Island Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Island Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Island Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

Kale! Oh, how I love kale.  I love it raw. I love it cooked. I love it in a smoothie.  I even love it in a juice.  To me, kale is simply magical.  But to a kid, kale is not always magical.  Thankfully, I have always found creative ways to cook it to make it palatable, so my kids have always eaten it.

Sautéing onions first

The thing about kale is that the leaves are really tough.  This makes it hard to chew when it’s raw, even if it’s been languishing in olive oil for a while.  Kids don’t really want to chew something for a long time just because you tell them it’s healthy, especially if it doesn’t taste like something kids particularly like, such as chocolate or bubble gum.  So the first rule for feeding kids kale (and getting them to love it) is to cook it.

Raw kale, sweet potatoes, and peppers added to the soup

If you’re going to cook it, you basically have two really good options for kids: boil it (to make it soft) or roast it into kale chips (to make it crunchy).  Because it can withstand being boiled really well, kale is perfect for soups.  My favorite kale soup has long been Food & Wine’s Island Kale and Coconut Soup.  This was the first thing I ever cooked for my husband, back before we even knew we were dating.  It’s vegan. It’s gluten free. And it tastes amazing.

When the kale and sweet potatoes are soft, stir in the coconut milk and heat through, then it is ready to serve!

When the kale and sweet potatoes are soft, stir in the coconut milk and heat through, then it is ready to serve!

I’ve been making this soup as a regular family favorite since the beginning of 2010, before we were even a family, and there’s been an evolution of sorts.  So my version is heavily inspired by, but not identical to, Food & Wine’s version.  I’ve added and subtracted to make it significantly healthier and possibly even tastier.  I’ve also omitted elements, like spicy peppers, that put kids off, so this is a more kid-friendly version.  I’ve also changed it to make it not only vegetarian, but vegan as well.  The best part? Not only is it healthy, but it’s also an entire meal served in one bowl!

How to clean kale

Kale leaves soaking in a salt water soak

Kale leaves soaking in a salt water soak

The first step when you’re working with kale – for any recipe – is to properly clean it.  Kale, whether dinosaur kale or curly kale (or whatever other name for kale you come across), has leaves that are dimpled or curly or otherwise adept at hiding bugs.  I always try to buy organic when I am buying leafy green vegetables because they are so heavily sprayed.  But whether sprayed or not, you are almost guaranteed to find at least a few bugs in your bunch of kale.  I’m really strict about not eating bugs, but if you don’t mind a little extra protein and crunch, that’s up to you.  For everyone else who, like me, doesn’t fancy eating bugs, make sure to wash your kale well!  My husband thinks the most effective way to do this is to first wash each leaf under running water.  You just want to rub your hands back and forth on each side (placing it between your hands accomplishes this well).  This helps dislodge any bugs that might be hiding there.  My favorite way to clean any kind of greens is to do a salt water or vinegar water soak.  I use a salt water soak, which means placing the greens in cold water, mixing salt in until it dissolves, and letting the leaves sit for a few minutes.  The cold shocks bugs, the water drowns them, and the salt makes leaves a bit slippery so the bugs come right off.  Then before I remove the leaves, I rub my hands along both sides of each leaf to help knock off any little bugs that might still be hanging on.  Then I empty my bucket of water and refill it to rinse the leaves, removing both salt and any remaining dirt or bugs.

Island Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Ingredients

1.5 cups brown rice

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch organic kale, washed well, stems removed, and shredded
2 banana peppers, seeds removed, sliced or diced
3 medium organic sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs or 3/4 kg), peeled and cut in 3/4 in dice
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup organic coconut milk

 Instructions

  1. Add 1.5 cups brown rice and 3 cups water to rice cooker and press button to cook. Alternatively, follow package instructions to cook on the stovetop while you prepare the soup.
  2. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat to melt it.
  3. Add the onion and banana peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Stir in the sweet potatoes and broth, and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes.
  7. Add the kale and stir through, then simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add the coconut milk and just heat through.
  9. Place a generous scoop of rice in a mound in the center of each bowl and ladle soup on top.
  10. Watch your kids enjoy eating kale!

