Monday, March 12, 2012

Lentils with curly kale, garlic and pork

Kale is an interesting vegetable. I had never come across it before I came to London - the most exotic green we had in Oz in my day was chard and we called that spinach. There is spinach there now but it is always prefixed 'english' and commands a premium. (Chard is of course still the one that locals go to for real spinach.) I brought my confused ignorance with me. I had no idea what kale was for a long time - and given that absolutely everything was new it took me some time to even notice it. Eventually I took in the big mounds of dark leaves, thick and frilled and totally alien. It looked so incredibly chewy, like it will never soften down, more like the outside leaves of cabbage you discard before cooking. Can't recall seeing it much on menus or even used widely on recipe sites, local or otherwise.

It demanded no attention so I paid it none.

More fool me. The trouble with ignorance is that it is so easy continue unenlightened through the simple failure of curiosity, the omission of enquiry, an unintentional blinkering - and this is probably the source of the definition of its blissful state. But to stand before a pile of unknown veg and wilfully persist in unknowing each time you catch sight of it? That is when ignorance turns to stupidity. To be ignorant is an acceptable thing - it holds within its very definition the possibility of learning something new, and knowledge dispels ignorance. To choose to not know knowing that you don't know but that you might? That's just plain wrong. And I do hate being wrong.

Baby steps - shredded and steamed some and served it with butter and pepper with roast pork and it was good. Braver, I made a kale salad with spiced sweet potato and almonds and loved every mouthful. Then last weekend I found a new Ted's Veg at Venn Street Market in Clapham and they had mountains of fabulous veg, including purple curly kale. Its deep rich colour was beautiful.

I could not resist the frill of those pretty leaves and brought it home without a plan, it's true, but with high expectations. Was a bit chill still in the evening and I had a small piece of cold roast pork and a new packet of green lentils. With the last of a head of celery and lots of garlic I could see what dinner might be.

Lentils with curly kale, garlic and pork

I used the last of the roast pork from earlier in the week but you could use 100g of fresh minced pork or omit it entirely if there's no meat in the house. Most important of all - be generous with the garlic, it is the secret.

Generous serving for 2 with a little left for one lunch next day

4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
2 sticks celery, cut into 1/2cm slices
If there are some celery leaves, chop them separately and leave to one side
About 100g cooked pork, finely diced or 100g fresh pork mince (optional)
250g green or brown lentils, sometimes called Egyptian lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
250g curly kale, very thick stem removed but leave the rest, shred the leaves into 2cm strips
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a wide pan and gently fry the garlic and chopped celery for a couple of minutes till fragrant and slightly softened. Add the pork and stir to coat, and cook through if using mince, for about 5 minutes.

Add the lentils, bay leaf and enough cold water to cover by about half a centimetre and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pan, and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes till the lentils are almost tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse the chopped kale well then tip into the lentil pan and stir to incorporate. Put the lid back on the pan and let the kale wilt for 3 or 4 minutes. Stir again and add the celery leaves for garnish, if you have some.

Serve in big deep bowls with some bread if you have it.

Blissfully good. Just so many textures and flavours in one bowl.

The meat is optional, it adds more dimension but I have cooked lentils in versions like this for years with and without it and all are good, especially if you drape a gently poached egg on top for extra unctuousness.

All in all, this is a meal worth knowing!

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