Unfussy Fare

Sautéed Kale & Brussels Sprouts with Bacon


My friend Lisa, the tall blond with the sparkling wit, seems to be good at everything she does, which is reason enough not to like her. But difficult though it may be to overlook her myriad talents and good looks, I can”t help myself. We go back. In our Colorado girlhoods we walked to school together through crunching leaves and snowstorms and warm spring breezes. We climbed countless trees. We saw our first concerts together (Barry Manilow and Andy Gibb. Cool, right?) At home, we choreographed dances complete with with hula hoops and trash can lids. See, the trash can lids keeps things in perspective for me. Once you”ve seen someone dance to Barry Manilow wielding a trash-can lid, you can”t really hate her for her relative perfection.

lisa-&-gillWe’ve known each other since we still had our baby teeth. You feel a certain connection once you’ve soldiered through the gap-toothed first-grade smile, the indignity of braces, and the first root canal. (That would be me. Miss Perfect probably has no cavities.) If dental benchmarks are the measure of a friendship, then we’ll be guffawing through our dentures one of these days. She’ll probably look great in dentures, too.

I credit Lisa with shining a light on home cooking for me. When I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1998, I wasn’t much of a cook. I followed recipes to the letter. (Funny, that…) I had reasonable success in the kitchen. But I had little confidence and even less inspiration.  All that changed once I settled in Portland, thanks in part to Lisa, who had years of experience working in sophisticated restaurants, and who is a natural in the kitchen (of course).

The first time my soon-to-be-husband and I went to her house in Portland, Lisa whipped up a savory bread pudding with gruyere and rosemary for lunch. I thought it was amazing. She shrugged and said it was missing something. Soon afterward, she and her husband had us to dinner and served gingered braised lamb shanks. I was duly impressed, and also inspired. She wrote down the recipe. I made it at home. And it worked! I, too, could make delicious food in my own kitchen! There was nothing to stop me from keeping fresh ginger and balsamic vinegar on hand at all times! It was a revelation. I was off and running. Watching Lisa in the kitchen helped me recognize that good home cooking was within my reach. The countless hours I’ve since spent happily chopping and stirring have anchored me through good times and bad. Along the way, Portland became home, and cooking became a touchstone.

Sunday dinner with Lisa and her husband has been an almost-weekly event for over a decade now.  We”ve taken turns cooking for each other through celebrations and sorrows and lots of regular old Sundays. The men cook, too. It’s a family affair. The food remains good, even now that there are three young boys and an assortment of toys underfoot. Over hundreds of meals we”ve cut fingers and burned a few things and watched our kids melt down and bickered with our spouses. We”ve also eaten well and laughed a lot and shared all the generous affection an enduring friendship can offer.

For all the meals Lisa has cooked us, it’s seems odd that the first Lisa-inspired dish I’m posting is a humble side dish. But that’s okay. It’s worthy.  She made it up herself when she was in a hurry and didn’t have enough Brussels sprouts. So she stretched them with kale, slicing the whole lot into thin ribbons, chiffonade style.  Mine are probably different than hers. We never had an actual recipe exchange here. She made up the recipe, and told me what was in it. I took a stab at it.

Words cannot express how much I love this stuff. When I was down with flu and pneumonia last week, this was all I wanted to eat. I think I made it three times in one week. Maybe four. I’m not sure what it says about me that Brussels sprouts and kale are my comfort food, but that’s not important. What’s important is that you get to try yet another recipe involving Brussels sprouts. (Sorry, Jud.)

I have tried sprinkling these greens with balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon juice. Both were good. I’ve added some red pepper flakes. Also tasty. But really this dish stands on its own. It tastes like the essence of deep good greenness. It makes a great side for just about anything. Or, if you’re me, you can just eat a big bowl of it and call it dinner. Lisa reports it’s also great with radicchio.


serves four as a side dish

¼ pound thick bacon
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound kale (one bunch)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
½ cup pine nuts

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon, turning once, until done (about ten minutes total). Drain and chop the bacon. Pour off the bacon fat, but don’t wash the pan.

