*Or: “A study in kale, punctuated by a soup”
I haven’t just gotten kale. I’ve gotten mustard greens, collard greens, several kinds of chard, dandelion greens (wow, was that a fiasco), red cabbage, green cabbage, boston red lettuce, loose leaf lettuce…okay let’s just say “many lettuces”. Lettuci. No I think the plural is probably lettuces. But the kale does keep popping up. And I am learning that it has as many varieties as any other fruit or vegetable, if not more. Here I thought there was just the one kind, namely, the pretty curly kind pictured below. Boy, was I wrong. It’s sort of like if you thought the only type of apple was a granny smith. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And the kind of variety you see in apples is actually a decent analogy for kale: big, small, soft, crisp, tart, bland, many many colors, you get the idea. But do you? I think you need to see it to understand. So before we get to the soup, here are most of the kinds I have encountered so far.
This curly-type kale is the one you’ll most commonly find in grocery stores, and also what I consider the closest to a blank slate-variety out there. It’s not too bitter, doesn’t have a distinctive flavor exactly (unlike the red kale I got this week) and is nice cooked just about any way you want: sautéed, steamed, in a soup, in a gratin, as the inexplicably popular and increasingly ubiquitous kale chips, the list goes on. I like it. And seeing it around the kitchen all the time and included in so many recipes has actually got my two roommates buying bunches of it themselves almost every week. Bringing in converts all the time.
I’ve only gotten this flat kind once. It looked a bit prehistoric to me. I honestly couldn’t say exactly what this tastes like because it got chopped thin and went straight into the Caldo Verde. I suppose I should start nibbling more to get an idea what the varieties taste like and consequently what they would taste good with.
This pebbly stuff is pretty freaky-looking. So freaky in fact, that I got scared and threw it in a soup as well. I really need to step up to the plate and stop letting kale push me around so much. I did nibble on this one, but the texture was sufficiently odd that it dominates my impression. In case you’re wondering, the texture feels exactly how it looks. Update: I just got more in The Box of Wonders today and I tried some, and now I understand why this variety is so popular: it tastes more like spinach than any other kale I’ve tried. Good to know.
This bunch looks almost like lettuce. Trust me, it’s not. Kale, when eaten raw, has very little moisture in it, and you find yourself chewing a lot. You take a nibble as you’re cutting it up and two minutes later notice you still haven’t swallowed. Call it the chewing gum of the vegetable world. Once it is cooked, however, even just lightly steamed, it has a very pleasant, substantial texture that goes down tasty and easy!
The above-pictured red kale is just one of a couple of red varieties I have gotten. This one is a bit curly, but I got a bunch of Red Russian kale a few weeks ago that had similar coloring but was flat and looked a lot like a big dandelion leaf. The kind shown here is not my favorite. There is a funny underlying taste to this particular variety, and it didn’t help that I just steamed it to use as a bed for some roasted potatoes. Nothing to dress it up, just the taste of the kale. Lesson learned: Add garlic.
I actually got Redbor Kale once and somehow forgot to take a picture, so here is a sample pic from the territorial seed company so you can see what it looks like:
So in the wake of all this kale-y goodness, you’re probably saying, “Gosh Jackie, what can we do with this wondrously varied, ridiculously nutritious gift from the garden?” I’m glad you asked. I got this latest soup recipe from Vegetariantimes.com. Very nice resource for veggie-centric recipes. On that site it is named Garlic and Kale Soup. Which I found puzzling because it actually includes shitake mushrooms, which I had gotten in the Box of Wonders that week along with a nice bunch of kale. The mushrooms seemed like they would deserve a place in the title, as one of the most interesting components. Just as I was posing this oddity to my Trusty Roommate Chad-I mean mid-sentence-I noticed that there are in fact TEN CLOVES OF GARLIC for what turned out to be about 4 servings. Holy crap. To put this in perspective, ten cloves is essentially an entire head of garlic. Fair enough. The garlic gets the title spot.
We had, of course, just finished discussing how white vinegar isn’t particularly useful in the kitchen except for cleaning and pickling purposes, when I noticed that this recipe called for 1/4 cup of brown rice vinegar. Not only did we not have brown rice vinegar, we didn’t have any other kind of vinegar either, except, wouldn’t you know it, white vinegar. Amazing. So I put in 1/8 cup for the newly-useful white vinegar and 1/8 cup white wine. Because, I don’t know, it seemed like it might…I don’t know. Also, the recipe called for wheat berries. Now, it’s not that you can’t find wheat berries, it’s just that they are not exactly available at your local CVS, which was about as far as I was willing to travel to complete this soup. I think the reason the recipe includes wheat berries is because they add texture without thickening the broth. I had some barley sitting around, which is specifically noted as an effective thickener. So I cooked the barley separately first, hoping to minimize the chances that it would transform this lovely, light, broth-y soup into a chowder.
Success! Loved it! Hearty, yet broth-y. The whole vinegar-thing probably did change the taste. If you have rice vinegar of any kind sitting around, I recommend using that, but this still tasted very good. Very garlickey, and very good. Like “knock a man over from ten feet away with your breath” garlickey. So, not a first date or business dinner kind of soup, but a delicious sitting at your kitchen table with a nice crust of bread on a cold winter night kind of soup.
Anyway, here’s how it went down if you want to try it:
- ½ cup barley
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- A package of shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced. The veg-times recipe says to stem them, but I like the stems so I left them on.
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/8 cup white vinegar
- 1/8 cup white wine
(seriously, I really would use rice vinegar next time)
- 5-6 cups vegetable broth and one cup water. The original only called for 4 cups plus one of water. It’s funny how soup recipes almost never include enough liquid. I mean, it’s soup. Bring on the liquid!
- 1 bunch kale (10 oz.), stemmed and coarsely chopped
1. Cook barley.
2. Sauté mushrooms 10 minutes, or until beginning to brown in the pot you are planning to use for the soup. Add garlic, and sauté 2 minutes more. Stir in vinegar; simmer until vinegar is almost evaporated, deglaze if necessary.
3. Drain barley, and add that and the vegetable broth and water to the mushrooms/garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes. Add kale, and cook 10 minutes more, or until kale is tender.