When Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” there’s little doubt in my mind that he was referring to foods drawn from the brassica family. Ounce-for-ounce, brassicas contain more healing properties than any other branch of food.
However, it takes a certain amount of culinary courage to go one-on-one with a brassica for the first time. You can feel like you need a machete, thankfully Laura Russell author of Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables, so wonderfully explains, a sharp large knife and a good cutting board can whittle any brassica down to size quickly and efficiently. Aside from their sheer bulk, brassicas have a reputation for being bitter tasting. Let’s face it, most of us encountered brassicas when we were young, and if the cook didn’t know how to counter the pungency–something Russell excels at–we ended up looking at the brassica with disdain, a nasty ‘pill’ of culinary medicine to be swallowed versus a dish to be savored.
That’s why it is such a delight to see Laura elevate the brassicas’ taste to a place commensurate with their superstar nutritional prowess. I’ve often maintained that the only way people are going to fully embrace healthy eating is for great taste and great nutrition to joyfully co-mingle on the plate. Each recipe in this book delivers on that promise, and as a cook I can appreciate the time and effort that Laura has put into these creative recipes. Her knowledge of brassicas is encyclopedic, but what endears her to me is her ability to translate that knowledge into sumptuous meals accessible to anyone, regardless of their previous experience in the kitchen. I often think of brassicas as the emeralds of the food world, so valuable are they to maintaining and promoting health. In this book, Laura Russell allows all of us to partake of their wealth, with dishes that will entice us to go for our greens, again and again. For this, I can only give thanks. I encourage you to explore you to explore this stunning book about my favorite food group.
The simple combination of kale, sweet potatoes, and Mexican spices tastes great on its own as a basic side dish, but it can easily work as a main course, as well. I have added a fried egg to each serving to turn it into a breakfast hash and have used it as a taco filling. It also makes a nifty topping for tostadas: pick up tostada shells (crisp corn tortillas) at the grocery store and top them with the sautéed vegetables, chopped fresh cilantro, avocado cubes, and a scattering of crumbled queso fresco.
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided), plus more if needed
11⁄2 pounds sweet potatoes (2 medium), peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)
1 tablespoon chili powder (divided)
11⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin (divided)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium bunch kale (about 10 ounces), center ribs and tough stems removed, leaves shredded
1 tablespoon water
In a large (12 inches or wider) nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 2 teaspoons of the chili powder, and 1 teaspoon of the cumin. Add a touch more oil if the pan seems dry, then continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes more, until the sweet potatoes are golden brown and cooked through. If the sweet potato cubes are larger than 1/2 inch, they may take longer to cook. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a bowl.
In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the garlic over medium heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle (do not let it brown), add the kale—a little at a time until all of it fits in the pan—and turn it with tongs to coat it with the garlicky oil. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon cumin. Stir in the water and cook for about 5 minutes, until the kale is wilted and tender. Return the sweet potatoes to the pan and heat for about 2 minutes more, until heated through. Taste and season with salt if needed. Serve hot.