Sunday, October 21, 2012

That's why I chose kale

Over exemplary croissants at Knead Patisserie on Saturday morning, I found out from Jeff that the party we were attending that evening was, in fact, a potluck.  I'm always impressed by people who throw potlucks, because I'm the kind of dinner party host that brandishes a citrus zester at his guests to drive them out of the out of the kitchen and over to the coffee table (where there's a bottle of sparkling wine and a spread of cocktail olives and salted melon).  To let other people into my apartment bearing food that I've never seen before, some of which might even need some space in my oven, or use a plate that I wasn't planning to get dirty--just the thought of it makes me want to go lay down.

But all the potlucks I attend seem to turn out well and make all of their guests happy, so maybe the rest of society is onto something here.  At this one, the hosts put together a delicious Persian-inspired spread, supplemented by a tortilla espaƱola and a paella courtesy of their Spanish roommate, as well as dozens of desserts and cured meats brought by friends from all over the city.  I'd been gifted a lovely bunch of Serendipity Farms tuscan kale by my friend Chelsea, art therapist and part-time pumpkin plucker, so I decided to make a autumn grain salad featuring a kale pesto, which turned into a dip when I inadvertently set it down next to a bowl full of kettle chips.  See, this is what happens at potlucks.  I can't control it!

I've never thought about dipping potato chips into rye berries before, but the starch-on-starch collision worked just great, a chew and a crunch in every bite, bound together by a kale pesto that was surprisingly bright in both color and flavor.  The pesto would be equally tasty clinging to tubular pasta, mixed into green eggs with ham, or spooned around a braised meat.  It's a brand-new recipe that's definitely going into my regular rotation, and one I never would have made if not for a bunch of greens and a last-minute potluck invitation.  You must change your life.


Rye berry salad with kale pesto
Serves 3-4

1 1/2 cups rye berries
scant 1 cup raw cashews
3 cloves of garlic / a shallot
a bunch of kale
a pomegranate
olive oil

First, cook the rye berries.  Add about 2 tbsp olive oil to a pot and toss the rye berries in it.  Heat the pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, just until the rye berries are warm and toasty-fragrant but not scorched.  Add 4 cups of water and a few large pinches of salt to the pot, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the rye berries are chewy and cooked through, 60 - 90 min.  If there's any excess water in the pan after the berries have cooked, pour it off.

While the berries are cooking, seed the pomegranate.  Fill a large mixing bowl with water.  Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the seeds from the inner membranes and pith while holding it under water.  This will prevent the juice from splashing all over you, like you just performed a pomegranate autopsy.  The seeds will sink to the bottom, while the pith and membranes will float on top of the water.  Skim off anything floating on top of the water and discard, then drain the seeds.

Toast the cashews in the oven at 400 F.  Spread them out in a pan in a single layer, toast for 6 minutes, shake them, and then toast until they're fragrant and lightly brown, another 6-8 minutes.

Cut the kale leaves into rough chunks, discarding the tough lower stems.  Add the chunks to a large bowl full of water, swish around with your hands to remove any dirt, and then lift the kale out of the water into a strainer.  You don't need to dry it completely.

Remove the garlic skins and cut the cloves into medium-sized chunks.  Cook over medium heat in a pan with 2 - 3 tablespoons of olive oil just until the garlic is softened and golden but not at all toasted, 3 - 5 minutes.  Add the kale and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring gently as the kale near the bottom of the pan begins to wilt and lose volume.  As soon as all of the kale has softened and turned bright green, remove the pan from the heat--you don't want to overcook it.

Using a blender, blend together the kale, garlic, and cashews with a few big pinches of salt and an additional 1/4 cup olive oil to make a bright green pesto.  If the pesto looks a little thick, add some water, or a splash of olive oil.  Taste it to make sure that it's salty enough.

When ready to serve, mix together the rye berries and pesto, turn to coat, then fold in the pomegranate seeds.  The salad can be served warm or cold--or, apparently, as a dip.

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