I love (nearly) all foods, the more exotic the better. One of my favourite pastimes when travelling to a new country is to try the local delicacies. The husband (Brent) and I often shop abroad for local specialities in markets and shops so that we can try to recreate our favourite holiday dishes at home, but somehow they never tastes as good as in situ. There is something about eating food in a location close to where the produce has been sourced that makes it taste especially good; whether it’s the freshness of the ingredients, or flavours that somehow seem to fit the environment, I’m not really sure. Whatever the reason, it makes sense to choose local and seasonal as much as possible. Apart from the fresher and consequently more nutrient-dense ingredients, reducing the distance your food has travelled reduces carbon emissions. Not only that, but by choosing British, we can all support our native food producers and help boost the economy. Of course, it is not always possible to just eat British produce – many key ingredients in our multi-cultural British diet are shipped from abroad – however, just being more aware of what is in season, and locally produced, is a step in the right direction. Basing meals around food that we can only enjoy at certain times of the year when it is in season will make us value this produce more than if we buy its inferior counterpart from the supermarket as and when we feel like it throughout the year.
Kale (or as it is known in the States, collards) is a member of the Brassica family and has been a staple European crop and peasant food for centuries. It is robust and plentiful, currently in season and more than likely grown in a locality close to you. Lately, however, kale seems to be having its once humble profile raised to the status of a superfood. It is nutrient-dense, and high in vitamins A, C and E and K, as well as being rich in iron, calcium and a number of other key minerals. It is also high in sulforophane and indole-3-carbinol, chemical compounds which can help protect the the body against cancer and help reduce the risk of heart disease. Kale’s high sulphur content also helps support the detoxification processes of the body, so kale really does make the perfect detox food.
According to recent magazines, kale is the hippest addition to smoothies and juices. It also features in the latest celebrity diet book, Honestly Healthy as a health food with a high alkaline rating. Eating foods with high alkaline content has been found to help increase energy and alleviate common aches and pains which can be caused by diets high in acid-forming foods, such as meat, dairy, alcohol and caffeine. Juicing is an easy and (relatively) quick way to add alkaline foods to the body, can help boost flagging energy levels, and helps to cleanse the body. If you have a juicer, check which sort you have. If it is a centrifugal juicer, you may find it struggles to cope with the fibrous stalks of kale, so removing the stalks before juicing will be helpful. Personally, I have a macerating juicer (a Matstone I Love My Matstone Juicer!. – more about this and juicing in a post very soon), which can deal with the woody kale stalks very well.
I use curly kale in green juices (purely because I am not so keen on its texture, but love the flavour). My daily green juice contains all or some of the following, and I will add whatever green vegetables I have knocking around in the fridge that are looking tired. Today, for example, I used some tenderstem broccoli that was past its prime. Please also note that the recipe below should be sufficient for two juices. The addition of the ginger and lemon will help to preserve the vitamins and minerals, so you can neck one glass immediately after juicing, and and save the second glass for the following day without losing too many of its nutrients.
Green Juice (serves 2):
- 1 bunch curly Kale
- 1 handful mint, parsley, basil (or all three)
- 1/2 cucumber
- handful lettuce leaves
- 3 celery sticks
- 1 apple or pear (to sweeten)
- 1 peeled lemon
- thumb sized piece of ginger root
Cavol0 Nero, or Black Cabbage, a leafy brassica, is my favourite type of kale. Popular in Italy for many years, it is now grown in England. Like curly kale, it is readily available, and to my tastes, more delicious and versatile than its more common cousin. When selecting your cavolo nero, choose one with firm leaves and a vibrant green colour. Personally, I love its heavily veined, earthy texture, the ridge of which become coated with and retain the oil and flavourings used to season it when it is sautéd.
To prepare cavolo nero, (and indeed any kale), rinse well in cold water, and remove the stalk which is too fibrous too eat (you can retain and use in your green juice, though, if you have a macerating juicer).
The following recipe makes a great, healthy week-night dinner. It is relatively quick and easy to cook, and full of nutrients. The halibut is found in UK waters, and is in season at the moment. It is a lean, firm flaky textured flatfish, often served in steaks, and has few bones. Grilling it quickly will ensure the delicate flesh does not dry out. The confit of winter vegetables makes a lovely accompaniment, adding substance to the subtle flavour of the fish.
Grilled Halibut steaks with a confit of winter vegetables and cavolo nero (serves 2):
- 2 halibut steaks
- 200g Cavolo Nero, washed and deveined, leaves left whole
- 1 medium sized leek, trimmed and chopped into rounds of about 1cm
- 1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced
- 4 pearl onions, peeled, left whole
- 50g British chestnut mushrooms, trimmed, left whole
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to garnish
- Sweat the leek and fennel in a knob of butter until softened.
- In another pan, brown chestnut mushrooms and onions in a knob of butter.
- Add mushrooms to leek and fennel confit.
- Season halibut steaks on both sides.
- Grill halibut steaks under high heat (approx. 3 minutes each side)
- Blanche the cavolo nero in boiling salted water for 1 minute and then drain. Set aside
- Heat tsp oil in pan and fry cavolo nero on high heat until glossy.
- Season cavolo nero with salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon.
- Serve halibut steak on top of the cavolo nero and confited vegetables.
- Drizzle with a little extra virgin oil.
Another great use for curly kale, but one that I have not as yet tried making myself, are kale chips. I am currently researching which Food dehydrator to buy, and one of the first things I am going to try to make are these. In the meantime, if like me you love salty snacks with your apéritif, try these Raw Kale Chips:Wasabi Wheatgrass by inSpiral. They are pieces of curly kale slow baked (or dehydrated) with seasoning into a sort of vegetable crisp – absolutely delicious, as well as virtuous; I hope my homemade attempts will be almost as good and will report back shortly.