Kale Stir Fry: With an Indian style seasoning
If you had not yet learned to appreciate kale, this recipe is for you! I understand kale can be hard to love (not for me, I liked it from the very first time I ate it!), and I also believe that healthy eating does not have to taste bland or bad. This easy stir fry can encourage you to add kale into your diet!
Back in the days when the husband and I lived on different continents, two 30-somethings figuring out what being married would be like, we spent a major part of our time awake on the phone. Amidst the many random things we talked, food wasn't left behind. "What did you eat today?" was a question I asked him without fail, and "Did you eat already?" was his usual. Food is also love for me, so to know if the people I love eat well is no surprise.
During those extended conversations I learnt that S, my husband, often ate kale. Blended into a smoothie or tossed into a salad, and sometimes topped on his favourite pasta and chickpeas, kale was a standard in his meals. Although I had tasted it infrequently at my sister M's home in Bangalore, I hadn't cooked it often. No, we get kale in India but not a lot of vegetable vendors sell them. More commonly known through celebrity endorsed detoxing, vegan eating and juice cleansing, kale to an average Indian is unfamiliar, almost absent in the diet unless the person happens to live in a metro and shops at Whole Foods or Nature's Basket and their like.
I love my greens. I take a lot of pride in iterating that mother was especially happy to see my plate always wiped clean of the frequent doses of seasonal greens she cooked, unlike my sisters who were picky eaters. Varieties of spinach, mustard leaves, fenugreek leaves, radish leaves, amaranth leaves, colocasia leaves, drumstick leaves and many more were the standard greens I cooked back in India.
When S and I got married, and I moved to Canada, I learned about some new greens, seasonal and local, while I missed some of the Indian greens. Of the lot, I got an opportunity to know the best kale I had ever seen, eaten or cooked. And, then I came across, Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes by Kristen Beddard, the founder of The Kale Project. When Kristen moved from New York to Paris with her husband for his job, she missed kale, the green she had been eating since her childhood in Pittsburgh. The fact that she missed a green vegetable like kale so much that she went on to work with local farmers and re-introduced the heirloom vegetable to the French may seem ridiculous to some, but I connect to her on this at every level. It's precisely how I feel when I can't find drumsticks or pointed gourd or curry leaves or amaranth greens here.
What appealed to me most about Kristen's memoir is that as her life changed after moving to Paris, and so did her cooking. I find myself in her shoes on several pages of that book, and while I missed the many native Indian greens, my love for kale grew manifold. So much that I eventually started cooking kale in an Indian style, which may be unthinkable for many, with plain sailing seasonings I was used to throughout my life in India. #rozkakhana being a journey of mundane Indian home cooking, is a perfect platform to share my Indian twists to the many foreign vegetables I've come to eat and adore.
Greens are essentially referred as saag in the commonly spoken language, Hindi, in India. Every part of the country has typical ways of cooking it. When you go to Kashmir, greens commonly referred as haak are cooked in mustard oil and have hardly any spices except some Kashmiri red chili, garlic or ver masala at times, and heartily enjoyed with rice. In the lower hilly areas of Uttarakhand, greens again take centerstage in meals. Unembellished stir fries, often called bhujjis are tempered with jakhya and dry whole red chilies with generous quantities of mustard oil.
Further north in Punjab, greens are cooked into thick saucy dishes, traditionally never in a blender, but by cutting them extremely fine, mashed and tossed in minimal oil and some spices—the classic sarson ka saag comes to mind, a combination of mustard greens along with turnip, fenugreek and radish leaves. On moving to the Gangetic Plains, all regions along the Ganga add greens into gravies or stir fries and cook with legumes, the Banarasi Bhaji for example or stir fries called bhujiya. If you leave the plains and go down south, a whole new world of cooking greens awaits you. Added to various kinds of soups like rasams, pappus, chaarus and saarus, and also eaten as is, greens are essential in the cuisine of this part of India as well.
The story of simply cooked greens grows strong in eastern India as well, the region where I grew up and got habituated to eating leafy veggies in their most basic form. Either steamed or sautéed until wilted, greens are never overcooked here. Spices like mustard, cumin, chilies and vegetables like eggplants, pumpkins, turnips — the kinds that cook fast— are commonly added to boost the nutritional quotient, texture and taste alike. I somehow like this version a lot. It brings out the true flavour of the greens and preserves their nutritional value, and is easy to prepare.
So, what's the noise about kale and cooking it in a rustic Indian style? Isn't kale like de trop amidst the green leafy veggies which people renounce as bitter and hard to chew? I've only one thing to say. If you don't like kale, you most likely don't know to cook or massage it in the right way!
Kale is one of the most versatile greens out there. Its leaves taste earthy and fresh and their alkaline neutrality balances all flavours in any dish they're added. Whatever you want to make, not just salad, even soups, grains, chips or cupcakes for that matter, kale works every time. Checkout Kristen's tips, Keeping a Kale Kitchen on how to buy, wash, massage, de-stem and store kale to learn more.
Before you get more adventurous to experiment with kale and after you're bored with adding kale to your smoothies, pastas and rice, make this easy stir fry with bare minimum ingredients in your pantry. Plunge a fork into the tossed greens, top them on a plate of steamed rice or add them as a base to your Buddha bowl — whatever you do, you're not going to regret kale after making this recipe. And, once you start eating it, there's no stopping or looking back. You'll be motivated to add this super healthy green to a lot of dishes you cook and you'll get an idea to play around. I promise!
Massaging the kale leaves helps them wilt when cooking and also makes them softer to eat. You can also add a few drops of lime juice to the oil when massaging the leaves.
Caramelized onions impart a slightly sweet taste and crispy texture to the green leaves. I advise not skipping it for this recipe. Dried red chili adds a beautiful aroma and flavours the oil in which kale is cooked.
If you don't have dried chili, you can use serrano peppers. Slit the peppers without cutting it fully along the length and de-seed if you wish.
1 bunch of fresh kale
2 tsp oil
1-2 dry red chili, preferably Kashmiri but any other will also do
3-4 garlic cloves crushed or 1/4 tsp asafoetida (use garlic powder or minced garlic as substitute)
1 small onion (red or yellow)
1/2 to 1 tsp salt, or to taste
Wash and de-stem the kale leaves. With 1 tsp oil, massage the kale leaves for about a minutes with 1 tsp oil.
On medium-high heat, place a pan and add the remaining oil. Heat the oil properly and then add the dried red chili. Let the chili smoke up (get slightly charred) and then add the onions.
Sauté the onions till pink and then add asafoetida. Stir to combine and then add the kale leaves. Sauté and then add salt. Cook further to slightly caramelize the onions.
Reduce the heat, add 2-3 tablespoons of water and cover the pan. Cook until kale turns tender. You can open the pan in between to check on the leaves and stir to avoid any burning.
Serve with rice or quinoa or couscous! Add another veggie on the side or a protein of your choice.