Monday, October 6, 2008

Kale: A Dutch Tradition

The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools. ~Henry Beston

The first time I tasted kale was about twenty years ago when a co-worker brought it in for us to try. She was Dutch and the dish was a combination of kale and potatoes traditionally made in her family.

Kale is usually harvested by removing the outer leaves, and then the plant will produce more leaves. The mature leaves are the most tender, so those are on the outside. You can also allow the plants to stay out in the garden for a light frost then harvest the entire plant. You should be able to harvest some plants through early winter. Pick the kale and store at about 32 degrees F. It will keep for about 2-3 weeks.

One of my reader's shared with me their Dutch traditions of harvesting and eating kale:

The Dutch eat kale by the truckload this time of year in a traditional one pot boiled dinner called Boerenkool (Farmer's Cabbage). I have a little experience with curly kale to share. I would much rather buy it all clean and chopped from the green grocers, but when I have to prepare it for my Dear Dutch Family from scratch (his parents grow it in their garden), I find it much like spinach preparation in several ways. Washing the leaves is important because there is always grit somewhere. Because the leaves are so big they cannot be soaked in saltwater bath in a kitchen sink like spinach, each leaf has to be separately rinsed off ( which is tedious), then the central hard vein and stem of each leaf is trimmed out (also tedious). Remove any unhappy looking bits from the leaf as well. WHAT IS LEFT ARE THE TENDER PARTS.

Then the preparation goes like a train. Stack the leaves together and cut crosswise into thin ribbons. For a family of four, you will need a small mountain: start with about a kilo of leaves. You cook it much like spinach. using a bit of water and simmering until tender. I use a huge Dutch oven and the kale fills it half full, by the time it is cooked though it cooks way down. Traditionally vegetables were boiled to death in the Netherlands, but I think 30 minutes simmer is about right.

Boerenkool is not just kale. First you brown off a block of fat bacon about the size of a bar of Ivory soap in the pot, set the bacon aside, dump the prepped kale into the pot. Top with however many peeled and cubed boiling potatoes your family will eat, and a link or two of smoked sausage (rookworst): drop the bacon back on top. Add water. Simmer until the potatoes are ready to eat. Remove the meat from the pot, drain excess water. With a potato masher, mash the kale and potatoes together into a mass the consistency of slightly wet mashed potatoes. Spread the thick layer of "moes" (potato and kale) onto a platter. Slice the bacon and the worst, and arrange on top. Serve with mustard.

This is true autumn and winter family food even today on Dutch tables. It reminds me of the Irish boiled dinner my mother makes--- so butter and vinegar are not uncommon addition at the table at our house. Sometimes I sneak chopped onion and some carrots in the pot as well, but that is not traditional. Carrot, onion and potato mash is called "hutspot" and it is an entirely different traditional dish, but yummy! ~Eet Smakelijk! Jana

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