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Great Greens

When I was a kid my mom never had to tell me to eat my greens. I’ve always loved them just about any way I could get them—and I still do. This year our vegetable garden will give us escarole, arugula, spinach, chard, two kinds of lettuce, and kale. That should keep us up to our necks in leafy greens until next winter.

There’s a lot to love about greens. Sure, they’re super-nutritious and they taste great. But what I like best about them is their versatility. Take kale, for example. You can eat it raw in a salad or fried as chips. You can steam, boil, or sauté it. And that’s just for starters.

My own kale isn’t ready to pick yet because we planted late, but the other day I bought a huge bag of curly kale at the supermarket. It wasn’t very tender, so I blanched it for a few minutes (which also helped it fit better in my refrigerator).

I sauteed some of it with garlic, white beans, and brown rice. I added a handful to a soup. I even used some in a smoothie (with pineapple and bananas—yum). That left enough to serve as a side dish to accompany some barbequed seitan and roasted sweet potato sticks.

When I have tender baby kale leaves, I like to serve it raw as a salad combined with diced avocado and a squeeze of lemon. That’s how I had planned to serve this blanched kale, but at the last minute (while waiting for the sweet potatoes to finish roasting), I also added some diced mango and a few dried cranberries. The result was a kaleidoscope of color and amazing bursts of flavor. What could have been just a “side of kale” turned out to be the star of the entire meal.

Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes with Baby Kale

The summer veggies in our garden have given way to the wonderful fall crops that we’re already beginning to pick. Rows of kale, chard, and endive are still at the “baby” stage — making them all the more tender to enjoy. We also planted Buttercrunch lettuce and Butternut squash — the only “butters” you’ll find in this house!

That first touch of autumn in the air makes me want to make warming fall-weather food, so I paged through Vegan Fire & Spice and found lots of recipes ideal for the cooler weather. I decided on the Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes because its colors remind me of autumn, it’s easy to make, and the flavor is wonderful. Just before serving, I added some of that tender baby kale from the garden (lightly steamed) and served it over brown basmati rice. Below is the recipe as I adapted it.

Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes
Recipe adapted from Vegan Fire and Spice by Robin Robertson © 2008, Vegan Heritage Press. For a variation, add a teaspoon or two of curry powder.

2 sweet potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon cold-pressed canola oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water or vegetable broth, or more as needed
1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups baby kale, lightly steamed

Steam the sweet potatoes until just tender, about 20 minutes.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the water, reserved sweet potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until the mixture thickens and the flavors are blended, about 15 minutes.
To thicken the liquid, blend about 1 cup of the mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth, then stir it back into the saucepan. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the kale and serve over rice.
Serves 4