Winter can be a tough time for salad eaters. God bless California for its yearlong growing season, but when you've become accustomed to fresh spring greens and arugula laid out lovingly on a Lancaster County farmer's market table, the stiff, water-misted leaf lettuce and bagged spinach under the supermarket's fluorescent lights lose their appeal.
So in winter, I embrace the late-season greens - brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard, and cabbage. They take more work up front, but they reward cooks with a heartier dish than salad, and, as a bonus, they have a much longer shelf life if you can't cook them right away.
I didn't know what kale was until I joined a farm-share a few years ago. Having no clue what to do with the tough leaves, I asked a colleague, who suggested making kale chips. Anyone who has turned his or her nose up at dark, leafy greens won't believe that kale can be transformed into chips as crisp as the potato variety. But it can.
Discard the stems completely - cut a V-shape up the back if they're attached to the leaves - cut the leaves into bite-size bits, coat them lightly in oil, sprinkle them with salt and maybe a few sesame seeds. Spread them on a pan and bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 300 degrees, turning them over once, until they're very crisp. It's a tasty, salty treat that's a lot healthier than potato chips.
Of course, to get the best nutritional benefits from kale, a powerhouse of Vitamins A, C, and K as well as iron and calcium, it's best to braise it. Kale takes time to cook down, usually by sautéing with a little olive oil and then simmering it in broth or water until the leaves are bright green. A simple recipe uses olive oil and a little broth to soften the leaves, and then finishes them off with sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, which offset the strong, almost broccolilike taste of kale.
Swiss chard looks gorgeous with its yellow, orange, and red stems and shiny leaves. It's more delicate than kale in texture and flavor, so it works best with subtler ingredients. I cooked it with lemon, fennel, and Parmesan cheese, along with garlic and olive oil. The texture was hearty, like a stew, and the redness of the cooked stems reminded me of borscht. But the flavor was straight from the Mediterranean: zesty citrus, warming garlic, and a hint of anise.
Cabbage is another vegetable that I'd previously only eaten boiled on St Patrick's Day, along with corned beef and soda bread. It's delicious in the meal, but I had never really tried to incorporate cabbage into winter salads. It's tough like broccoli when it's raw, and gets mushy quickly when cooked.
I was inspired to try salting cabbage a few years ago after reading about the technique in Mark Bittman's column, "The Minimalist," in the New York Times. He suggested salting shredded cabbage and letting it sit for a couple of hours in a colander. The cabbage releases some of its water and softens so it's not raw, but still has a nice crunch. Rinse it off, toss it with pepper and a little lemon juice or white wine vinegar, and - voilà - a simple, healthy winter salad.
The two recipes I used for brussels sprouts create very different dishes. The classic French pairing of sprouts and chestnuts is rich, made with lots of butter and sweet shallots. It calls for a bit of water or white wine, and I suggest using the wine: It keeps the flavor from becoming too cloyingly sweet.
The sauteed chiffonade is great for those who are skeptical that brussels sprouts could possibly taste good. I've made it with a half-cup of toasted hazelnuts and a handful of pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries to create a more complex side dish.
Sauteed Chiffonade of Brussels Sprouts
Makes 8 servings
2 pounds brussels sprouts
3/4 pound leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste
1. Wash brussels sprouts, stem, then discard any damaged leaves.
2. Cut sprouts in half lengthwise, then cut each half into thin ribbons by cutting across the leaves.
3. Wash leeks by dividing in half lengthwise, leaving root end attached. Run water through layers to remove sand, drain thoroughly.
4. Discard green leaves and root end, then slice leek into thin ribbons.
5. Heat large, heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and unsalted butter.
6. Add sliced leeks, saute just until they're beginning to turn translucent.
7. Add brussels sprouts and saute 6-8 minutes, stirring often. Cook just until leaves are bright green and tender.
8. Stir in lemon juice, then season with pepper and salt. Serve immediately.
- Based on a recipe by chefs Byran and Sarah Severns
Per serving: 131 calories, 5 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates,
4 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 131 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Festive Brussels Sprouts
Makes 4 to 6 servings
8 ounces chestnuts
1/2 cup milk
4 cups small, tender brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons dry white wine or water
1. Using a small knife, score a cross in the base of each chestnut. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil over medium-high heat, then drop in the chestnuts and boil for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pan from the heat.
