Meat Free Mondays – Kale Smoothies

Welcome to my new food obsession: Kale smoothies

Until recently, I knew of only one way to prepare kale. That was to braise it with some pork fat until it became soft. It’s actually one of my favorite braised greens.

But then I heard people talking about kale smoothies twice in three days, so I tried it and fell in love with it. Now I’m totally obsessed with kale smoothies.

Kale is one of the superfoods. It’s a cruciferous vegetable from the Brassica food family that also includes cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Kale, which is also known as borecole, is so chocked full of vitamins and minerals that it is considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.

It has significant health benefits, including cancer protection and lowered cholesterol. Plus, everytime I have one of these kale smoothies, I swear I feel a burst of energy.

Oh, did I mention that it is delicious? When used raw – such as in these smoothies or chopped fine for salads – it has a rich, sweet flavor, unlike the slightly bitter taste it takes on when braised.

Finally, it’s extremely affordable. And because it will grow even in cooler temperatures, it’s available year round.

Here’s how healthy kale is for you: One cup of kale contains 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 15 percent of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 40 percent of magnesium, 180 percent of vitamin A, 200 percent of vitamin C, and 1,020 percent of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals, including copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

Kale’s health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K — and sulphur-containing phytonutrients.

It’s also rich in carotenoids and flavonoids – which are anti-cancer antioxidants – as well as lutein and zeaxanthin compounds, which promote good sight. Plus, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Whoa!

Kale is a great addition to any smoothie recipe. This weekend alone I made this watermelon-kale smoothie and strawberry-banana-kale smoothies. It’s also goes well with apples and pineapples, especially super-sweet pineapples on the turn.

Some people like to add a little fresh lemon juice to add some zing. I’m going to try that next time.

These watermelon kale smoothies are fast, simple, affordable and delicious. They instantly made me feel energized and healthier and are perfect for a post-workout pick-me-up!

Watermelon-Kale Smoothie

1 cup Watermelon, seedless or seeds removed

1 cup Green Kale

1 cup Water

1 cup Ice Cubes

1. Pull the tough stalk out of the center of each kale leaf and discard. Combine the kale, watermelon, water and ice cubes in a blender or food processor and pulse until combined, then run the blender on the highest speed until the smoothie is completely blended, about 2 minutes.

2. Pour into chilled glass, garnish with a watermelon slice and serve.

Be sure to blend the smoothie completely. The first time I made these, I didn’t blend it long enough and ended up with little specks of kale in my teeth for awhile.

Budget Cooking – Soul Food

Back in the late 1980s, when I was working as a rewrite man in a downtown newsroom, I loved to take my lunch break at a restaurant near State and Lake called “Soul Food by the Pound.”

The concept was unique: The customer walked through a cafeteria line and piled whatever he or she wanted onto a plate,  then the whole tray would be weighed and the customer would pay a set price, about $3.99/pound as I recall. Only years later did I realize we must have been paying for the tray and plate every time.

Despite the eccentricity of the concept, this experience was the beginning of my love affair with soul food.

As press secretary for Cook County State’s Attorney Cecil Partee in the early 1990s, the campaign trail would often bring us to Army and Lou’s and other legendary Chicago soul food  restaurants.

Later, when I was in culinary school, one of my favorite source cook books was by Sylvia Woods, the “Queen of Soul Food” and owner of Sylvia’s Restaurant, in Harlem, New York. Long before “Julie and Julia”, “Dan and Sylvia” were cooking our way through the recipes in that amazing book.

For the most part, no one will mistake soul food with health food. Much of its lushness
is attributed to ample amounts of fat and salt. That’s a huge part of the pleasure of the experience.

But there are healthy variations of this amazing food genre.

For example, I love braised greens. They are rich in iron and other vitamins, not to mention delicious. They are a staple of many cuisines around the world. For example, in Greek cooking, they are served with almost every meal, drizzled with a little lemon juice.

Braising Kale with Salt Pork

Braising Kale with Salt Pork

This recipe I stole from Sylvia and have been incorporating into my menus for years. Each kind of green has a separate and distinct flavor – mustard greens have a distinctive tanginess, collard greens and kale tend to be smoother, and dandelion greens are pleasantly bitter — but they are all amazing.

Braised Greens

1-2 lb greens (kale, mustard, collard or dandelion)

2 chunks (about 2 oz) fat back (or salt pork, or bacon, or whatever fat you have)

1 clove garlic, punched

1/2 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove thick ribs from greens and discard. Wash your greens in cold water at least twice. Most greens are grown in sandy soil, so you want to remove any and all grit.

In a large, lidded pot, render fat back, salt pork or bacon by cooking slowly over a medium to low heat to extract as much fat as possible without burning. Add the punch of garlic (smashed once, but still intact to add subtle flavor), then slowly add greens, a handful at a time, turning with a tongs.

The hot oil will cause the greens to collapse. When they are nearly all limp, stir in the chicken stock and cover, leaving a little space for some steam to escape. Cook over a medium low heat until the bright color of the greens washes out to a dark green color and they start to fall apart to the touch, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, lift greens from pot with a tongs and hold over the pot for a moment so excess liquid drains. This prevents pooling on the plate.

Another soul food staple – macaroni and cheese – is the ultimate comfort food. I don’t even pretend to make this one healthy, I just eat it in moderation.

Doesnt' that look amazing?

Doesnt' that look amazing?

In restaurants over the years, I’ve made a lot of fancy variations of macaroni and cheese, with everything from super sharp cave-aged cheddar to buttery gorgonzola to pungent gruyere. But nothing beats this traditional, and inexpensive, recipe for the world’s coziest comfort food.

Macaroni and Cheese

For the Bread Crumb Topping:

2/3 cup bread crumbs

1-1/2 TBS unsalted butter, cut into chunks

For the Pasta:

½ lb elbow macaroni

2-1/2 TBS unsalted butter

4 TBS unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp yellow mustard

Pinch cayenne pepper

2-1/2 cups skim milk

4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

4 oz Sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

For the bread crumbs: Combine the butter and bread crumbs in bowl. Rub the mix between your thumbs and forefingers until it forms an even meal. Set aside.

For the Pasta: Preheat oven to 375F. Bring 4 quarts salted water to boil in large pot with cover. Stir in macaroni, cook until done, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in colander (don’t rinse) and set aside.

Building a roux

Building a roux

In same pot, add the 2-1/2 TBS butter and melt until foaming. Whisk in flour and cayenne to form a roux, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Cook out the flour taste, about 2 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk the mustard into the milk. Slowly add the milk to the roux, whisking constantly to break up clumps. Bring to boil. As it boils, the roux will cause the milk to thicken into the consistency of heavy cream. This is awesome and takes about 5 minutes.

Once it’s reached the proper consistency, turn off the flame. Fold in the cheese until melted, then the macaroni. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top, then bake uncovered for about 25 minutes, or until the bread crumbs turn a golden brown.

Remove, let cool for a minute or two and serve. You are now in soul food heaven. Serves 6-8. This cost about $4.25 to make, so the cost per person is $.53 to $.70/person.

Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop with Braised Kale and Macaroni & Cheese

Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop with Braised Kale and Macaroni & Cheese