Variations

  • If banana peppers are not available try using yellow or red capsicum/bell pepper instead.  It won’t have quite the same flavor, but it gives some extra vitamins and minerals.
  • If you’d like yours more “salty” don’t add salt, use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, All Purpose Seasoning to get a great salty flavor that complements the flavor of the soup and some extra nutrition at the same time.
  • For extra protein, try adding some black beans (rinsed well) or cubed tofu.

Akiva enjoying his kale and sweet potato soup

10 Great Vegan Sources of Calcium (Part 1)

10 Great Vegan Sources of Calcium (Part 1)

I remember my 10th grade chemistry class.  I had this terrible teacher.  At the beginning of each class she would ask us a question or give us a chemistry problem to solve.  Then she would proceed to spend the rest of the class showing us all the wrong ways to solve the problem.  She spent the whole time telling us what not to do when we really needed to know what to do.  Now I’m just as bad, I guess, because that’s kind of what I did yesterday.

Yesterday I wrote about how milk is not the best source of calcium for kids.  But then I kind of left you hanging, didn’t I?  So today I’m going to suggest some good sources of calcium that are not derived from animal products.

The absolute winner for calcium absorption is bok choy.  Bok choy is an Asian vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked.  Calcium absorption in bok choy is almost double the absorption level of calcium in milk.  Bok choy has a wide oblong green leaf and a thick white stalk.  The stalk is edible and delicious, too, both raw and cooked, so use the whole thing.  Just make sure to rinse it really well (clean it like you would kale – I’ll post instructions for cleaning kale and other leafy greens day after tomorrow) as dirt can get trapped in between the leaves.  Try using bok choy in any Asian recipe.  Add it to Asian soups, salads, or stir fries.  If you have a hard time getting your kids to eat raw greens, offer it to them steamed or add some Asian dressing (olive and/or sesame oil, soy sauce or Bragg’s All-Purpose Seasoning, balsamic vinegar, ginger, and garlic are great ingredients).

The second place winner for high calcium absorption is kale.  Kale is amazing because it’s so full of vitamins and minerals.  Kids will especially love it if you gently roast it into kale chips.  Sprinkle a bit of nutritional yeast on top for a big boost of B vitamins and enjoy!  My favorite kale recipe is an island kale and sweet potato soup I will share with you tomorrow, along with directions on how to clean the bumpy and curly green leaves.

Another Asian vegetable, Chinese spinach, is incredibly high in calcium.  One half-cup serving has far more calcium than a glass of milk!  My favorite use for Chinese spinach is in Asian soups or “bowls,” which is a grain (rice, quinoa, or noodles are good options), a protein (I use chickpeas, tofu, or lentils), a green (Chinese spinach, bok choy, or beet greens are my favorites), and a sauce (miso-tahini, peanut-ginger, or teriyaki) – a perfect and nutritionally complete one-bowl meal.  Alternatively, substitute it for regular spinach in sauteed or steamed dishes, as it has three times the calcium of regular spinach!

Another amazing source of calcium is collard greens, which have twice as much calcium as superfood kale, making them an amazing food.  I grew up in the south of the United States so collard greens are a traditional food.   Bear in mind that collard greens are incredibly tough.  There’s basically no way to get kids to eat these babies without boiling them (which is really the way to cook them anyway). (If you do blanch your collard greens, re-use the water to boil other veggies or use it in soup and you’ll get the bonus of any vitamins that have gone from the greens into the water.)  Try boiling them for 5 minutes then sautéing them with garlic.  Or sauté  onions and garlic, then add vegetable stock, collard greens, and diced tomatoes and simmer for a while until the greens are soft enough for you.  If generations of southern kids have grown up loving collard greens, your kids can, too!

But it’s not just greens that are good sources of calcium!  Almonds are another good source.  My kids will happily snack on almonds just as they are, raw and unadulterated, but not all kids love them (when I was a kid I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole).  Try using almond butter to replace peanut butter in your kids’ sandwiches.  Use almond butter to make healthy desserts for your kids.  Chop up, sliver, or slice raw almonds and add them to all sorts of salads and slaws.  And of course, almonds are always popular dipped in chocolate.

Those are five of my top ten sources for calcium, but I have 5 more to share.  If you’re not sure you can convince your kids to eat these foods, don’t despair – just wait for my next post!

