June 28, 2016

“Himalayan” Coconut Kale with Garlic & Pine Nuts. {Vegan}

Flickr/Sang Valte

There used to be a little restaurant down a side alleyway right off of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, California that I always thought of as having served “Himalayan” food.

How I ever got the notion that the restaurant served “Himalayan” food, I don’t know—but it ultimately didn’t matter what kind of food it was, it was some kind of wonderful, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

On any given day at lunchtime, the line would stretch out the door while people waited patiently until they had moved inch by inch right up to the steam tables where all sorts of exotic combinations of tofu, lentils, rice, vegetables and spices assaulted their senses.

None of the servers behind the steam tables spoke English, so ordering was mostly a combination of reading the poorly worded signs, “Broccoli Without No Nuts,” and pointing to what you wanted, which would result in a steaming hot plate of fragrant vegetables and rice being handed over to you at the cash register.

Just before you left with your order, the cashier would stick a big, flat, shard of some kind of papadum right into the center of your plate, an indication that you had, in fact, paid.

I’ve never forgotten the day when, just as my plate reached the cashier, I felt in my pocket for the 20 dollar bill I thought was there—the one I had put aside for the “Cash Only” lunch—but I couldn’t find it.

My pocket was empty.

My husband had taken the car for his appointment. I didn’t even have my purse with me and no phone. (It was the dark ages, about 20 years ago.)

“I’m sorry, I can’t find my money.”

I was all apologies and embarrassment telling the cashier, who—like all good employees who don’t speak English—spoke English well enough to understand exactly what I was saying.

There was a moment when nobody quite knew what to do, as I looked in my other pockets, looked on the floor around me and otherwise looked fairly stricken—not to mention hungry.

Just as it became clear that the cashier was going to simply dump my plate with all its food right into the trash can beside her…

“No, no. No. Don’t do that!”

What a great place Santa Cruz is. Full of sunshine and sea lions and great little restaurants that serve Himalayan food and hippy guys with long hair who pay for your lunch when you can’t find your 20 dollars.

“Hey. No problem,” he said, joking further that I didn’t eat a lot.

Actually, he was right. I had only two things on my plate.

They called it simply “Coconut Kale,” and I would order it with a side of baked sweet potato chunks and some kind of curried yogurt-type condiment.

“I’m going to make that Coconut Kale some day,” I had told my then husband several times. He wondered aloud how I was going to figure out the recipe, and with all the confidence of an Italian cook I responded by saying:

“How complicated can it be?”

Sure enough, I’ve been making it for all these 20 years now, and everybody I make it for loves it. It’s a very easy recipe and took me exactly one time to figure it out—adding a little twist of my own.

I basically use a cooking method I learned from my born-in-Italy mother and call it “Himalayan Coconut Kale”—despite the fact that as the years went by, I learned that the restaurant was Indian and not Himalayan.

Oh well, what’s a few mountain ranges when it comes to delicious food?


“Himalayan” Coconut Kale with Garlic & Pine Nuts. {Vegan}

  • Chop two heads of curly kale into bite size pieces.
  • Put a little olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons) in a large soup pot and turn the heat to low. (Go easy on the olive oil, otherwise it makes the finished kale heavy.)
  • Drop 4-6 heads of crushed, chopped garlic into the oil and cook it slowly until the garlic softens and becomes almost caramelized.
  • Add some crushed red pepper to taste, and let the pepper cook a bit before adding a couple of handfuls of pine nuts, or pinole, as my mother used to call them.
  • Turn the heat to medium, and cook until the nuts turn golden brown. (At this point the garlic will brown as well.)
  • Add salt to taste, and turn the heat up to high. As soon as the mixture starts to snap and pop from the heat, add about 1 cup of vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
  • Immediately add handfuls of kale to the boiling pot (that would be 1-2 handfuls per person, plus 2 for the pot).
  • As soon as you add the kale, put a tight fitting lid on the pot and turn the heat off. Don’t open the lid for about 5 minutes. What you are after is al dente kale. Al dente literally translates as “to the tooth,” but my mother always meant it to mean that the food that you cooked still had a bite to it. So cook the kale only until it has a bite to it, not beyond.
  • After 5 minutes or so, stir the kale mixture well, being sure to incorporate all the garlic and nut bits from the bottom of the pot. Sprinkle 1-2 fingers full of grated coconut over the top and toss the whole mixture well. (I use the sweetened kind, as I like the contrast of flavor that it imparts.)
  • Serve hot or at room temperature. Either way, it’s delicious.


**Note: I always cut the larger stems out from the leaves of the kale for this dish. Because it’s basically a very quick steam method, the stems don’t cook up well and tend to be bitter. They can be chopped and saved for other stir fry or a soup dish.

p.s. This recipe is also very good with spinach!




Author: Carmelene Siani

Image: Flickr/Sang Valte

Editors: Yoli Ramazzina; Emily Bartran

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