Kale, Leeks, and Shell Beans

Kale, shell beans, Brussels Sprouts, and a leek fresh from the garden.

Generally speaking, I don’t think we ought to treat wholesome food like it was a hair shirt, as in “I’ll eat my oatmeal this morning, so I can eat steak later.” Or “Kale is good for me, so I suppose I should eat it.” I’d rather regard my grub as a friend and ally, and I don’t want to eat it unless it also tastes good.

I actually like oatmeal, especially when I cook it with a one-to-one ratio of water to rolled oats, simmered, with a wee bit more boiling water added at the end, and the oats allowed to steam with the pot lid on tight. They come out in nearly separate flakes, a bit of bite left in them. No glueyness at all. Yum.

Also, I really like kale, even though it is good for me. One reason I do is that it is a pretty adaptable vegetable, and goes well with other vegetables. Kale sautéed, then mashed into boiled potatoes in colcannon.  Kale shredded into almost any soup, especially the one with garbanzo beans and spicy sausage. Kale chips. Kale in almost any stir fry. Kale and winter squash.

This week it was kale, leeks, and shell beans.

There are eight kale plants in the garden right now, still thriving. I planted Beedy’s Camden Kale this year. It has done very nicely, not quite as prolific as the old standard curly kale I’ve grown for years, but tender and sweet. I also grew a Flowersprout plant, a cross between kale and Brussels’ Sprouts which sets little flowerets of kale along the stalk the way Brussels’ Sprouts set their miniature cabbages. It sports the most gorgeous, deep purple leaves, and the little flowerets of kale are cute, but I think I’d rather eat the big leaves. I’m also growing Brussels’ Sprouts as I have for years and years; some of them have reached a majestic size by now, and I have torn them apart to add to mixtures of greens.

Purple-leaved flowersprout front and center, just below the Brussels Sprouts.

A long time ago, I learned from my neighbors, Nancy and Terry Wuori about growing Taylor Horticultural beans, wonderful for shelling fresh (or storing and using dry if they get by me, which, alas, they do.) I also grew Cannellini beans, though the Taylors work as well in recipes calling for Cannellini or white beans. I freeze a lot of the horticultural beans by merely blanching them in hot water for a minute, dousing them in cold water, then draining and shoveling them into quart freezer bags. Very handy, no soaking ahead.

Horticultural, or shell, bean pods and newly shelled beans.

Then there are leeks, King Richard the preferred variety. I even started them from seed. I grew fifty this year, but that is not enough. What a sweet, mild-mannered, onion family member, leeks are, and particularly good with kale in this dish.

Tinker with this as you wish. Use mostly Brussels’ Sprouts if you want, add chard. Use onion if you have no leeks. Leave out the beans altogether. If you like a bit of heat, add red pepper flakes. I think the beans make this hefty enough to form a main dish for a vegetarian dinner.

Kale, Leeks, and Beans

1 leek

Olive oil

Garlic, minced optional

A bunch of kale, 6 to 8 stalks

1 cup of shell beans, cooked, or canned white beans

Salt and pepper

Slice the leek, and, if necessary, rinse out sand. Tear the kale leaves off their stem, and into large pieces. Steam or blanch them in hot water. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet or wok, add the leeks and cook until tender, stirring often. Add garlic, if desired. Remove the kale and drain. Chop coarsely and add to the leeks. Stir and cook for about three minutes, then stir in the beans, and heat them through. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes two to three servings as a main dish, more if used as a side.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.