Recipe: Super Green Smoothie

Recipe: Super Green Smoothie

Smoothies are one of my favorite family breakfasts.  They’re delicious, nutritious, and it’s so easy to make a big enough batch to satisfy everyone.

The best thing is that fruit comes in all colors.  Make a red smoothie with red fruit, a yellow smoothie with yellow fruit, and so on. And when you’re making a smoothie with green fruit, it’ll come out green.  Add some greens into it and it’ll still be green – and your kids will never know.

A pile of organic kiwi fruit

Today I had a surplus of overripe kiwi fruits perfect for making a smoothie.  Any green fruits can go into a green fruit smoothie – green apples, green grapes, etc. But my personal favorite is kiwi fruit.  They have just the right balance of sweet and tart, and they give a gorgeous color.  Plus, their flavor is distinctive enough that it drowns out the added greens.

Green smoothie in the blender ready to blend

I stuck everything in the blender and let it go for a minute or two. And voila! I have the perfect smoothie, in a big enough size to feed myself, my kids, and a hungry husband.

Green smoothie blending

Kids will love it because it’s sweet and they will never know it is chock full of greens. A good way to get fresh raw greens into your kids!

Akiva drinking his delicious green smoothie

Here’s how to make your own Super Green Smoothie:

Ingredients

10 organic kiwi fruits
2 organic avocados
2 organic passionfruit
2 frozen bananas
1 bunch of Swiss chard (silverbeet), stems removed
Juice of 3 apples

Instructions

  1. Wash and/or peel all ingredients.
  2. Dump them all in the blender and blend.
  3. Enjoy!

Akiva excited about his delicious green smoothie

I know my kids enjoyed and I hope yours will, too!

Juicing for Kids: Juicing Leafy Greens

Juicing for Kids: Juicing Leafy Greens

For the past few days, I’ve been talking about juicing for kids.  Too much fruit juice can be bad for kids, but homemade fresh juice can contain vegetables as well as fruit, and is free of the chemicals and sugar many commercial brands contain.  Because it’s not pasteurized and can be drunk fresh, immediately, homemade juice contains so many more vitamins and minerals, plus enzymes (if you’re using a cold press or masticating slow juicer).

The first thing to consider is what leafy greens you’re juicing.  The world is full of possibilities!  There are actually a lot of greens that are edible and great for juicing, even though many people discard them.  My personal favorite is beet greens because they’re sweeter than most other dark leafy greens.  But there are lots of others, too.  Take a look at some of the other vegetables you buy that might come with greens on top.  In our home, we often end up with lots of leafy dutch carrot tops or radish greens.  Both of these can be juiced (although bear in mind radish greens can be slightly spicy – try using them in a salad and you’ll be pleasantly surprised!).  Any salad green can be juiced and can add new dimensions of flavor.  Try mixing some spicy radish greens, mustard greens, or arugula/rocket into your tomato juice for healthy take on a “Bloody Mary.”  If you like tonics, try bitter greens like dandelion greens or chicory.  And of course, there are all the beautiful deeply colored greens often used for cooking, such as collard greens, chard, kale, and English spinach. And of course, try adding any leftover fresh herbs to your juice.  Mint goes beautifully in lots of fruit juices and herbs like parsley, basil, or coriander can give a new twist to old favorites. The possibilities are endless!  Just make sure you check that you can actually safely eat the greens you want to juice.  Certain greens found in some gardens, like rhubarb greens, can be poisonous!

Another comment about greens that I hear a lot of people say is that they’re not really getting any juice out of their greens.  Pop a handful of spinach into your juicer and out dribble a few drops.  What to do? How to get more juice out of your greens?

The trick is all in sandwiching your greens.  Try pressing your greens between two slices of apple and juicing it that way. Suddenly you’ll notice you have a lot more juice coming out of that spinach!  If you’re making big batches of juice, like I often do, and you have lots of greens to juice, making tiny sandwiches might take too much time (although if you’re juicing with your kids, they might really enjoy making lots of little apple-and-greens sandwiches to put through!).  If that’s the case, simply alternate one hard fruit or vegetable with one soft one.  I often switch between greens and carrots.  This is usually sufficient to keep the juice flowing from your greens, and also means that stringy greens are less likely to get wound up and clogged in your juicer.

Good luck and happy (green) juicing!