Kale with Beans and Polenta, with an introduction to hominy/pozole and asafetida

I just picked the last kale from my garden today, a little lacinato and some rainbow kale – a hybrid of red winterbor and lacinato that I grew last season for the first time with seedlings from Good Earth Farm in Weare, NH. Whose pre-order seedling catalog conveniently came in the mail a few days ago, too. This final kale looked a little weird, like it had freezer burn, yet it tasted great. Good old hardy kale.
A few times over the course of the summer I asked myself, why did I grow so much kale? It was a little ridiculous, especially considering I was basically the only dedicated eater. I made a lot of my interpretation of Zach Brown’s chud – a raw kale salad that I made mostly with red Russian kale and avocado, apples, radishes and red onions. In fact I grew radishes and red onions for this very purpose. (The recipe will follow at a more seasonable time…) I ate so much chud that I haven’t eaten avocados since, although everything else is still going strong.
I froze a lot of kale, which I am pretty happy about right about now. Definitely not too much kale. Although next year I will grow it more in waves… I will have some all along – you can harvest kale all season. And then as certain other plants finish their cycle I will plant more kale in their empty spots. And keep harvesting and freezing – that frozen kale is so good right now, and convenient. And much cheaper than what costs at the store. And so clean – I know exactly where it’s been. Although I did just buy a fresh bunch from the Co-op today too, just cause. I love kale.
I also froze a somewhat ridiculous amount of jalapenos, chopped fine first, and pickled slices, and roasted them whole, and put them in soup, and ate them a lot raw sprinkled over everything, and even made some cheese filled poppers that nearly killed me. A bit much for my tender mouth, even with the cheese. My son Philip sure laughed at that…until he tried one…
And, I put jalapenos and kale in this dish, my all time favorite this summer, which I also just made today. It satiates my hunger, gives me energy, is quick, and one of the tastiest dishes I make.
Since I don’t eat gluten, which is another story, I am a connoisseur of gluten-free grains. Hence the polenta, or really, grits. I am a southern girl, my family is from New Orleans and North Carolina, and I love grits. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand, which is sold in little bags and are often in the gluten free section of regular grocery stores. If you aren’t sure where to find it, ask.
The optional hominy in here is also a southern thing, my grandfather Preston Porter loved him some hominy. Maybe it was his Cherokee heritage. Hominy is corn with the germ removed so it won’t sprout in storage. Cherokees used hardwood ash and water as an alkali solution to cure the corn into hominy. It can also be made using a weak lye solution or by mechanincally removing the germ. The alkalizing process also helps to make the nutrients in the corn more digestible. In Spanish, whole kernel hominy is sometimes called pozole, and is used in many dishes, including grinding it into the masa that makes tamales and corn tortillas.
Hominy is scarce around here, I found it by chance in a little Bi-Wise grocery store in Suncook, NH, and promptly added it to this recipe. I haven’t found hominy or pozole anywhere else so far. I shared some of this dish with my neighbor, and have since gone back to the store and bought all the cans of hominy from Bi-Wise and split them with her, she liked it so much. Yet don’t stress over this ingredient, even if you find it, it tends to have preservatives. But if you get the chance, maybe try it sometime.
Any kind of beans will work, I’m partial to black for digestive and taste reasons. I have also enjoyed it with kidney.
And the asafetida, or hing – another tough find. A-Market has it in Manch and I’m not sure about anywhere else. It is a very pungent Indian spice that is stinky at first, and a little goes a long way. And it is goooood, I highly recommend having some around, especially if you want to cook my recipes, but you don’t need it. It helps digestion and in Ayurvedic terms, balances vata, the air element. So it is a good companion with beans, which tend to give you, um, wind. Make sure it’s not cut with wheat flour. Mine is Frontier brand and it has rice flour.
Don’t be intimidated by the unusual ingredients, this dish can be made without them. All you really need is the kale and the beans and a little salt. The rest, quite literally, is gravy.
Kale and Beans with Polenta
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Yellow Corn Grits/Polenta
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
½ Tablespoon butter or oil
Bunch kale, any kind, chopped into bite sized pieces. At least 5 cups raw.
1-2 tablespoons oil to coat pan
2 teaspoons cumin seed (optional, or you could add 1 teaspoon ground cumin with the asafetida)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
½ jalapeno, minced, according to taste (optional)
Umeboshi plum vinegar (see earlier post) or salt
2-3 tablespoons water, or more if needed
Pinch asafetida (optional)
1 can black or kidney beans, rinsed for a drier dish, in their liquid for more gravy
1 can hominy or pozole, rinsed (optional)
Sesame oil (optional)
Boil 3 cups water with 1 teaspoon salt.
Cut kale into bite sized pieces, rinse in a colander. (see previous umeboshi post about kale prep if you like).
Heat on medium high a large skillet or pot that will hold all the kale and beans. Remember the kale will shrink while cooking. Add oil to coat. When starts to run add whole cumin seed if using, when aromatic, a few seconds really, add garlic and jalapeno, if using. When garlic is soft, add a few sprinkles of umeboshi vinegar, if using. Stir. Add kale. Stir. Add water if desired to soften. When kale starts to soften add the asafetida and ground cumin, if using.
When the 3 cups of water boil, add 1 cup of yellow corn grits/polenta. Turn heat down to medium and stir. Add butter or oil. Cover and take off heat, stirring a few times as you finish the kale mixture.
When kale is mostly cooked to your desired softness, or about 5- 7 minutes, add beans, with the bean liquid if you like it moist. Add hominy, if using, without its liquid. Cook the bean liquid to let it thicken a bit, about 3 – 5 minutes. Cook until heated through and the kale is softened to taste.
Plate grits in a bowl and smother with kale mixture. Add about 2 teaspoons sesame oil to moisten if desired. Season with salt or umeboshi to taste, if necessary.
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side. Or 1 person several delicious meals.
To reheat the polenta, cut it in slices and fry in a little butter or oil, only enough to coat the pan. Or to be softer, cook in a little water (few tablespoons) with a touch of butter or oil.
(thanks to wikipedia and wisegeek for fact support…)

