Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Braised Kale with Chickpeas: Resist the urge

I used to be excellent at doing nothing. Just a few years ago, I could easily whittle away a weekend watching marathons of “the Hills” or some inane romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher that I’d already seen a half dozen (regrettable) times.

I craved that nothingness – the hemorrhaging of brain cells as all of my intelligent thoughts disappeared into the stagnant air of my apartment. I’d snuggle up in a pair of threadbare sweatpants, sip some hot chai and let the hours drip away without any concern that I could be making better use of my time.

I find it nearly impossible to sit still now. Even on days when I have nothing pressing to do, I still end up filling the hours with responsible, adult tasks like bleaching the tub, organizing my recipes into some semblance of order, and throwing out all the expired coupons that I always forget to use. I will create a rambling, incoherent list of “to-do’s” even when no actual “to-do’s” exist for the explicit purpose of feeling like I have something to, well, do.

I approach my kitchen life in much the same way. I’m not content to just pour myself a bowl of cereal or slather a piece of toast with jam and call it “breakfast.” Oh no, I have to make a fresh batch of stove-top oatmeal every morning – complete with some kind of fresh fruit, nut and ample cinnamon shower. Tea brewed from loose leaf tea is also a necessity.

My dinners and weekend lunches are similarly complicated. Even my “simple” fried egg sandwiches involve roasting shallots in balsamic vinegar, and I haven’t deigned to buy a bottle of premade salad dressing in over three years. I’m perpetually finding ways to further complicate recipes and dishes like I’m on some sort of masochistic mission to make my life as difficult as possible. I can't seem to leave things be, to keep things easy breezy – or, when confronted with a lazy weekend afternoon, to let myself be.

When I stumbled upon Orangette’s recipe for braised greens and chickpeas early last week, it seemed a rather unlikely candidate to worm its way into my weeknight dinner rotation. With only seven ingredients (including salt and olive oil), it appears to be begging for the “flare” I usually apply so readily to other dishes. But I was tired last Tuesday night after a shopping trip at the Grove for some on-sale black boots, and I wasn’t in the mood for “flare.” My new boots had all the flare I needed. So, for once in my adult life I resisted the urge to complicate.

I let the recipe just be.

When the sultry ribbons of braised kale emerged from my pan, I couldn’t believe how incredible they smelled. I was further astonished once I tasted the greens – they’d developed a depth of flavor that I’d never experienced with kale before – subtly sweet and slightly buttery from the interplay with the chickpeas. I made the recipe four more times during the course of the week, relishing in the divine simplicity and the ease with which the ingredients came together.

I saved complication for my day off when I spent an entire morning wiping down the fronts of my kitchen cabinets and taking a brillo pad to the stove.

My apartment has never been cleaner.

Braised Kale with Chickpeas, Onions, and Garlic
Adapted from Orangette who adapted it from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market, by Janet Fletcher
Serves 1

2/3rds bunch of kale, sliced into ¼-inch-wide ribbons (approximately 4 cups)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/3 medium yellow onion, minced
½ cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Give kale a quick rinse with water, shake dry and then pull leaves from the central ribs. Rinse leaves again in a colander, taking care to remove all the dirt. Let most of the water drain off, then transfer the stacks of leaves to a cutting board to slice into ribbons. It will look like a lot of kale, but don’t be intimidated – it shrinks down considerably!

Warm a 12-inch skillet or frying pan to medium high heat, then add the olive oil, swirling it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté until the onion is soft and lightly browned – almost as if it is beginning to caramelize. This will take approximately 5-7 minutes. Add the chickpeas, then the kale, stirring to blend the components together. Sprinkle with salt to taste, then cover and lower the heat so that the contents cook gently and slowly, with no aggressive sizzling or burning. Cook until greens are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice.

Serve warm or at warm temperature, but not hot. I find it goes perfectly with a simple side of quinoa. You might also consider topping it with a poached egg, or tossing it with golden raisins and pine nuts for some of that “flare” I referenced above. In my mind, however, it is just as good plain as it is with these enhancements – maybe even better.


Ashley said...

This is a definite candidate for the desperation dinners list. I know what I'm eating later this week...

Jenny said...

Thanks for the simple recipe! I Need simple! AND Healthy after this holiday break. Oy, it was an epic one. Looks like I'm off to buy some Kale!

Dessert Darling

Esi said...

I've totally made this before...or something similar. It's awesome!

PS, Only *one* garlic clove????

Gastronomer said...

I love deceptively simple recipes! I have a CSA box to work through at the moment, but I hope to prepare this soon. Keep on keepin' it simple, D.

Anna A. said...

Love this recipe TALF, but kinda sad it could have be me instead of those boots last Tuesday :) Although I do approve of this combination in honor of my absence.

Diana said...

Ashley - This isn't a desperation dinner - this is delicious staple dinner!

Jenny - Hah, I know the feeling! I think I ate an entire cow's worth of red meat over the holidays -- oof!

Esi - Hah, well... it was maybe more like 2 small ones...

Cathy - I'll work on the simple! But you know with me you'll always be gettin' loads of veggies!

Anna - It felt like you were right there with me when I was eating it! Hah! ;)