The Local Food Report: Red Russian Kale

Kale, you are one tough cookie. February, the coldest month, and you're still going strong. Even under a blanket of snow?

You have some serious hutspa, that's for sure. From what I've gathered, it's a build up of sugar that makes you so strong. You use the sugar to push water from inside your cells into the extracellular zone, where it can freeze without doing you any harm. Now who came up with that?

Whoever it was, I think we both owe them a tremendous thank-you. You survive the winter, and we have charming winter greens. Hurrah!

The funny thing is, the person I met you through planted you by mistake. She meant to plant Eastham turnips, but picked your seeds up instead. I'm guessing you knew that all along, but chose not to say anything. I understand.

But the long and the short of it is, you turned out to be a wonderful mistake. Not necessarily financially, as you require quite a bit more work, but for those of us who simply can't take another day of root vegetables. In that department, you've been a miracle worker. Especially for the shoppers at Orleans' Phoenix Fruits. You get dropped off there most weeks—when the snow has melted for a moment or two, allowing your planter to pick—in a big, red, bushy case. She thaws you out in a bowl of warm water, lets you regain your strength, pats you dry, and you're off. You're Red Russian kale, after all, not just some everyday face. You could run out any day, any storm now, but that's okay. You're doing everything you can to see us through.

I like you especially in soups. The other day your planter left you for me in a cooler by her field, and I conjured up a big, burly pot of Portuguese kale soup: sausage and Maine kidney beans, stored potatoes, onions, and garlic, a bit of beef broth, and crushed tomatoes I'd put up towards the end of summer. It is one of my very favorite soups. You cooked down to the perfect consistency—hardly limp and lifeless like spinach—but instead soldiering on, limber and proud.

I can't thank you enough.


adapted from a recipe that Mac's Seafood serves at their clam shack on the Wellfleet Town Pier

1/2 to 1 pound (depending on which of these you choose, and how "meaty" you want the soup to be) sausage, chorizo, or linguica, in bite-sized bits
1 medium-sized white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red kidney beans, soaked overnight, or until soft (simmer in water before adding to soup, if needed)
3 medium-sized potatoes, diced
1 quart crushed tomatoes
1 quart beef broth
1 large bunch kale (I used Red Russian, but whatever you can find locally will work)
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté whatever meat you choose in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. When it has rendered a good amount of fat, add onions and garlic, and sauté until translucent. Next add potatoes, sauté for several minutes more, and then kidney beans. Keep stirring and season with salt and pepper to taste (but remember you will be adding beef broth, which adds salt).

Deglaze the pan with about a cup of the beef broth, let it reduce by about half, and add the rest along with the crushed tomatoes. Depending on how juicy your crushed tomatoes are, you may need to add a bit of water at this point. Bring soup to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Throw in the kale and taste again for salt and pepper, adding seasoning as needed. Continue stirring from time to time, and cook until liquid has reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2 and has formed a nice, slightly thick broth.

Serve hot. This soup is especially good peasant style, with a chunk of hard white cheese and a hunk of county sourdough.


Diane Warren said...

I'm hooked. The kidney beans are soaking. More tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I have been hearing about the Portuguese Kale Soup they serve at Mac's Seafood for some time now, and last summer I finally got to sample it. Delicious! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. My daughter and I are going to make it this weekend. ~A Maine Reader

Elspeth said...


I hope it goes well. My advice would be to focus on the quality of the meat---it has a lot to do with the end flavor. Alex really likes Spanish chorizo---I think it may be the best!

And to my Maine reader, enjoy!


Diane Warren said...

I made it. I was unable to find linguica so I used sweet Italian sausage. The kidney beans were still quite firm even after 12 hours of soaking so I let it simmer for quite a while. It got quite thick so I added another qt. of broth and a can of diced tomatoes to loosen it up. I think I have lost some of the flavor so I may add some more sausage tomorrow. Prue is in bed with a cold so she asked for some. I'll let you know what she thinks about it. It was fun to make. Doesn't taste like Mac's, however.

Elspeth said...


You definitely want the kidney beans to be fully soft before you start...you have discovered what happens if not! If they aren't soft after an overnight soaking, try simmering them on their own—before you put them into the soup. That should help, and then everything else won't get so tough!

As for the linguica, maybe look at that nice meat store (John Dewar is it called?) or at Roche Bros. You want the flavor of the meat to come out in the beginning, so that when you add veggies, broth, etc, it soaks into all of them.


Anonymous said...

Red Russian kale has more charms than just being a delicious tough customer. If you leave some in the garden through the winter, in the early spring it will bloom beautifully, yellow flowers above the red and blue foliage, go to seed, drop those seeds, and you will have an instant "lawn" of tiny red Russian kale plants!
Irene, South Wellfleet

Elspeth said...

What a wonderful idea! I will have to try that this year.

Diane: fyi did a bit more research on the red kidney bean problem, and discovered several things.

1: beans can fail to soften if they've been on the shelf too long...while they keep for up to 5 years, they can fail to rehydrate after one or two. (this could be a store issue, as some places might not rotate their stock often enough.)

2: once you expose the beans to salt and acid (i.e. if you add them to the soup not quite soft) they will have an even harder time softening, as these somehow inhibit the process.

3: some people recommend simmering them in water after soaking overnight and then leaving them to soak for several more hours as they cool.

4: if none of this works, there are always canned beans!

best of luck—


Diane Warren said...

Thanks, Elspeth. The beans were a recent purchase. Don't know what the expiration date was. I'll try all of your suggestions the next time. There is the canned option!

Prue loved it the way it turned out. Peter ate it cold with crackers. He took two containers home with him. So it wasn't a loss. I'll take a container to school with me tomorrow for lunch. The flavor was terrific.

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