Ode to Umeboshi

If I’m going to share recipes here, it’s only fair that I start by introducing you to my beloved umezu, my secret ingredient, my ace in the hole, my last minute back-up plan that can save any bland dish and make it taste magnificent.

Umezu, or Umeboshi plum vinegar, is the pickling liquid from dried Japanese plums, or technically, apricots.Ume plums are picked when ripe and, traditionally at least, dried on rooftop mats, then packed with salt into barrels with weighted lids that squeeze out the liquid as the ume cures.The fruits are eaten as pickles or blended into a tangy paste somewhat reminiscent of tamarind, usually with rice.The tart pickling liquid, although not a traditional vinegar, imparts some of the tangy acidity you might get from citrus or vinegar, and is amazing in salad dressing, beans, soups, and in anything you might otherwise add vinegar, and in absolutely anything really.It especially perks up green vegetables like kale and broccoli.Just a little sprinkle and even those who pooh-pooh such strong vegetable fare often find themselves actually enjoying and asking for more, including my 11 year old son Philip.Sometimes.I don’t want to overstate it.

Umeboshi (ume-plum, boshi-dried) aids digestion and calms uneasy stomachs – rice congee (see my last recipe) with umeboshi plums or vinegar helps fight nausea and is a traditional cold remedy.Ume increases appetite and energy, perhaps because of its digestive properties, and was traditionally eaten by the Samurai in battle to increase stamina. It clears systemic toxicity, and so has interestingly been used as a cure for hangovers as well as to soothe addictive cravings, especially when blended with kuzu – a japanese thickening starch that deserves its own ode…more to come… (Facts from memory and my other ace in the hole, Wikipedia!)

You can find umezu at health food stores, if not at your regular grocery in the natural or Asian food section.It is usually near the soy sauce.Some modern ume pickling techniques use less salt, yet make up for it with preservatives; so read the label.And although I usually buy umezu in gallon sized bulk through a food buying coop, and keep it for years, and send bottles of it home with friends who have never heard of it before…you don’t need a lot.A very little goes a long way.As with any salt, try just a drop or so and taste, gradually adding to the point of your preference.Maybe even less.Cause once it’s in there, you can’t take it back.And too much salt is a strain on your body.It can be a dangerous passion, this umeboshi love affair, one in which we must keep our wits about us.As with any passion.Too much of even what heals us can make us sick.

Here is a simple umezu recipe with kale that I use as a base for many other dishes.If you think you don’t like kale, try it.You may change your mind.Just make sure you cook it soft enough, and chew.The recipe is adapted from a recipe in Cynthia Lair’s excellent cook book Feeding the Whole Family, I think.I lent the book out, so I can’t check… Yet even if it’s not from that book, and even if you’re not feeding a whole family, check out her book, it’s a great resource for learning delicious natural food cooking.

And the garlic is optional.It’s tasty, and it will help ward off colds for sure.And I find that eating less garlic decreases my, um, scent.For what that’s worth.And the resonance of the food is a little softer without it – garlic is a strong medicine really, and probably more potent when used that way.It’s up to you.

