victoria. Thanks for being a part of the YBR :)

Nagi@RecipeTinEats said...

I always love greens! And I'm always up for some Kale Chips! :)