2. Using a slotted spoon, remove a few chestnuts from the pan, leaving the others immersed in the water until ready to peel. Before the chestnuts cool, remove the outer shell with a knife, and then peel off the inner skin.
3. Rinse the pan, return the peeled chestnuts to it, and add the milk. Top up with enough water to completely cover the chestnuts. Simmer over medium heat for 12-15 minutes until the chestnuts are just tender. Drain and set aside.
4. Remove any wilted or yellow leaves from the brussels sprouts. Trim the root ends, but leave intact or the leaves will separate. Using a small knife, score a cross in the base of each sprout so they cook evenly.
5. In a large, heavy frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the chopped shallot, and cook for 1-2 minutes until just softened, then add the brussels sprouts and wine or water. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, shaking the pan and stirring occasionally, adding a little more water if necessary.
6. Add the poached chestnuts, and toss gently to combine, then cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more, until the chestnuts and brussels sprouts are tender.
From The Cook's Encyclopedia of French Cooking
Per serving (based on 6): 151 calories, 3 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 51 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Braised Kale With Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Makes 2 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
Pinch dried red chile flakes
1 1/2 pounds kale, stemmed, leaves roughly torn
1 1/2 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth 1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
1. In a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and red chile flakes; saute until the onion is deep golden, about 5 minutes. Add the kale; toss with tongs to coat the leaves with oil. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the leaves are quite tender, about 10 minutes. (Thicker-leafed varieties will need longer, so do check the pan, adding water or broth if needed, and taste a leaf.)
2. Stir in the minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, raise the heat to high, and boil uncovered until the pan is dry. Season with a few grinds of pepper (you probably won't need salt) and serve with balsamic vinegar, if desired.
- Based on a recipe by Amy Albert, From Fine Cooking 48
Per serving: 346 calories, 16 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, no cholesterol, 613 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.
Rainbow Chard With Lemon, Fennel, and Parmigiano
Makes 8 servings
4 large bunches rainbow or Swiss chard (about 3 1/2 pounds)
2 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb, plus 1/2 cup chopped fronds (fronds optional)
2 medium lemons
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper 1/2 cup freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (shave with vegetable peeler)
1. Cut the chard stalks off just below each leaf and thinly slice the stalks. Chop the chard leaves into large pieces. Keep the stalks and leaves separate.
2. Bring a large, wide pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the sliced fennel and chard stalks and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander. (The chard can be cooked to this point up to 3 hours ahead.) Rinse and dry the pot.
3. Cut the top and bottom ends off the lemons, then stand each on a cut end and slice off the peel to expose the flesh. (Try to remove all of the bitter white pith.) Cut the lemon segments from the membranes, letting them drop into a small bowl. Finely grate the zest from the lemons and set aside.
4. Heat the oil and garlic in the pot over medium heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the fennel fronds (if using) and the lemon segments, and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add the chard leaves and stems and the fennel, and cook, stirring, until heated through. Stir in the lemon zest, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, sprinkled with the Parmigiano.
- From Nancy Oakes and Fine Cooking 102
Per serving: 150 calories: 5 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams fat, no cholesterol, 530 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Crispy Kale "Chips"
Makes 4 servings
1 head kale, washed and thoroughly dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt, for sprinkling
1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
2. Remove the ribs from the kale and cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Lay on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and salt. Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes. Serve as finger food.
- From the Food Network
Per serving: 116 calories, 4 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates,
8 grams fat, no cholesterol, 196 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at email@example.com, 856-779-3237, or @joellefarrell on Twitter.