May you enjoy this even close to as much as I do…

Oh umezu, how the hue of whole world brightens with the flavor of your touch…

Sauteed Kale with Umezu

Bunch kale, any kind

2 cloves garlic, minced, optional

Olive oil

Umeboshi plum vinegar, umezu

Prepare the kale.I say cook the whole bunch, if you don’t eat it all now then you have some left to munch on when you get hungry and start looking for snacks – better kale than potato chips.But you know yourself.It doesn’t take that long to cook if you want to make some now and some later.Sometimes I stem it and sometimes I don’t – not stemming yields a lot more food and the stems are delicious too.Although it is more tender without the stems. I hold the stem with one hand and strip away the leaf from bottom to top with the other hand. At least cook 4 – 5 cups of raw kale, chopped into bite sized pieces.Recognize that the kale will shrink considerably when you cook it.Rinse it after its cut.

Heat large skillet on medium high.Add enough olive oil to coat the pan, about 1 -2 tablespoons.

Add garlic, sauté lightly until soft.Sprinkle about a ½ teaspoon of umezu in the pan – it will splatter a little so stand back.Let it soak it in about 15 seconds, stirring so it doesn’t burn.

Add the rinsed kale, stirring.You may or may not want to add a little water now, a lot depends on the size of the pan and how wet the kale is from rinsing.For starters add about 2-3 tablespoons, you will learn each time you cook it.The trick is you want the kale to tenderize but not get overcooked and mushy.Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn.Taste it often to see when it is done to your liking, about 5 – 10 minutes.Add a little more umezu to taste if necessary.

Serve as a side dish or as an ingredient in stir fries or pasta or any dish where you would like to add a green vegetable.It would taste nice topped with a little extra virgin olive oil and grated romano or parmesan cheese, if you need a little more flavor.(More recipes to follow!)

I could eat all of this, yet it could feed up to 4.

Pancha Kleshas- Five Hindrances

Also from the Yoga Sutras, five hindrances to clarity that block us from seeing things as they are.

avidya– mis-knowing, confusion, when you think you know something but you are wrong
asmita– ego – you think it’s all about you, can only see how it affects you, you think you are good or bad at something, your identity – identifying yourself with forms that are always changing
raga – desire – you like or want something,or want it to be a certain way, positive judgment
dvesha– aversion – you don’t like something, or don’t want and are afraid of getting stuck with it, or don’t want it to be a certain way, negative judgment
abhinivesha– fear of death, of the ending of things, fear in general

8 Limbs of Yoga

An introduction to the 8 limbs of yoga from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a potentially ancient yogic text oft referenced in contemporary western yoga that outlines some of the philosophy, psychology and practices of yoga. The exact origin are of some question yet the teachings can be useful nonetheless.
The 8 limbs, or Ashtanga, are the path, the method, or what to do, to access yoga – simply put, the state of being in balance, or perhaps, to live in harmony. Sutra means to sew, or stitch together complex ideas into concise, easy to remember statements, so that we may practice these principles in all our affairs…
It is customary to have commentary on the sutras to delve into their deeper meanings, and there has been, and still can be, much said on these few words. What follows is my attempt at a simple distillation to introduce these guidelines.
Remember, they are ideals to work towards, not harsh standards to judge ourselves by.
Each limb leads into the next and they all co-arise simultaneously.
        yamas – guidelines or principles for how you treat yourself and others. Yama means death, or restraint. The yamas are the end of certain behaviors that keep us disconnected.
ahimsa – non-violence, with the connotation of helping rather than hurting
satya – truthfulness – giving up dishonesty
asteya – non-stealing
aparigraha – non-hording – sharing, not holding on to more than you need
brahmacharya – respect in every act and interaction, giving up selfish behavior. This is oft translated as celibacy yet not confined to this.
2.     niyamas– guidelines for how you approach your life and your work
saucha – purity, purification,        cleanliness
santosha – contentment, implying an acceptance of where you are so you can work from there, rather than resenting your circumstance and fighting it
tapas – intensity, devotion to your work, to your practice
swadhyaya – self study, getting to know yourself so you can work from where you are
ishwara pranidhana – selflessness, working for the benefit of all and not just yourself, offering the fruits of your actions
3.     asana – mindful physical practice, usually yoga postures. A laboratory to experience yourself, aware of what you are doing while you are doing it. Literally your seat, to help you sit still in meditation longer, as well as to stabilize your connection with the physical world. Fine-tuning the physical body, making you more grounded and effortless in your actions.
4       pranayama – means both breath control and energy stabilization. Breathing exercises that focus the mind and regulate your physical energy.
5.      pratyahara – turning your awareness inward, away from external sensory distractions. Eventually – harnessing your senses as the tools with which you interact with the world around you, rather than you being controlled by your senses. Regulation of reactionaryness. Impulse control. Peace in the face of circumstance.
6.     dharana – concentration, focusing the mind
7.     dhyana – meditation, when you stop having to bring your mind present and you just are present, clear undistracted awareness, even if briefly. The concentration of dharana leads to the meditative state of dhyana, which leads to…
8      samadhi – absorption in the moment, spontaneous presence, direct felt experience of interconnectedness, awakening.

