Kale yeah

Preparing your belly for holiday warfare

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The most popular New Year’s resolutions each year, according to polls, relate to diet, exercise and weight loss. It makes sense that folks would resolve to turn around the ship after finding themselves out the back end of holiday season. Alas, by the time New Year’s Day rolls around, the damage has already been done. Losing weight is a lot harder than avoiding it in the first place.

That is why now, rather than January, is the time to craft a plan that will help you navigate the treacherous temptations of the holiday food table. Here are some thoughts on the subject, followed by a recipe for massaged kale salad that is guaranteed to leave your belly happy and full of fiber.

1. Treat your stomach space like the most valuable real estate, like Victorians treated virginity. Don’t just give it away to the first hors d’oeuvres tray that floats by. It’s easy to surrender to filling your belly with whatever is within arm’s reach. Just don’t. If there is nothing good to eat then don’t eat. Take a breather. Something more worthy of your belly will be around soon enough.

2. The day after a feast, wait until lunchtime to eat breakfast. Some people worry that skipping breakfast leads to more eating later in the day to compensate, which can supposedly cause weight gain. But the most recent evidence (not to mention the anecdotal experiences of vocal breakfast-skippers) suggests that response is rare. In any case, during the holidays you already know you are going to eat more later in the day, so skipping breakfast to compensate for the gluttony to come makes sense. And after a night of feasting you might just sleep in until lunchtime anyway.

3. Up the activity. I don’t mean to imply that you can exercise away the excess, because unless you’re an endurance athlete, your workouts probably won’t compensate for the level of gluttony typical of the holidays. But exercise is always good for you, and will help you build some discipline that you can put to work at the holiday trough. And if you’re skipping breakfast, you do have that time slot available….

4. Pre-party with green plant fiber. If you show up with a belly that has something in it, you won’t be that guy crowding the food table before it’s time to eat. Arriving at a lavish buffet with fiber in your belly has other benefits, too. Greens are generally a good digestive aid that will help move along all the custard puffs, pumpkin pies and cookies that might tempt you. Here are three kale-focused recipes to enjoy this holiday season. If you’re headed to a party, start the evening with a bowl or two of this massaged kale salad. And maybe bring some to the potluck if you think the other guests might want some tasty fiber in their lives. 

Massaged kale salad

In this recipe, you use your hands to knead the kale with salt and lemon or lime juice. This action breaks the cell walls, leaving the kale soft, pliable and easier to eat. My kale of choice is the long and narrow-leafed Lacinato kale, which also goes by the names Dino kale, black kale, and Tuscan kale. Curly green kale is a good second choice.

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The action of physically squeezing the leaves in salt and lemon juice softens them, almost like a light saute would, and makes them a joy to eat. Just remember that like many salads, this one isn’t low on calories. But at least the calories come from fat, which, like fiber, sates the belly and takes the edge off of hunger. That is why calories from salad are better for you than eggnog calories.

Serves 4

6 cups kale, center ribs removed, chopped crosswise to about 1/2 inch slices

4 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, pressed (garlic lovers can multiply as necessary)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1/4 cup grated Parmesan or crumbled feta

Place the kale, lime and salt in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze handfuls of kale as hard as you can, over and over, for about a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, toss together and serve.

Kale Potato Salad

Chunks of potatoes plastered and speckled with kale, full of that unmistakable potato salad-y flavor of summer. Here at the beginning of winter, you can serve it warm as a comforting bowlful. After a day in the fridge, meanwhile, it will improve. I like to fry the leftovers in the greasy presence of chopped bacon.

Serves 4

4 cups diced red potatoes, peeled or not

4-ish cups of kale (or other fibrous greens), stripped from the center vein and chopped. Optional: chop up the ribs, which are tougher, to cook with the potatoes. If using frozen kale, it should be thawed.

2 cups stock or water

1/2 cup olive oil (or more, to taste)

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 tablespoon mustard powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon ground or dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 garlic cloves, and more to taste, minced or grated

1/2 cup minced onion

1/2 cup minced celery

1 cup finely diced cheddar cheese

Salt, to taste

Optional: red pepper flakes

Boil the potatoes for a half hour in a gallon of water. Then allow to cool.

In a soup pot, meanwhile, saute the onions in the oil on medium heat. Add the whole bell pepper to the pan.

When the potatoes are cool enough to work with, mash in the water until almost smooth.

When the onions are translucent — about 15 minutes — add the potato water to the soup pot.  Add the bay leaves and veggie bouillon. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Slice the linguica into half-inch rounds. Brown them on the grill or pan. Add the linguica rounds to the soup pot along with the zest. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the ribs from the kale and mince the leaves crosswise. Add the kale to the pot. Cook another five minutes. Season with salt, and serve.

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