- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

If you’re a charter member of the rip-and-toss club, pouring salad greens from a bag into a bowl, dark leafy greens may be a challenge.

These members of the crucifer family, which includes kale and collards, are chock-full of vitamins, contribute dietary fiber and contain plant chemicals that may help protect your eyesight and reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.

What they lack is speedy preparation.

The greens are dirt magnets and require thorough washing. They start out tough and chewy and need cooking to tame them. Unlike lettuce, which just needs a salad dressing, dark leafy greens taste best when well-seasoned and mixed with other ingredients.

To clean these vegetables, hold individual leaves, one at a time, under tepid running water. Work your hands gently over the leaves to remove any dirt.

Dark leafy greens have thick center stems. For faster and more uniform cooking, remove them. Fold each leaf lengthwise in half and cut out the stem with a chef’s knife. You can stack leaves to make this job faster.

The longer you cook dark greens, the more mellow the flavor and the softer the texture.

Steaming won’t do. For medium-firm texture, simmer chopped collards or kale in water or broth for 15 to 20 minutes. For buttery tender texture, simmer for one hour.

If you’re going to invest a considerable amount of time in cooking greens, you should get a meal as the return on your investment. Use greens as the base for a hearty soup, and you get just that.

The following kale and cannellini soup is a robust and flavorful entree. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat more healthfully and that includes dark leafy greens, this soup makes an excellent start.

As an aside, some people swear by anti-oxidant-rich vegetable soup as a hangover cure.

Make the recipe on New Year’s Eve and serve it on New Year’s Day.

Kale and cannellini soup

1 bunch fresh kale

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup canned cannellini or pinto beans or 1 14-ounce can, drained

1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with chilies

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary

1 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1/4 cup shredded aged Gouda cheese

Croutons (recipe follows)

Rinse kale leaves. Trim out thick center rib. Coarsely chop kale to yield 4 packed cups. Set aside.

Heat oil in large pot. Add garlic and onion, and saute over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, or until onion is tender. Add kale and saute another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, pepper, rosemary and broth. Bring mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until kale is tender but not mushy.

Pour soup into 2 large bowls. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons cheese.

Pass croutons separately. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

Note: You also can pour the soup into ovenproof bowls, top with croutons, then add the cheese.

Place bowls on a baking sheet. Run soup under the broiler for 30 seconds or until the cheese melts.

Croutons: 2 cups (-inch) cubes sourdough bread

Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Toast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 5 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven immediately and remove from baking sheet.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30 Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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