While your bacon cooks, trim the thick stems off the kale and Brussels sprouts, and chop them into strips 1/8 inch wide. You can use the chiffonade technique to speed your chopping along.

Heat olive oil in the bacon pan over medium-high heat. Add the greens and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the greens are slightly wilted, about five minutes. Add the bacon and garlic and sauté for another two minutes.

While the greens are cooking, brown the pine nuts over medium-high heat in a small, dry skillet, tossing frequently.

Salt and pepper the greens to taste, and sprinkle them with toasted pine nuts.


13 Responses to “Sautéed Kale & Brussels Sprouts with Bacon”

  1. Grandy and Esme says:

    This is truly an amazing recipe. We (I) made it last week from Gillian’s emailed version and served it to Esme, who is a big kale fan, but not much of a Bsprout appreciator. She really liked it, so we’re repeating it tonight. It has the potential to be the Best Thing On Your Plate, so don’t worry if others don’t notice what else they’re eating.

  2. Gillian says:

    I’m so glad you liked it! Love, G

  3. Pam Rokke says:

    We had it last week while visiting Lisa, Cliff and boys. Delicious as always. Sorry we didn’t get to see you and your family, Gil. Not your fault you got the crud. It sounded awful!

    By the way, she’s not perfect — she has a mom who let her play in high water pants. sigh. High water pants are bad enough, but high water bell bottoms?!

  4. Pamela Perry says:

    That may make you not perfect for dressing her in high water bell-bottoms, but Lisa reigns supreme. ;) We’re all lucky she has decent ankles.

    But, back to the B-Sprouts. I can’t wait to try this one. I’ve not had nearly as many dinners with Lisa, but I can attest to the fact that they’ve all been spectacular as well as every recipe I’ve tried from unfussyfare.

    Bottom line – you’re all three pretty perfect in my book.

  5. Pamela Perry says:

    What kind of kale is that? I’ve only ever cooked with the blue/green, long stalks, curly edges… Yours is almost like rocket.

  6. Gillian says:

    Yes, those are some short bell-bottoms. Or some long legs. Or both. Sorry we missed you Mrs.R. But good we didn’t share the swine with you and yours.

    And Pamela: You’re no slouch in the kitchen yourself. That flan you made stands out in my mind right now…I don’t know what kind of Kale that is. I bought it at the farmer’s market because it was pretty. (I do that a lot. Any idea what to do with Romanian Balloon Peppers?)It’s not the kind of kale I’m used to, either. But it doesn’t taste so different. Any kind would work for this recipe, I think.

  7. hungry dog says:

    what a lovely post…how lucky you are to have such an old, good friend that still lives close enough to see on a weekly basis! The sprouts & kale look great too.

  8. Lisa Belt says:

    GOOD GRIEF! Since this is the nicest thing anyone has ever written about me, I guess I’ll refrain from calling you “Crazy Blog Lady,” but I’m sure enough people who know me are already calling you that. I will say, this is a delicious side dish, AND “unfussy”. Also, that is my favorite photograph of all time, so I’m happy to see it here. But, seriously? Trash can lids? Making up dances? Barry Manilow? I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.

  9. Alyssa says:

    I’m glad I’m reading, if for no other reason than the very selfish one that you’ve shared this recipe with us! Thank you, looks delicious. And your friendship, it’s wonderful to have such a great longtime friend!

  10. Gillian says:

    Thanks Hungry Dog and Alyssa: I hope you get your daily RDA of green stuff in this delicious fashion. Too bad there’s no RDA for bacon…

    And Lisa: Sorry I outed you for being a trash-can lid dancer. Everyone already knows you love BM.

  11. [...] Sauteed Kale and Brussels Sprouts with Bacon with Shredded Veggie Fritters [...]

  12. Pamela Perry says:

    I’d love to give you the flan recipe to see how it can be improved upon or otherwise tarted up. Next time I know we’ll both be at Lisa’s – possibly for a little trash can lid jam – I’ll bring it along.

  13. Gillian says:

    Pamela: I’ll start shining my trash can lid now. And I seriously doubt your flan could be improved upon. Best flan I ever ate. True confession: I’ve never made flan before.

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