Think of supper as problem solving.
The garden/farmers/supermarket (preferably in that order of importance, but we can’t all be snobs about it) has provided me these ingredients, and now I’m going to cook something delicious. True, I normally just separate the leaves from the stems of my swiss chard, chop the stems into 1′inch pieces, roughly chop the leaves, and then boil the stems for 4 minutes, add the leaves for another two, and then blanch the whole thing. If I’m feeling particularly gluttunous I add a good 2 tsp of salt to the water, which makes a big difference.
I eat the stems as a juicy, sweet snack and dip the leaves in a sweet vinaigrette (or no vinaigrette, but there’s only so much bitter I can handle, and the leaves are way past spinach on the bitter scale).
Sometimes I place the leaves under a piece of seasoned fish in a casserole dish and bake the whole thing, letting the fish juices soak into the leaves. It’s heavenly.
And sometimes I go the spicy route. Because the first time I made Korean kimchi I used a ton of radish greens, and I was astonished when they all basically disappeared into the addictively salty-spicy-umami base of the fermented cabbage. It was like hiding cauliflower in mac ‘n’ cheese. You’d never know. And unlike mac ‘n’ cheese, the kimchi smell was so powerful that you couldn’t smell the sneaky ingredient either.
So with the concept in mind, I paired my steamed swiss chard with kimchi, and then cooked the stems into a batch of red lentil dal (note that red lentils turn yellow when cooked). There’s a great nuttiness to red lentils, and I tossed in a handful of digestion-aiding spices to go with the digestion-aiding healthy bacteria of my homemade kimchi. (For my second batch of kimchi ever I tossed in 3 lbs of swiss chard stems and leaves in place of radish greens. They, too, have since disappeared into the 20-litre kimchi abyss that has currently swallowed two of my kitchen cupboards.
The upsides of this recipe:
1. Digestion! Lentils don’t go down easy unless you help them, and there’s nothing like a bunch of spices including epazote, bay leaves, ginger, annato (aka achiote), and fenugreek. Then you pair it with the kimchi and your tummy will love you.
2. You eat tons of vegetables, it tastes rich and comforting, and it’s very low-fat.
3. Spicy, salty, savoury with a touch of sour from the kimchi and bitter from the leaves. Certain Thai cookbook writers would also approve.
Mild but Spiced Red Lentil Dal with Swiss Chard and Kimchi
What to do if you don’t have kimchi: Buy mine! If not, buy some at a Korean/Asian grocery store, but make sure there’s no MSG or wheat flour or other preservatives in it if possible. All the spices besides the salt are optional, but make a huge difference for your stomach, both it terms of flavour and digestion.
2 cups red lentils (masoor dal)
6 cups water
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (or 1 tsp freshly grated)
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp annato/achiote seeds, preferably whole
2 bay leaves
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled (or 1/2 tsp ground if that’s all you have)
2 sprigs epazote
1 tsp fresh cumin seeds
2 lbs swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and each chopped into 1″ slices lengthwise
Up to 500 mL kimchi
Combine dal (lentils) in a large pot with water and turmeric. Bring to a boil. Skim off scum that rises and add remaining ingredients except the swiss chard and kimchi. Partially cover and reduce heat and simmer for approximately 25 minutes. Add swiss chard stems, return to a boil, then reduce heat again and simmer until soft, about 5 minutes.
While dal is cooking, boil or steam chard leaves (you can also save some and add them directly to the dal a minute or two before it’s done to wilt them). Serve as a side dish with a big scoop of kimchi. I don’t like to mix the kimchi directly into the dal because it overpowers, and you wouldn’t want to accidentally cook the digestion-aiding enzymes in it.