For my next autumn fare installment, I decided to take a classic comfort dish, creamed spinach, and give it a more modern makeover by using the very popular cruciferous vegetable kale in place of the spinach. Kale has such a great reputation for being so healthy and nutritious, so I figured it could handle being slathered with a butter-laden cream sauce. The vitamins and minerals in kale negate some of the calories in the sauce, right?
I’ve seen creamed spinach done every which way — simmered with cream, mixed with cream cheese, etc. — but I’m a fan of using the old school, classic Bechamel sauce for this application. It’s quick, easy, and it’s a good basic sauce-making skill to have in your culinary repertoire (if you don’t already). Bechamel is one of the five basic “Mother Sauces” in classic French cuisine made up of a roux and milk. A roux is a thickening agent for liquids that is equal parts fat (butter, oil, animal fat, etc.) and flour cooked together before adding the liquid.
Try this out on your table this season for a (somewhat) healthier take on the standard creamed spinach. It’s a side that’s sure to please even the pickiest eater or green veggie hater.
Creamed Kale and Sweet Onions
Makes about 6-8 side dish servings
Olive oil, as needed
1 medium sweet onion (Vidalia, Texas 1015), sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches kale, ribs removed, washed and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bechamel Cream Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they start to become tender and slightly opaque. Cook for a few minutes longer if you wish to to slightly caramelize the onions, stirring every so often so that they don’t burn.
Stir in the kale in batches. When one batch wilts, add the next until it’s all wilted. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is tender. Use a lid on the pan if needed to get the kale to wilt; if you’re cooking a larger batch of this recipe, add a little bit of water to the pan to help steam the kale so it will properly wilt. Remove the pan from the heat when all of the kale is wilted but still bright green. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the cream sauce, melt butter in a small pan or pot over medium-low heat. When melted, whisk in the flour, making sure stir out any lumps . Cook for at least a minute to let the raw flour cook; don’t let the mixture burn or turn brown. Add the garlic and stir, cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Raise heat to medium, pour in milk, and whisk to remove lumps. Let this simmer for a few minutes to thicken up — the sauce should start to stick to the sides of the pan and be able to coat the back of a spoon, but not be as thick as country gravy. Thin out the sauce with more milk if it becomes too thick. When the sauce reaches the perfect consistency, take the pan off the heat and season with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Season the cream sauce with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cream sauce to the kale mixture, stirring gently to combine. Serve immediately.