cooking can be god in senior nutrition bags, october 25th 2006
This week, autumn's abundance brings us the turgid farce of televised democracy with a few vegetables tossed in on the side. Farm doctors note a strong correlation between clinical depression and negative advertising as well as cold cabbage-harvesting and bloody fingers. As usual, the doctors are ignored. Our international sales manager, Kia Kozun, was recently the victim of an invisible motor vehicle assailant (we're scratching for the voodoo angle) and hopefully she'll get well soon. Or else.
Rather than a pair of in-depth recipes, I'm going to stroll through this week, offering hints and suggestions along the way. As I've been reading increasing amounts of raw food propaganda -- raw food will keep you younger!, raise your energy!, fight your cancer!, and do your laundry! -- I'll try to overwhelm you with salads, as well.
First, the kale. Diligent readers will remember the Lacinato Massage Technique from the last newsletter.
Green kale, too, benefits from such gentle treatment. For tonight's dinner, I steadied myself with a firm left hand on the counter, and kneaded the kale relentlessly with salt (and then lemon) until all crunching sounds ceased in deference to a silken folding. The brash aural and digestive affront thus removed, you can enjoy your salad in style. On a large steel plate, I mounded the kale in the middle, ringed by grated beets (see below) and topped with carefully slivered almonds. To treat yourself, blanch the almonds first by plunging them in hot water for a commercial break, then rubbing off the skins (a simple motion of thumb and forefinger, like counting your lucre). The treat, to be sure, is not so much the pasty white color of the naked almond (as opposed to his edgy brown undercoat) but rather the satisfaction of having devoted X minutes of your ever-more-limited time on God's Rainy Earth to the loving attention of your diners (subject included in object, hopefully). So rub, and rub well.
If you're over the whole massaged kale movement (that was so early 21st century) I'd recommend a hot green soup. Take a typical soup base and stock (ie, sautéed or roasted vegetables like onion, celery, carrot, and potato) and add your diced kale to simmer for ten minutes before serving. With the kale, chop in a mess of dill and parsley, to swing the flavor and color to leafy dominance. I'd prefer some deeply toasted cumin or lightly toasted fenugreek (small hard square seeds, used mainly in Indian food and available at the PT co-op), freshly ground (by any means necessary, including a wine bottle) to spice the soup, in addition to more traditional salt, pepper, and a squirt of lemon at the end.
On to the cabbage. What are you going to do with that huge green head of cabbage? Your first priority will likely be to cut the cabbage exactly in half, from forehead to heel, and spend the next hour's finer moments listening to Beethoven and staring at the fractal floral essence of the cabbage's phenotype. Rêverie fini, you will see the cabbage as culinary player in a host of new ways. The cabbage is an efficiently-packaged bundle of edible plates, raw tortillas, and organic drip-guards. Mix some of yesterday's beans with today's arugula and Aunt Joan's salsa to have a new take on the burrito concept, guaranteed to be free of genetically modified corn. Or dry it (salt, wait, and squeeze) and pulse it in the robot until finely chopped (powdered perhaps), then use it like you would couscous or bulgar in a salad. Large forkfuls of tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, with a generous dress of mint, parsley, lemon, and garlic, can all swim in your powder-fresh ambient cabbage.
Perhaps most imposingly, juice it. Cabbage juice is a mix between your alarm clock and rich uncle's mustard. It's pungent, fascinating, and not often repeated. I'll take it in a 1:5 ratio with carrot juice because somebody once told me it was "healthy". Your sweet carrots, on the other hand, can be used for anything from juice to currency. Late in the season you can sell them to Seattlites on Ebay. But for now, I'd recommend carving some attractive carrot sticks or spears for frequent snacking (and saving the stubby bits for stock-making), or grating them into a salad on their own. They're so sweet they need neither salt , sugar, nor cooking; I'll find myself mixing in a little tahini at the most, for that oily kick.
Arugula. My first recommendation for those brave citizens encountering their prima noctum with arugula is to try a small piece. Be impressed and not overwhelmed by its attitude and you've set the stage for a long and gentle relationship. Since the prime complaint I hear regarding this piquant green is "too strong" the main recipe I suggest is one in which strength is an asset, not a weakness: pesto. Use arugula instead of basil you can't find, blended nicely with walnuts, parmesan (or tofu), garlic, olive oil, and maybe a little cream. Toss it with pasta (some delicately steamed cauliflower or romanesco?) or use it to dress roasted beets or potatoes.
Speaking of potatoes. We're going to skip them. You already know.
Finally, as I mentioned briefly above, a ring of grated beets around a central mound of kale provides a striking polysensual contrast. I'd mix in a bit of soy sauce and orange juice with the beets (less than a teaspoon of each) or some apple-cider vinegar, to help round out the flavor. Or if you want something hot, roasted beets are an easy and timeless vegetable entry -- simply wash and cut them into mouthy chunks, rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and tray into a hot oven at 400 degrees (F). Start checking and shaking after half an hour, when you've finished preparing the salads and doing the dishes, and you won't be long disappointed. Simple beet stir-fries are also easy to put together -- chop your beets into matchsticks (peeling might be worthwhile here) and sauté in 2 tablespoons of oil that you've livened by adding some combination of garlic, ginger, fresh chiles, dried chiles, and mustard seeds. Toss attentively on high heat for almost ten minutes, or until they've cooked off a lot of water, and then add a happy handful of chopped cilantro, mint, dill, or arugula, depending upon your altitude, attitude and lunar phase. The mustardy beginning and dilly finish is hard to, well, compete with.