Savory Rice Soup to Soothe Winter’s Dryness

One way I have been balancing the cold dryness this winter is by eating congee – basically rice cooked with lots of water on low heat for a long time to make a moist soupy base for many different dishes. I was reminded of congee by Sarah Adams of Yuki Herbs here in Concord, NH (www.yuktiherbs.com), who made an amazing congee soup with shitake mushrooms and leeks in a broth laced with a myriad of healing herbs like astragalus and mallow, flavored with adzuki bean miso and red pepper flakes. If you don’t know what some of those ingredients are, don’t worry. Congee can be made much more simply and still be delicious and healthful – although if you want to try and emulate her recipe, as I have, go for it. It is very satisfying.

I started playing with congees, sometimes making them really soupy, sometimes more thick like a porridge. Zach Brown of Burlington, VT, another creative chef, said he was taught to make congee with leftover rice, and suggested using rice milk to soften the rice into congee. He inspired me with his use of black beans and beets in the various congees he has made.

One of my current favorites it to add the beets and carrot grounds from my juicer to cooked congee along with black beans and brown rice vinegar and some sort of salt, soy sauce or miso paste – a salty fermented soy-or-other-bean-and-sometimes-rice paste that melts into a flavorful soup base. You can find miso in health food stores, if not in your regular grocery.

I have made this congee really thick and dry by cooking it down till the rice grains break wide open, then added the carrots, beets, rinsed canned black beans, brown rice vinegar and salt, and bulked it up with toasted sesame seeds. Instead of juicer grounds, you could substitute grated vegetables of any kind, cooking them for a little while in the congee to soften if desired. It tastes great as is, although I really like it rolled or scooped into romaine lettuce leaves and drizzled with lemon juice and sesame or olive oil. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think this thick congee would make a great veggie burger. Maybe with a little chickpea or rice flour to hold it together, although with the sesame seeds it may not need it. And with Nel Norwesh of Manchester, NH’s delicious za’atar – a tangy middle eastern spice combination of sesame seeds, dried sumac, salt, and I think thyme? It would be delicious.

This morning for breakfast I ate a soupy forbidden black rice, brown rice and sweet rice congee with the beet, carrot and black bean mixture and chickpea miso, with some sweet potatoes on the side. Perhaps not your typical breakfast fare, and yet Paul Pitchford, in his iconic tome Healing with Whole Foods, states that congee, or hsi-fan – rice water – is commonly eaten as breakfast food in China. It is easily digested and so helps the body assimilate the nutrients from other foods added to the congee. So helps break the fast…

Pitchford describes congee as a handful of rice simmered in five to six times the amount of water in a covered pot for four to six hours on warm or on the lowest flame possible, or in a crockpot. And that it is better to use too much water than too little, and that the longer the congee cooks the more powerful it gets. From that general recipe you can experiment as you like. And while it seems daunting to cook something for four to six hours, just put it on the stove when you get home and let it cook – not for the meal you are eating now but the ones you will eat later. Then you’ve always got some rice ready, just add vegetables and flavoring.

I’ve included a sample and very general recipe here to inspire you, eat it any time of day. Try it as is, and use it as a springboard for your own creations. Share them here if you like, we all inspire each other.


Kale, Carrot and Shitake Congee

1 cup short grain brown rice
5 cups water
2-3 carrots, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic (optional)
4-6 dried porcini or other mushrooms (optional)
1 cup sliced fresh shitake mushrooms
2 cups kale chopped into bite sized pieces
Miso – any kind – I like brown rice, barley, adzuki bean and chickpea, in that order for this soup…
Chopped scallions
1-2 lemons
Fresh ginger root (optional)

Bring rice, water, and carrots to almost boiling, turn heat to warm and let cook for at least four hours, adding water if necessary. If desired, add garlic cloves and ½ inch of sliced ginger now. Leave the ginger in large rounds so you can decide to eat it with the soup or take it out if that is too spicy. Alternately you could add the ginger at the end, see the last instructions in the recipe.

Add water and cook until desired consistency, I’m imagining a soupy porridge for this congee.

Let dried mushrooms soak in cold water for at least ½ hour.

Add fresh shitake to congee during last 20 minutes of cooking
Add kale during last 15 minutes of cooking.
Add porcini and soaking liquid during last 5 minutes.

Place one tablespoon miso per serving in deep bowls right before eating. You don’t want to cook the miso in the soup, as it is a living food and overheating will kill it. Serve it to order. Mash the miso with a spoon into a small amount of congee in each bowl before adding the rest of the serving, to blend the miso into the whole soup rather than leaving it in a little clump in some of the soup. Ladle congee into each bowl, stir well, and top with scallions. Squeeze lemon juice to taste. Optionally, grate ginger root on the smallest holes or your cheese grater and squeeze the juice, and some of the grounds, onto the congee. Adjust seasonings to taste.