Wednesday, December 23, 2009

got dinosaur (kale)?

In its original form this recipe (from the Zuni Café Cookbook via Orangette) is a kind of simple Italian peasant supper—garlic-rubbed toast topped with kale, a fried egg, and maybe some Parmesan shavings and torn prosciutto. That sounds fantastic, and I can’t remember why I decided to take the recipe in an Asian direction—maybe I had an open package of soba noodles that I wanted to use up?—but this way is fantastic too and so I’ve stuck with it.

Both versions have in common a long simmer of kale in just enough liquid to cover (Orangette recommends homemade chicken broth, but I’ve always used water and the final dish is plenty flavorful). The greens end up—well, the best way I can think of to describe them is pillowy: soft and yielding, with the dimples in the leaves holding on to fat drops of the savory cooking liquid.

What I do next is spoon the boiled kale over soba noodles that have been dressed in a quick sauce, and slide a fried egg over the top. You end up with the bright-yellow yolk running out into a steaming, spicy broth, and oh my—it’s heavenly, and just perfect for a cold winter’s night.

Do make sure that you fry the eggs in sesame oil. Last time I made this I used olive oil, and the dish as a whole didn’t seem as stellar as I recalled. Then the next day I remembered to use sesame oil to fry up an egg to eat with some of the leftovers, and Oh. Yes. Somehow the sesame flavor mellows the slight bitterness of the soba noodles and it all comes together.

Boiled Kale with Fried Egg and Soba Noodles

Dinosaur kale is also known as Tuscan kale, cavolo nero, or lacinato kale—but let’s stick with “dinosaur” in hopes we might fool some of the little ones into eating it.

A large bunch of dinosaur kale
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
1 tsp Sriracha, or to taste
2 large garlic cloves
3 cups water or broth
Salt to taste

8 oz soba noodles
3 tsp kecap manis (or you could use a combination of soy sauce and molasses or maple syrup)
1 1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar
A pinch of ground ginger

Sesame oil
Black sesame seeds

First, cut up the vegetables. Dice the onion, and thinly slice the garlic. Cut the tough ribs out of the center of the kale leaves (nope, you haven’t washed them yet, we’re going to do a neat trick in a minute or two), and slice the leaves crosswise around 1/2 to 1 inch thick.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to go translucent. In between stirring the onions, put the cut up kale into the basket of a salad spinner. Fill the bowl of the salad spinner with cold water and dunk the basket in and swish it around to loosen the dirt. Let it sit for a minute so that the dirt has time to settle, then lift the basket back up out of the bowl. Pour out the water and repeat the fill-swish-sit-drain process, then spin the kale leaves dry.

Add the kale, garlic, and Sriracha to the onions and toss until the kale is thoroughly wilted. Now add the water or stock, bring it to a boil, and then cover the saucepan and turn the heat down to a simmer.

You'll simmer the kale for about 30 minutes. Okay, so you have ten minutes or so before you need to start thinking about the soba noodles. This would be a good time to do a few dishes, or build a big tower of blocks with a toddler, if you happen to have one on hand.

After about ten minutes put a pan of water on to boil for the noodles (I usually just use a small saucepan here, so that affects how long the water takes to boil). You can do some more dishes or build another tower while you wait. Then put the noodles in the water, and make the sauce: in a small bowl, stir together the kecap manis, rice vinegar, and ginger.

Now start working on the eggs. One for each person is probably sufficient. Heat the sesame oil in a nonstick sauté pan and then crack the eggs in. When the whites start to set up a bit sprinkle a pinch or two of black sesame seeds over the top of the eggs (this is probably not essential, but it’s very pretty).

When the noodles are done drain them, return them to the pan, and toss them with the sauce. Keep an eye on the eggs so that they don’t overcook. (This is a tricky watchful part and I’m sorry but there’s just no way around it.) Now check the kale—it should be nice and tender by now. Add salt to taste, and don’t be shy—I use about a teaspoon full.

To serve, place a big tangle of soba noodles in the bottom of a bowl, top with some of the kale and a little bit of its cooking liquid, and finally a fried egg.

Makes 4 to 5 servings.


Eman said...

I know I'm biased and I know nothing about how to get a cookbook published, but you really need to write a book.

S. said...

Ah--you are awesome. Thank you, I needed that!