From left, collards, kale, Swiss chard and Japanese mustard greens. Photo by Ric Ernst

Although some things did not do well in the garden this year, our patch of greens, which included Tuscan black kale (sometimes called dinosaur kale), rainbow chard and collards, did flourish. I’m particularly fond of the kale, as were the many bugs that invaded our garden this damp and cool growing season. Yes, eating insects is trendy in some places, but not on our farm. And the dimpled, curled leaves of  Tuscan kale are perfect places for them to hide, so my habit of blanching the leaves for 30 seconds or so before rinsing in cold water, squeezing dry and chopping helped flush these little critters out very nicely.

I’ve found that blanching kale and collards before cooking them up in other dishes also helps remove the cabbagey smell and bitter flavour that the longer cooking they require brings out. My favourite way to serve these super-healthy greens is by simply sautéeing the chopped, blanched kale (remove the stems after blanching) for about five minutes  in a little olive oil and bacon fat (this adds a wonderful rich and smoky flavour, but if you’re not into bacon, use a drop or two of liquid smoke for similar affect or skip this altogether; it’ll be just as good) with minced garlic and a splash of broth. Salt and pepper to taste plus a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and you have a side dish that marries beautifully with just about any main course. When I cook the chard, it needs no blanching, but I do remove the ribs, chop and and cook it like spinach, seasoning it as I do the other greens.

All the greens are also delicious stirred into soups, folded into cheesy omelettes or added to pasta dishes.

I love couscous in both cold salads and as a warm side dish. I recently discovered Israeli couscous, and although it is more like tiny pasta pearls than true couscous, it makes for equally delicious eating. When cooked, it’s not at all sticky like pasta but keeps it shape and mixes well with other ingredients. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what to add: pesto and lemon zest is fabulous, or sautéed wild mushrooms and garlic. When making the following recipe, I pulled out all the bits of leftovers filling the fridge after a furious week of cooking, thus the actual measures are really quite flexible. If you have more of one thing and you like it, add as much as you want. I probably would have added more kale, if I’d had more ready to go. But as it was, this was a delicious success.

3 tbsps. butter, divided
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups Israeli couscous
1 ¾ cups salt-free chicken broth
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried thyme
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
Zest of one lemon
4-6 oz. of wild mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
1 cup cubed, roasted squash
½ cup chopped and sautéed kale

Melt one tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add pine nuts and stir until golden brown. Transfer to a small bowl.

Melt remaining 2 tbsps. butter in the same pan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until golden. Add couscous, and stir until couscous browns slightly, about two minutes. Add broth, salt and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender. Remove from heat and stir in pine nuts, parsley, zest, mushrooms, squash and kale. Season to taste with more salt, if needed, and pepper. Serves 4.