Posted by: ThePseudotarian | February 4, 2011

Kale and Lentils and Fiber, OH MY!

I’ve fallen in love with kale recently. I’ve been hesitant about it for a while, because to me … kale was always that bushy, green, plastic-looking vegetable thing on the side of dinner plates that I schlepped to tables during my short career as a waitress in a steakhouse. After that, I’ve always been a bit hesitant to dive in to all the recipes I’ve bookmarked that feature kale. Massaged kale salad? Freaking terrifying.

However, I have not been deaf to all the health benefits associated with this tough, leafy green. Fiber and calcium as well as vitamins A, K and C. Plus, kale helps lower cholesterol levels and contains tons of antioxidants, anti-carcinogenic nutrients and anti-inflammatory nutrients. It’s really not hard to see that kale is incredibly, incredibly good for you.

But I was so scared of it! So tough and leafy. So reminiscent of my awful steakhouse job. So easy to use spinach instead.

Then the day came where this all changed. I was debating on which container of organic spinach to purchase, mostly on price. $4 vs $7, when I saw a big bag of chopped kale. Twice the amount of spinach, and half the price, and I decided I needed to stop being ridiculous and jump on the kale-wagon.

Since then, it’s been a torrid love affair. One that Matt is not as excited about, since he doesn’t exactly like kale in every dish.

Which is exactly what I’ve been doing.

I love it because not only is it full of great nutrients as I’ve already pointed out, but it also fills me up. When I eat a salad or soup chock full of this awesome leafy green, I don’t have any more desire to keep munching. Big perk … because I’m the ultimate 10-pm, makin’ a sandwich girl.

Lately, I’ve been going to town on some mac and cheese. It’s been cold, I’ve been stressed, and those yellow boxes of Velveeta are soooo easy. And so bad for me. Last night when I came home, I was craving fresh, clean and natural flavors. Something simple and filling, with a little guilty pleasure of (real) cheese.

Kale and Lentil Salad with Parmesan and Pepper Jack

(note: this recipe only serves 1 – feel free to double as you see fit)

1/4  dry green lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups kale, chopped
1 lemon
1/2 to 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon walnut oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons pepperjack cheese, shredded (swiss, gruyere, fontina … any number of easily-melting cheese will work!)
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Cover your lentils with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil, cooking until just tender. In salads, I don’t like mushy lentils, so I leave mine with a bit of resistance in the bite.

When you have about 10 minutes left of cooking time, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the kale, and toss the pan to coat. While the kale cooks, squeeze the lemon juice into the pan (or into a separate bowl to catch any seeds, and then over the kale). Toss to coat again. The kale is done when it’s bright green and the stems are pleasantly chewy – totally up to you. Try not to overcook it, because you don’t want to leach out all the nutrients (also why you should avoid boiling kale!). When it’s done, add the butter and go ahead and turn off the heat. Leave it in the pan and sprinkle salt and pepper, to taste, over the whole delicious mess. The butter will melt in the still-warm pan while you’re finishing the lentils.

When the lentils are done, drain them and put them in a bowl. Add the walnut oil and sesame oil. Be careful, since these two oils are very strong-tasting. Try a little bit of each first, stir and then taste the lentils. Also, don’t let the lentils sit in the bowl for two long. If they finish before the kale, keep them in the pot over warm until the kale is ready. When you’ve dressed them in the oil, sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the top. This is why you want the lentils to stay nice and warm! Shake a bit of crushed red pepper into the bowl, depending on how spicy you like your food.

By now, the butter in the pan with the kale is at least mostly melted. Give the pan one last stir to coat everything, and then pour the kale over the parmesan-covered lentils. Sprinkle the shredded pepper jack cheese on top of everything (it will melt beautifully into the salad). Serve right away!

I don’t know how I came up with this salad. I don’t. I just kind of … followed my instincts and my body’s needs and went with what sounded good. For once, it worked! This was so delicious. It was everything I wanted, with tons of flavor and packed full of great protein and fiber, with minimal fat. You could definitely veganize this and leave out the butter and cheese, or substitute Earth Balance and Daiya.

This salad filled me up too, and completely discouraged any munching and gave me a surprising amount of energy. Though great for dinner, I’m going to try to eat it for lunch today too, and see how I feel during my usual 3 pm “I’m so tired I want to chug a gallon of coffee” ritual. The flavor is incredibly rich, and the modest sprinkling of cheese makes it jsut a wee bit creamy (pairs perfectly with the tangy lemon).

Sometimes … it pays off to listen to your body =)

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