Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cooking: Holiday Party Fare

Deep Green Salad with Spicy BeetsThe biggest holiday of the year is upon us, with parties and dinners and generally lots of indulgences. So, what do my thoughts turn to? Kale…

No, seriously.

Knowing that we are likely to have at least a few sugary treats during the season, I'm trying to pack as many different tasty greens into our meals as possible. As fortune has it, there are some incredibly nutritious choices in good supply right now, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and various kinds of kale.

This salad uses lacinato kale, sometimes marketed as "dinosaur" kale because of its textured leaves. Whatever your greengrocer is calling it, it's a nutritional powerhouse, low in calories but high in vitamins A and C, a smattering of calcium and iron, loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, and a rich source of soluble fiber. Good stuff.

Many people are put off by greens, perhaps because they've only had them cooked to death or smothered with strong flavors like vinegar. This salad uses raw kale that has been "massaged" with a little salt. The result is a wilted, tenderized green that hasn't been overcooked. Add in a few tasty additions and top with Spicy Beets, and the result is stellar. Black mustard seed is pretty important to this dish—look for it in ethnic markets, spice shops, or from online sources. It adds a pleasant, distinctive, almost nutty flavor that can't be duplicated with other spices.

A food processor fitted with a shredding disk makes quick work of grating the beets; or, use a box grater.

Deep Green Salad with Roasted Yams and Spicy Beets
serves 4

Make the Spicy Beets (can be made several days in advance)

3 T olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed
2 large shallots, cut into fine slivers
1 green chili, thinly sliced (jalapeƱo or serrano)
1 lb trimmed but unpeeled beets, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt (use less if using table or sea salt)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Heat oil over medium-high; when hot, add mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, add shallots and chili. Fry for 30 seconds.

Add beets; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add salt and 1/2 C water. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower heat. Cook gently for 10 minutes.

Uncover, turn heat to medium, and cook for 3 minutes; add lemon juice and stir to mix.

Cool completely before adding to the salad (the beets are delicious hot on their own, too).

Make the roasted yams

1 yam (unpeeled)
1 small red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle. Trim stem end of yam, then cut in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1/4 inch slices and place in a bowl. Cut red onion in half lengthwise, then into 1/4 inch slices; add to bowl. Add olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Spread out in single layer on rimmed baking sheet, then season lightly with salt and pepper to taste, plus the thyme. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the yam slices can easily be pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove and let cool.

Make the salad

1 large bunch kale, with ribs removed (lacinato kale seems to work best for this)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (use 1/2 teaspoon if using table salt)
1 ripe but not mushy pear
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger juice (or, fresh ginger, minced or grated, then squeezed in the hand to extract the juice)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut kale into 1/4 inch strips. Place in a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon kosher salt (see note in ingredient list above). Set a timer for 2 minutes, then “massage” the kale with your hands, squeezing and mixing as you go. The kale will start to wilt and turn a vibrant deep green. When the 2 minutes are up, add the cooled roasted vegetables to the kale.

To prepare the dressing, combine the pepper, ginger juice, mustard, and balsamic vinegar and blend. Whisk in the olive oil until combined, then pour over the salad. Toss until everything is well coated. Cut the pear in half, core, then cut into 1/2 inch cubes; add to salad and gently toss. Top with a large dollop of the Spicy Beets and serve.