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Heirloom kale stars in old-fashioned side dish

Recipe: Mom’s braised kale with bacon and onions

Braised kale in brown liquid
Kale cooked with bacon and onions  is an old-
fashioned favorite. (Photos by Debbie Arrington)

This is kale for people who don’t think they like kale. It’s a Southern-style side dish, packed with flavor; salty, slightly sweet and savory all at once. It’s a method of cooking tender or baby greens taught to me long ago by my grandmother a.k.a Mom.

Tougher greens such as collards need slow cooking to bring out their best flavor. Tender greens (such as cabbage and mild kale) can be sautéed and braised in a fraction of the time. Like slow-cooked counterparts, this “quick” recipe still yields greens that melt in your mouth along with flavorful “pot likker,” the greens’ cooking liquid.

Kale in garden with stems, roots
Ragged Jack kale is a pretty plant that
is also mild.

Part of this recipe’s appeal starts with the right kale. Choose a variety that’s mild and cooks quickly (or use baby kale). My favorite is Ragged Jack, an heirloom red Russian kale that’s as pretty to grow as it is delicious to eat. (It’s also good raw – but Mom would not approve.)

Mom’s braised kale with bacon and onions
Makes 4 servings


12 cups kale, washed and cut or torn into strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 pieces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
½ cup onion, chopped
2 cups water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons wine vinegar (white or red)
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste


Prepare kale. Wash leaves. With a sharp paring knife, remove stems and center rib of leaves. Cut or tear leaves into strips. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, add olive oil and bacon pieces, if using. Over medium heat, sauté bacon. As bacon cooks, add chopped onion to pot. Sauté onions and bacon, stirring often, until onions soften, bacon is browned and fat is rendered.

Bowl of raw kale
Kale cooks down significantly, so start with 12 cups.
Add kale to pot and stir, sautéing lightly. Add water to pot, stirring with wooden spoon to pick up little brown bits at bottom of pot. Stir in sugar, vinegar and Tabasco.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until kale is very soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve kale warm with spoonfuls of liquid from pot.

Note: This side dish can be made vegetarian without bacon. Increase olive oil to 3 tablespoons.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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