It’s January, one of my favourite months for quiet time, learning, reading and being inspired. But boy, has it been an icy one. I’ve hardly wanted to venture outside and if I did, it would be a tough journey from the front porch to the car. I’ve poured buckets of ashes out on the path which makes for a “pleasant” mess inside the front door and will no doubt kill all the grass when it all melts away. I do love winter, I love the landscape, I love getting out for X-country skiing, and maybe it’s an age thing but I see the merits of warmer climates during these months. Climate change has altered the winter I remember as a child with high snowbanks for snow forts and so much snow that it took forever to melt in the spring. Our fields are nearly bare and sadly the beautiful trails that Ralph our neighbour lovingly groomed have melted away into ice blocks.
We have spent our days putting another piece of wood in the cookstove and working busily in our office, answering emails, developing systems and planning for the warmer months. Most importantly, Nickel the cat helps by napping nearby.
My mom and I were sharing recipes the other day, she had just made up a hearty german side dish of kale for lunch.
This dish is one of her staples and when she spoke about it, it brought me back to the time when I lived in Germany and would venture down to the market with Carlyle in the buggy and pick up bunches of vibrant green kale about two feet long and bring it back to the kitchen. I spent what seemed like forever, removing the heavy stalks and washing the leaves several times to get all the sand out. I remember Renate, my godmother chastising “why would you eat that vegetable, it’s tough and needs hours of cooking and not only that, tastes terrible!” This was before the kale craze, before we ate it raw or as chips, shredded in salads and juiced. Before the kale we crave! Then, the german method was to blanch it, cook it and then cook it some more with bacon, onions, broth, add a slab of smoked pork to it and bingo! A hearty meal for a cold January day. My mom adds pears and being healthier, she most often omits the pork. She says the pears lend a sweetness and she is right. Braised kale with pears. I won’t say it’s for everyone. It has a distinct flavour and can be bitter, but it feels good to eat it – at least for me.
Today, the baby kale we buy in the plastic box ready to go is not the kale I use for this recipe. It’s the long regular kale with the thick stems that you have to remove and feed to your compost pile or the stock pot.
Recipe for Braised Kale with Pears
1 bunch of regular garden kale
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow cooking onion, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon or pancetta cut into pieces
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 Bartlett pears, sliced (I do not peel the pears but my mother does – it’s a preference)
1/2 tsp sugar
freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 tsp ground
Coarse salt and pepper to taste
Wash the kale thorough and remove the tough stems from the leaves.
In a large saucepan, add the bacon or pancetta and cook until crisp, drain the extra oil if necessary, saving 1 tablespoon. If you are not using bacon, omit the step with the bacon and begin with the vegetable oil.
Add the vegetable oil and on medium heat add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes until soft. Do not allow to brown. Add 1 tsp sugar and sauté about 1 minute.
Add the kale and coat with oil.
Add the broth and allow the kale to simmer for 20 minutes or longer until the kale is soft and tender.
Add the pears and gently turn them into the mixture being carefully not to mush the pears, heat the pears through. Grate fresh nutmeg and taste for salt and pepper.
Serve warm with grilled sausages and mustard, pork chops with roasted apples, or a thick vegetable stew.