Aesthetic gardeners must have problems when it comes time to pick the kale. It looks so beautiful when almost everything else in the garden is gone, a lovely holdout against the ravages of winter . . . especially when an early snow has set down crystals among the leaves.
Some aesthetic cooks must have problems with kale in the kitchen. To a cookbook, the instructions tell the reader to ''treat kale like spinach,'' and then the most thorough authors advise us to cook it a little longer.
That comes close to suggesting that we cook duck according to any chicken recipe. The special flavor of either one gets lost between the lines of type.
Of all the world's cuisines, the Portuguese seem to handle the authoritative quality of this green with sympathetic understanding.The flavor and texture are lusty when compared with spinach, and complement such Brazilian dishes as feijoada without losing personality. The following recipe is also good with marinated pork or a country ham.
The lentil soup with kale is a meatless minestrone, and the Chinese noodle dish is colorful and simple. Brazilian Kale 2 pounds kale 2 quarts boiling salted water 1/4 cup bacon fat 1 clove garlic 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes More salt, if necessary
Pick over kale, discarding any yellow leaves and removing coarse stems. Stack leaves and cut crosswise as finely as possible. Place shreds in a large bowl and pour over them 2 quarts boiling salted water. Set aside for 5 minutes then drain well.
In large skillet, heat bacon fat with garlic clove. When garlic just begins to take on color, add drained kale. Saute for 2 minutes. Taste a shred and add salt if necessary. Sprinkle with pepper flakes, cover, and cook gently for 15 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure kale is not sticking to bottom of pan. If so, add a little water. When tender, serve immediately to 6. Winter Country Soup 2 ounces salt pork, finely chopped 2 medium onions, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 cup chopped celery 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary 1 cup dried lentils, washed and picked over 1 large potato, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes 11/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 pound kale Grated Romano cheese
In 3 or 4 quart saucepan, render salt pork and remove cracklings and reserve them. Add chopped onion, garlic, and celery and cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir in rosemary and cook 30 seconds to release its flavor. Add lentils and 11/2 quarts of water.
Bring slowly to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add potato, salt, and pepper and simmer until both lentils and potato are tender, adding more water if necessary. Soup should be very thick, but not quite a stew.
While soup is simmering, pick over kale, discarding any yellowed leaves, and cut out thick stems. Stack leaves and shred finely crosswise.
Cook kale in another saucepan in 1 cup of water until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and add to lentil and potato soup when potatoes are soft. Cook together for 5 minutes.
Serve immediately in deep soup bowls. Reheat cracklings in small skillet and sprinkle over each serving, and pass a bowl of grated Romano cheese. Serves 4 as a light lunch or supper, or 6 as an appetizer soup. Pork and Bean Thread Noodle With Kale 2 ounces bean thread noodle 3 large eggs 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon water 3 teaspoons cornstarch 5 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons peanut oil 1/2 pound pork, cut in fine julienne 1 clove garlic, minced 2 thin slices ginger, shredded 3 tablespoons soy sauce 3 scallions, 2 cut in 1-inch pieces, and 1 shredded 1/2 pound bean sprouts 1/2 pound kale, picked over, stems removed, and leaves shredded 1/2 teaspoon sugar Salt if necessary
Cover bean threads with boiling water and soak 20 minutes. Drain and cut in 4 -inch lengths. Beat eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon water. Heat an 8-inch frying pan until it is hot, brush with 1 teaspoon of oil, pour in 1/3 of the egg, and whirl to cover bottom of pan. Cook briefly on both sides until set. Remove and repeat twice more.
When all egg pancakes have been made, stack and cut in 1/4-inch ribbons. Mix pork with 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok and stir fry 1-inch sections of scallion and bean sprouts until slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Heat 2 more tablespoons of oil, add garlic and ginger, and stir 30 seconds.
Add pork and stir fry 2 minutes. Add bean thread noodles, toss together 30 seconds, and remove to a warm plate.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in wok and stir fry kale for 2 minutes. Add meat and vegetables, remaining soy sauce, and sugar and toss all ingredients together until heated.
Taste for salt and add if necessary. Arrange dish on a warm platter and top with egg shreds and shredded scallion.
Serves 3 as a light lunch, or more as part of a Chinese meal.