[ vegetarian improvisational peasant fusion cuisine for the 22nd century ]

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

cooking can be god for senior nutrition bags, september 27th 2006

[written not for the farmshare program but a community outreach nash's does with local senior citizens, providing a bag of fresh vegetables every couple of weeks]

This week's fall colors have just moved indoors – not the mottled yellows of the Big Leaf Maples outside but rather the deep greens, purples, oranges, and reds of organic produce. Perhaps the strangest and most striking member of your bountiful bag is the bundle of Lacinato Kale. Lacinato will be with us all winter, only getting sweeter and more friendly after nightly dalliances with the falling frosts. He's a tasty dark-green kale of Italian stock, and excellent for your health. Kale is full of powerful antioxidants (including zeaxanthin and lutein) that protect us from degenerative illnesses like cancer, cardio-vascular disease and age-related macular degeneration. That's over and above the standard cocktail of folic acid, Vitamin K, beta-carotene, calcium, and magnesium.

If you want the full influx of Kale's nutrients, and the respect of cooks and colleagues, eat it raw.

-- Lacinato Kale Salad --

Half of your Lacinato kale leaves, stems and ribs removed.
Two beautiful tomatoes, cut into wedges
A few spoons of toasted sesame seeds
An early drizzle of soy or tamari sauce
One cleverly grated carrot

Chop the Kale. Mix with salt. Wait. Rinse. Massage. Dress with lemon juice. Wait. Massage.
While you're waiting you can toast the seeds, grate the carrot, and slice the tomatoes. If you're ambitious you can even get started on the next course.

The salt and lemon treatments serve to ease digestion of the Kale without destroying its plentiful nutrients. However, while raw food is amazingly nutritious, it's also a pain in the backside to chew.

-- Potato and Kale Lunch Bowl --

A simple one-dish meal with all of your bright-eyed nutrients and basic starches, this dish combines potatoes, kale, and spices. Top with grated cheese for added flair.

A potato for each person (larger potatoes for larger people)
All the kale you can spare
A colorful carrot, beet, or radish
Mustard seeds
Fresh or dried chilies (optional, like everything else in your life)
Chopped garlic

First, set a couple inches of water to boil. Then, wash your potatoes well, peel them if you have the inclination, and dice them roughly. Your goal is to chop as little as possible and still fit a chunk into your mouth. Slide the chopped potatoes into the hot water and remember to stir occasionally over the next few minutes. We're trying to tenderize the potatoes, not overcook them.

As the water and potatoes dance together under the shady comfort of a lid, wash and chop your Kale, sparing the fibrous ribs and stems for compost or wild animals. Slice the carrot/beet/radish diagonally (“on the bias”) to maximize surface-area and aesthetic pleasure. We are striving for a green undertone punctuated by white monoliths and accents of orange diamond. You know.

When you've finished chopping the potatoes will be perfect. Trust yourself. Set them aside, save the water, and heat a couple tablespoons of oil or butter in the pan. When the fat is hot sprinkle in a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Cumin seeds work fine as well. Coriander seeds a little less so, so make sure nobody's looking. When the seeds pop in the oil, add the potatoes and fry, stirring well. When cooking with small amounts of oil, it's important to stir frequently and coat all the vegetables. The oil, activity, and attention will all insure a happy and healthy life for the cook. And the happy and healthy life of the cook is the only road to a happy and healthy life for the eater.

As the potatoes begin to crackle and brown, add your chopped garlic and chilies. Fry for another minute before adding the kale and carrots. Cook on high heat as they sweat out their water – the kale will wilt and the carrots shall shine.

Salt, freshly ground pepper, and a little lemon kick at the end will finish the deal. Those who seek a graver affair can add the reserved water and cook a minute longer to thicken. A nice touch at the end is to have finely chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro (in three finely separated piles) to use for conspicuous and intersecting circles of decoration.

-- Hot chocolate --

False advertising for the morning after, when the chills have insinuated themselves into your bones and there's no more Kale until Farmer Kia's next visit. We don't actually grow cacao on the farm but we do have beets, and their long and famous history of sugar production shouldn't be lost.

A pair of dark purple beets, beheaded and peeled
A wee bit of cinnamon and/or clove
Some optional milk
Some cocoa powder

Slice the beets the round way and place into boiling water, such that the water is a centimeter above the beets. Boil until the slices are tender – remove them and set aside for later's salad. Add your spices and cocoa powder to the boiling water and even milk if you like. Lower the heat and simmer together, warming and mixing. It should smell rich and purple and hot and healthy.

Serve with neither nomenclature nor ado, a simple surprise to warm the morning.