Curly kale – recipe ideas and serving suggestions

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Green and red curly kale. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The hardiest of all the Brassica family, and probably the closest to wild cabbage, kale (or kail) is one of the most traditional of Scottish vegetables. The robust leaves withstand harsh frosts and snow, and are said to taste all the better for it. In the past, kale was dismissed as animal fodder, but today it is one of the most trendy vegetables on the menu.

Kale is one of my favourite greens. I love the strong flavour, it is bursting with vitality in every bite, and it is one of the few vegetables tasty enough to stand its own on a plate with other bold flavours.

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Keeping kale fresh in a bowl of water. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As with all leafy vegetables, cook as soon as possible after purchase. Choose firm stalks with fresh, dark or bright green leaves. If you do want to keep them for a couple of days, arrange the stems in a bowl or large jug of water as you would a bunch of flowers, then put in the fridge. I find kale is one of a few vegetables that doesn’t freeze very well – it loses texture and flavour, and becomes a bit slimy when cooked.

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Kale leaves. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Simple to prepare, just rinse kale well in cold, running water to flush out any trapped earth caught in the tight, curling leaves, and then shake off the excess water. Pull off the lower, frilly leaves and keep to one side – these softer leaves are perfect for eating raw in winter salads. Slice out the central stem, and then shred the leaves into the desired size.

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Preparing curly kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you are steaming kale, pack the wet leaves into a steamer and cook for 10-15 minutes until tender. Alternatively, pack the wet leaves into a saucepan, turn on the heat and when the contents begin to steam, put the lid on, reduce the heat to medium and cook with the lid on, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes – don’t have the heat too high otherwise the leaves will dry and burn. Drain well and chop finely.

For baking and deep-frying, rinse the leaves then make sure you dry them as much as possible in order to cook them to a crisp. Blotting them between layers of absorbent kitchen paper is a good way. If the leaves are too damp, you will end up steaming them in the oven rather than drying them out. In hot oil, the contents will spit and hiss if water still clings to the leaves.

Recipe ideas and serving suggestions

  • Shredded kale makes fantastic “crispy seaweed”: deep-fry in hot vegetable oil for a few seconds, then drain well and toss in a little salt and white sugar. Season with Szechuan pepper or Chinese 5 spice.
  • Toss raw, small, tender kale leaves with finely shredded raw leek and grated apple in a lemon vinaigrette and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve as a crunchy, bold winter salad sprinkled with toasted walnuts.
  • Steamed kale is delicious, finely chopped, tossed in butter or good quality olive oil and seasoned with black pepper and ground nutmeg. An ideal accompaniment to a bold, red wine gravy based game, meat or bean stew.
  • Add finely chopped, steamed kale to a garlic mash. See My favourite mash (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan
  • Mix finely chopped, steamed kale with cooked brown rice or pearl barley, toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan (or Vegan cheese) and use as a filling for baked Portobello mushrooms.
  • Tray-baked kale leaves make a healthy sprinkle for salads, soups, rice and pasta dishes. Here’s what to do: preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan oven, gas mark 2). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Prepare 200g kale leaves as above, then rinse and dry thoroughly. Roughly chop the leaves and place in a large bowl. Toss in no more than 2 tbsp. sunflower oil and arrange over the trays – too much oil will make the leaves go soggy. Mix 1 teasp smoked salt, ½ teasp ground black pepper and 1 teasp ground cumin together and sprinkle over the oily kale.
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Baking kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp. Drain well, leave to cool, then pack into air-tight containers or jars to store. The baked kale will keep and stay crisp in this way for up to 2 weeks.

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Cumin-spiced, tray-baked kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Vanilla bean torte (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Vanilla bean torte. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m always on the look-out for interesting bakes. I have a large folder of recipe articles saved from magazines and newspapers going back many years, along with various scraps of note paper, tucked in between, containing my culinary jottings from articles that have taken my fancy. Every now and then I go through the folder and decide which idea to experiment with next.

And so to this week’s post. A cake that came to my attention a few months ago when I was experimenting in the kitchen and making vegan meringue from the canning water in a tin of beans. This recipe uses the beans as well as the canning liquid. Sounds weird, but eating is believing, and I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and how good it tasted.

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Vanilla bean torte, sliced and ready for eating. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Canned cannellini beans for cake-making. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Apart from the beans, the other ingredients are mainstream. The flavour can be varied depending on your preference. I used a generous amount of vanilla paste, but fresh orange and lemon rind would work well, as would almond extract if you like a marzipan flavour. I think the mixture could take about 15g cocoa powder added to it for a chocolate version. My cake is soaked in a vanilla flavoured syrup but the syrup can be adapted to suit your chosen cake flavour. There is no added fat or oil in the recipe which makes the syrup an important addition as it not only adds extra sweetness and flavour, but it helps keep the cake moist too. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients

  • 400g can cannellini beans in water
  • 50g polenta
  • 75g silken tofu
  • 215g caster sugar
  • 55g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • Pomegranate seeds to decorate
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Grease and line an 18cm diameter cake tin. Open the can of beans and drain well, reserving the canning liquid. Put the beans in a blender or food processor. Add the polenta and blitz for several seconds until well ground. Leave to one side.
  2. Whisk the tofu with 115g sugar until well blended and creamy. Add the ground almonds, half the vanilla paste and the ground bean mixture and stir to form a thick cake batter.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the bean canning liquid until stiff and foamy, then gently fold this into the cake batter. Transfer to the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for about 1 to 1 ¼ hours, until golden and firm to the touch.

