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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 Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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