Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Grapefruit and Green Leaf Smoothie


The simplest things in life are often the best. A raindrop glistening in a spider's web. The snap of clean washing hung out to dry. An comfortable old story, heard for the hundredth time. The sharp tang of grapefruit on a sunny winter's morning. The thrill of gleaning food in the city. Watching your kids eat green leaves for breakfast.

A mile or so from our house is a grapefruit tree. Its laden branches dangle into an old bluestone laneway. The first time I spotted it, I filled up my bag with fallen fruit. The pith was so thick that nothing was bruised and the flesh inside was perfect: explosively juicy, sweet and tart in equal measure. A week or so later, I sent my tall husband; he picked another bag. And this week, we dropped by on our way somewhere else, stood on the towbar of our car, and filled a third. The tree is now picked as clean as we can reach without a ladder; but there are still hundreds of fruits fallen on the garage roof and all over the garden. Were I a braver soul, I would knock on the door and ask if I could come in and take them, but so far I have proven myself a coward.

Ripe grapefruit need nothing to make them delicious; I eat them plain at any time of the day. But I also like to fiddle, and while I have not jumped wholeheartedly on the green smoothie bandwagon, I do like my greens. I like them in salad, in soup, in horta; I like them for lunch and tea; and lately I've been eating greens blended with fruit for breakfast. Grapefruit and kale and grapefruit and celery leaves are my favourite combinations. When blended with kale, the strong flavour of grapefruit hits the middle of your tongue, but the edges tingle with the kale's iron-y taste. It's delicious in a bracing way. Celery leaves, on the other hand, unify with the grapefruit so that, instead of being aware of two flavours, one instead savours a single refreshing taste – and it's just the thing to chase away the winter sniffles.

You do need a good blender to whizz the leaves into a smooth drink. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that we have shoved so much money through a particular credit card that I was able to order a whizz-bang blender (K********d) on the basis of our credit card points alone. It is an evil system: the rich get richer and are rewarded for having spent so much money, while the poor just fall into credit card debt. The fact that I am using the blender to make breakfast out of gleaned foods – and that my children will consume whizzed greens for breakfast – is my pathetic justification for participating in such a system.

Ahem. Now that we've tiptoed to the edge of a moral quagmire and peeked in, let us carefully edge our way back to the recipe. I don't tolerate dairy or banana very well, so I use ice to make the smoothie good and thick. However, if you want something a bit sweeter, you can always chuck in a banana – out of your greengrocer's seconds box, of course; the squishier the better.

Wednesday: Addendum: I spent this morning at a friend's house and noticed her blender on the kitchen sink with a greenish tinge. She too is drinking green smoothies. But in our conversation I realised there is something she didn't know, and that I ought to add here: if you are regularly consuming a heap of greens, make sure you vary them. As well as being packed with nutrients, each leafy green has developed a unique defence mechanism against being eaten - low levels of slightly toxic chemicals eg oxalates - that your body needs time to break down. So have spinach one day, then perhaps celery leaves the next, then maybe kale, or mint, or whatever takes your fancy. By circulating your greens, you vary both nutrients and toxins, maximising the health benefits and minimising any toxic build ups.

Grapefruit and Green Leaf Smoothie

- 1 - 2 ripe yellow grapefruit
- 3 leaves of kale or the leaves of 2 stems of celery
- 6 ice cubes
- ½ cup water
- 1 banana (optional)

Put everything into a whizz bang blender and combine.

Pour into the cups which make you most happy, and drink immediately. Enough for 2 to 3 people, or one person doing the green smoothie thing.

If the leaves are too strong for your taste, use less or throw in another grapefruit. To sweeten, add a banana. This is not an endurance test. I like things strong and sharp, but your tastes may be quite different.

If the smoothie sits in the fridge, the flavour becomes dull and metallic and the texture slightly floury. So drink it right away.

