Friday, April 17, 2015

Hail kale!

I was first introduced to this dark green vegetable when I was visiting friends in Washington D.C. a couple of years ago. I had it mostly in salads, chopped really finely and taking to almost any kind of dressing. Slowly making its appearance in Asia, it's not readily found in supermarkets yet and is still premium priced, but I figure as it grows in popularity, it'll become a ubiquitous item in the fresh produce section. Kale is truly the super food with staying power.

What I've managed to buy usually is curly kale imported from Australia. This cold weather vegetable is unusually rich in protein, vitamins A, C and K, folate and other minerals including potassium, calcium and zinc. Its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering and anti-cancerous properties have been touted by health proponents, but I also just love it for its taste. Because it can take fairly heavy salad dressings, it's very versatile and can easily be paired with lots of other vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Because imported kale is not always available and also rather expensive, I've been experimenting with kailan, popularly known as Chinese kale, instead. I've found that the leaves of younger or baby kailan are tastier and not as tough as the larger stalks of kailan. What I do is strip the leaves off and slice them into fine julienne strips. Before adding the rest of the dressing to the salad, I massage a little oil onto the leaves with my fingers to soften them up a little. Kailan tastes pretty similar to western kale and is a lot more affordable in this part of the world, so I'm delighted with the results of my experiment!

I've also tried to cut down on my meat consumption and tried adding tempeh to my salads. I love the golden brown nuttiness of the tempeh nuggets and they seem to complement the stronger taste of kale instead of other lettuces. Basically I just add whatever's on hand to my salad. I've found that canned chickpeas are a really good and inexpensive source of nutrition. Quinoa is decidedly more expensive, but I only have to boil up a quantity and use a little bit, each time storing the rest in the fridge for a later use. I also relish the crunchy, nutty taste of quinoa.

Here's a kale salad that I tried with an Asian dressing. You can substitute another ingredient that's more easily available, like grated ginger instead of lemongrass, and soy sauce instead of fish sauce. It's just a matter of experimenting with what tastes you prefer. Just adjust the amounts you add slowly, and keep tasting along the way. There are no hard and fast rules, and the result is a salad that's refreshing, filling and oh so delicious!

Chinese kale salad with crispy tempeh


1 bunch of Chinese kale (kai lan)
2 stalks of cilantro
3 sprigs of spring onions
1 carrot
1 small jicama

Strip the leaves of the Chinese kale. Wash and dry them thoroughly, then slice them up finely into julienne strips.
Grate the carrot and jicama into thin strips.
Slice spring onions and cilantro leaves.
(You can really just add whatever you want to the chopped kale - sliced tomatoes, cucumber, other salad leaves, nuts and seeds, even chickpeas and quinoa.)

2 stalks of cilantro root, chopped finely
3 stalks of lemongrass, with the white bulbs chopped finely
2 shallots, chopped finely
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp honey
Juice and zest of 1 lime
2 tbsp coconut oil

Mix all the dressing ingredients together. Taste and add more fish sauce, lime juice and honey if required.

Crispy Coconut Tempeh
1 packet of tempeh, cut into cubes or matchsticks
3 tbsp coconut oil

Heat the coconut oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pieces of tempeh and toss/stir till golden brown and slightly crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

Spoon the dressing over the sale, toss to mix thoroughly and add crispy tempeh.

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