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…)

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