(Backyard: black kale. Brunswick: grapefruit. Melbourne outskirts: celery. Even better, celery leaves are usually thrown away, so it's nice to find a delicious use for them.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kale Soup, 2012


Every year about this time, when the winter sky is grey and my hands are too cold to type, I feel like things should be quiet in the garden. I’ve read too many English gardening books which talk about winter as a time of planning and rest. Yet I live in a temperate climate, and outside my kitchen window kale and chard are tall and strong. Large self-sown borage plants are dotted here and there; their hairy leaves have the slight taste of cucumber. Parsley, rocket, sorrel, cress, salad burnet, lettuces, even microgreens – everything is growing, growing, growing, and I am hungry, and my thoughts turn, as always, to soup.

I eat soup every day, for lunch and often dinner too. It was not always thus. Good soup requires maturity, patience, kindness, generosity and self-control, virtues I lacked in my twenties. Then, I cooked little stir fries, quick and fast, and gobbled them up in minutes; or grabbed a sandwich on the run. But I am older now, and don’t need the immediate fix. I am able to cook extra, plan for tomorrow, let things simmer for an hour or two, and make enough for friends.

I look for a steaming green stew, thick with kale and other good things, and reminiscent of the goodness of compost; and pile it in a matte bowl which I nestle in my hands in momentary pause as I give thanks for warmth and nourishment.

Every year my kale soup takes a slightly different turn. Here is this year’s incarnation. Black kale forms the backbone, with its strong dark flavours. It’s leavened by chard and borage, and the bite of celery leaves, just the thing to chase away the winter blues. The trick is to cook everything slowly so that the soup develops great depth of flavour, brightened at the end with a few greens more lightly cooked and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. A bowlful is a complete meal for lunch or dinner. I know the quantities seem enormous, but this soup went quickly at our house. Six of us ate it for dinner one night; and three finished it off at lunch the next day – just the thing for sharing.

Kale Soup, 2012

- 4 tbs olive oil
- 3 red onions
- 5 carrots
- 1 entire head of celery, including the leaves
- 2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 2 kg silver beet (aka Swiss chard. You can substitute up to 1 kg with rainbow chard and/or beet leaves, but no more because the silver beet stalks form part of the soup. Rainbow chard stalks and beet stalks are too thin and stringy.)
- 1½ kg cavolo nero (black kale)
- 3 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (or 250g dried cannellini beans, soaked and cooked)
- 1 litre chicken stock or water
- ½ kg borage (or use 2 kg cavolo nero)
- a bunch of parsley
- a small bunch of thyme
- salt, pepper
- parmesan, to serve
- extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Peel and chop the onions. Warm the olive oil in a large pot, and add the onions. While they are cooking, peel and chop the carrots roughly; and chop the celery – every bit, including the leaves. Add them to the soup pot, and cook over low heat, stirring from time to time, until they are beginning to brown. This will take up to half an hour.

Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes; then add the tomatoes, and cook until the liquid has reduced down.

Remove the stalks of the silver beet and chop them. Add them to the soup. Shred the leaves of the silver beet and cavolo nero. Throw all the cavolo nero and two thirds of the silver beet into the pot. You may have to do this in batches, mixing and stirring as the leaves collapse.

Add the cannellini beans and the stock or water. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and leave to cook for half an hour, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t stick.

Shred the borage leaves. Chop the parsley and thyme. Throw them in along with the reserved silver beet, and cook for a few minutes or until the borage has lost its hairiness. You want some of the leaves to retain their colour and crunch.

Check for seasoning. Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan. Pass the pepper mill.

A note on the greens: kale, especially black kale, should form the backbone of the soup because it holds its shape well; you don’t want the soup to be an unidentifiable sludge of miscellaneous greens. However, there is some flexibility in the other greens. I use chard and borage because I grow great quantities in my garden, and chard also holds its shape well; but if you don’t mind a more collapsed soup you might substitute in perhaps half a kilo of wilder greens for some of the chard or borage: nettles, perhaps, or amaranth, fat hen or mallow.

Adapted from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook, which I cannot praise highly enough.

(Backyard: cavolo nero, silver beet, rainbow chard, borage, parsley, thyme. Localish: onions, celery, garlic, olive oil, salt. Can’t remember: carrots. Way away: cannellini beans, canned tomatoes unless you canned your own, parmesan.)

The River Cafe Cookbook