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    Making bean torte. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. While the cake is in the oven, prepare the syrup. Put the remaining sugar in a small saucepan and add 150ml water. Heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves then bring to the boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until reduced and syrupy. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining vanilla paste. Keep warm.
  5. Once the cake is cooked, skewer the top all over and slowly pour over the vanilla syrup so that it soaks into the cake evenly. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

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    Making and adding vanilla syrup. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. To serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and place on a serving plate. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds just before slicing. The cake will keep, covered, in a cool place or the fridge, for 3 to 4 days.
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    Decorating the torte with pomegranate seeds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Vanilla bean torte, deliciously moist and full of flavour. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Baked root vegetable squares (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly baked root vegetable squares. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like all root vegetables, but sadly I struggle to grow anything other than potatoes. Fortunately, I am able to buy a good variety from local farm shops and this feels like the next best thing to growing them myself. This week’s recipe can be made with any root you have to hand. The cooking method bakes the different vegetable layers to a melting-tenderness and is a perfect choice if you want a vegetable dish suitable for preparing ahead. Once the basic layering and baking is done, the cooked vegetables will sit quite happily in the fridge for a couple of days before baking again to serve. You can scale the recipe up easily if you’re feeding a crowd and mix and match the vegetables you use.

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Turnip, sweet potatoes and King Edward potatoes ready for preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My version makes an 18cm square layer which cuts neatly into 9 portions and uses sweet potatoes, turnip (or swede, depending on where you come from) and potatoes, but carrots, parsnips and celeriac work fine as well, and you can also use just 1kg of your favourite root, if you prefer. The most important things to remember are to slice the vegetables thinly and evenly (preferably use a food processor or mandolin) and make sure you cook the vegetables until completely tender during the first baking – test with a skewer to be completely sure.

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Thinly sliced root vegetables. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 9 portions

Ingredients

  • 300g sweet potatoes
  • 300g turnip (swede)
  • 400g main crop potatoes such as King Edward or Maris Piper
  • 75ml vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 40g dairy-free margarine (or butter if you eat it)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly chopped parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Grease and line a straight-sided, deep 18cm square cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Peel and thinly slice all the vegetables – I use a food processor for this. Either layer in the tin individually or mix all the vegetables together and arrange evenly in the tin.

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    Layering the root vegetables in individual layers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Pour over the stock and drizzle with the oil. Cover the top of the tin with foil and bake for at least an hour until completely tender. Remove the foil and leave to cool completely.
  4. Cut a square of firm cardboard the same size as the inside of the tin and wrap in a layer of foil. Place a sheet of baking parchment over the vegetables and sit the foil-wrapped board on top. Weigh down the vegetables evenly using 3 or 4 same-weight cans or jars and chill overnight or for up to 2 days before serving.

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    Pressing the vegetable layer. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6). Remove the weights, foil board and baking parchment and carefully remove the pressed vegetable square from the tin.
  6. Cut into 9 squares and arrange on a lined baking tray. Melt the margarine (or butter) and mix in the garlic and seasoning. Brush the mixture generously over the vegetable squares.

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    Ready for baking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  7. Bake the squares for about 30 minutes until golden and hot. Serve immediately sprinkled with chopped parsley. A great accompaniment to any kind of roast.
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    Just baked root vegetable squares. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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    Root vegetables: meltingly tender and packed full of flavour. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

     

First of February in the garden

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Blue sky day. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a lovely start to the new month today. Very clear and crisp. After taking the image above this morning, after a full day of sunshine, by the time I got round to typing up my post, most of the snow had melted away.

There has been quite a lot of snow fall in January, and it’s been quite cold too. No sooner had the temperature risen again and things were beginning to feel a bit more spring-like, then down came another pouring of the white stuff yesterday.

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Last day of January snowfall. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The new season’s growth seems a little slower in showing this year. Most of the bulbs I have planted around the garden are only  just beginning to poke through the soil, but the ones below, in an old wheelbarrow, are much more advanced. When I’m gardening I often accidentally dig up bulbs. I usually put them back in the same place, but last year I cleared an area which had become too densely populated, and ended up with loads to replant. The wheelbarrow and an old barrel seemed like suitable new homes. Hopefully I will end up with a colourful display from both in a few weeks time.

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My barrow of bulbs. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Looking back at my garden in February last year, I had a few snowdrops out in full bloom by this time. At the moment, the petals are firmly closed, but with a couple more days of sunshine, they should open up. In other more sheltered spots around the garden, the snowdrops still have quite a way to go before they flower.

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First of February snowdrops. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another precious flower in the garden at this time of year is the winter-blooming white heather. It certainly looks very healthy. Believed to bring good luck, white heather brings the feeling of life and vibrancy to the garden long before the other colours of spring appear.

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Lucky white winter heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another plant that is also looking very floral just now is a new Helleborus Orientalis I planted last year. It’s very pink and very pretty. The more established Hellebores in the garden are only in leaf with no sign of flower stems, so I guess that this one must be an early variety. It does look a wee bit lonely in the border, with just the one flower open, but there are lots of buds, so they may well be flowering when the others decide to make a show. See you next time 🙂

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Early Hellebore. Image: Kathryn Hawkins