We eat a ridiculous amount of hearty greens at our house — kale, collards, mustard greens, swiss chard, and spinach make regular appearances on our plates. They’re rich with vitamins (usually A, B6, C, E, and K) and minerals (like iron and magnesium), high in dietary fiber, and are often good sources of protein and sometimes calcium. Hearty greens are also extremely easy to make and very versatile.
I grew up cooking greens in things like bacon fat and butter. Occasionally, I’ll still do this — when you have a craving, you have a craving — but most days I opt for something more healthy(ish).
For example, one of my favorite ways to eat kale is wilted for a few minutes in bacon fat and with crumbled bacon as a topping. The fat and nitrates don’t erase the healthful aspects of the kale, but they definitely don’t keep the calories off the waistline or the vast amounts of cholesterol out of my system. Now, I make the same dish but modified a little to reduce some of the fat and nitrates (definitely not all the fat, but some). It tastes so similar that I don’t even miss all the yummy bacon grease:
Pork belly kale
- 1/2 lb. uncured, skinless, Berkshire or Duroc pork belly
- 1 to 2 Tbl. canola oil (enough to coat the bottom of your sautee pan)
- 10 broad leaves of kale
- Optional: 1 tsp of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp kosher salt or 2 Tbl. crumbled blue cheese to finish
In a cast iron pan on medium-high heat, sear the top and bottom of the pork belly, starting first with the fat side down. You’ll want a caramel brown color sear, which will take about 4 or 5 minutes to achieve on the fat side and about 2 or 3 minutes on the meat side. Once you have that wonderful brown, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to cook the pork belly slowly until it is done all the way through (based on the thickness of your pork belly, this could take up to 20 or 30 more minutes). If you don’t want to stand at the stove flipping the pork belly over every 5 minutes for 20 minutes, you can cover the pan and put the seared pork belly in a 250ºF oven for a couple hours. Check on the pork every 30 minutes or so to make sure there is still some liquid in the bottom of the pan. You don’t want a grease fire (hence, the pan lid), but you also don’t want the meat to dry out.
When the pork belly is finished, transfer it to a cooling rack.
In a clean and cool pan, warm a tablespoon of canola oil over medium heat. Slowly add 10 broad leaves of kale that have been washed, dried, had the central vein cut out, and then torn into credit card size pieces (or smaller). Wilt the kale until it is a consistent dark green and it is tender (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.
Dice the cooled pork belly into 1/2″ cubes and toss over the kale.
Based on the flavor intensity of the kale, you may choose to finish the kale with a teaspoon of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Or, if you enjoy blue cheese, a tablespoon or two of it crumbled on the top is excellent. Just don’t use lemon juice and blue cheese — this makes for an unfortunate flavor combination.
As a side dish, this recipe serves 2 to 4 people.