While much of the garden is deep in slumber at present, it still continues to nourish our family through these dark winter months. Some crops – such as garlic, onions, and winter squash – were harvested in fall to keep for winter cooking. Others, like the kale, continue to produce out in the garden all winter (and will also do so in cold frames in climates harsher than ours). As we cook with home-grown produce, we can still feel our bond with the earth outside from the warmth of our kitchen.
Each day, one of our three older children take turns being my kitchen helper. Together, we prepare a meal for the rest of the family. In this way, I am able to focus all my attention on one child, sharing my love of cooking, teaching kitchen skills, and enjoying that one-on-one connection in the midst of our busy, people-filled household.
This hearty vegan meal is the one the kids request most often on chilly days, both because they all love eating it, but also because it is simple for children to help prepare. Harold, my four-year old, can sift through the lentils, de-stem the kale, peel the squash. Beatrix and Ruth, 8 and 9 ½, can chop onions, press garlic, stir the pot, measure spices, make the rice. No matter who is kitchen helper that day, this recipe has ways for any of the children to actively participate in making the meal. As their mother, it is a privilege to help draw my children in to the entire process of growing, harvesting, cooking, and enjoying this food that nourishes their bodies and spirits.
I also appreciate the versatility of this economical dish. If we have run out of onions by late winter, there will still be shallots in the root cellar to substitute, or leeks in the garden beds. When we’ve eaten all the Delicata squash, we make use of the keeper varieties, such as Sweet Meat, Hubbard and Black Futsu. When those are gone, I can dig Chantenay and Danvers carrots hidden in the cold soil. Kale (Lacinato, Russian Red, Curly Scotch) always abounds, and I am grateful for an opportunity to incorporate fresh-picked greens into a winter meal.
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp garam masala (I prefer Penzey’s brand)
1 Tbsp sweet curry powder (again, Penzey’s is the best)
2 small or one medium winter squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch cubes.
2 cups red lentils
3-4 cups of chopped kale (stems removed)
1 can coconut cream (available at any Asian market. You can substitute with whole-milk yogurt)
Dried, unsweetened coconut for garnish
In a large pot, on medium heat, heat 2 Tbsp oil. Add onions and ½ tsp salt. Cover to sweat for ten minutes. Uncover, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized – about 20 minutes.
Add garam masala, curry powder and garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add lentils and squash. Just cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until lentils and squash are soft, 30-40 minutes.
Add kale and coconut cream. Simmer for ten minutes until kale is soft.
Serve over jasmine rice, with sourdough or naan, and garnish with coconut. Enjoy together as a family.
Angela Baker is a permaculturist, bird-nerd and compulsive knitter. Together with her husband and four homeschooled children, she grows crops and teaches free urban agriculture workshops. She strongly believes that growing and eating nutritious food should be a sustainable, economical, community-building, spiritual, and joyful experience – accessible to all people. She blogs at Salt of the Earth Farm.