This kale recipe, with tomato gravy, is a thrifty meal

Charred cabbage smothered in tomato sauce on top of grits

Total time:40 mins

Portions:4 to 6

Total time:40 mins

Portions:4 to 6


A few weeks ago I wrote about a coleslaw I like to make, and it was fun reading the feedback. Most of the reaction has been pretty positive, but human nature being what it is, I want to talk about one that was…less so. It wasn’t negative, actually, but it was definitely critical.

The email didn’t dispute the recipe itself, but the writer said they would never make the salad because of something they see in many recipes. He called for one head portion of green cabbage and one head portion of red cabbage.

The point was succinct: What am I supposed to do with the rest of this cabbage?

Food waste is an issue that is always close to my heart. I have written extensively on farmers and consider it a moral failure when I have to throw away something that has gone wrong under my watch. And food insecurity is a parallel issue that means a lot to me. Then the email rang.

But, honestly, that’s one of the reasons I always like to have a little kale in my brittle. I’ve found that it has a fairly forgiving margin of error with regards to its durability.

Before delving too much into my personal practices, I looked for an official guideline on how long cut vegetables should last in the refrigerator. I haven’t really found one.

The FDA has a general rule that leftovers can be safely stored for four days. When it gets into specifics, it doesn’t target fresh produce, but mainly meat, dairy and processed foods. Various sites I’ve found suggest that chopped cabbage can be stored anywhere from two days to several weeks. Which didn’t feel like an answer either.

Whole cabbage is a cold-storage crop, which means any store-bought heads were likely harvested weeks, if not months, beforehand. How quickly is it likely to deteriorate once cut?

I spoke to Rachael Jackson, founder of and Washington Post contributor on food safety issues, who said she’s unaware of any official guidelines. She said that once you cut a vegetable, it becomes more susceptible to spoilage and that any number of variables (humidity levels, temperature, how it was cut) can affect how quickly that happens.

So where does that leave us?

Here’s my strategy: When you bring home fresh kale, use it first for any raw preparations. Wrap it up and store it in the fridge, and if you want to reuse it raw, do so within the next few days. After that, only use it in cooked applications to kill anything problematic that might have grown in the meantime. (Experts say leftovers should reach a temperature of 165 degrees or come to a boil.) .

By the time I got the reader’s email, I was already thinking about a dish of tomato sauce over the grits and contemplating ways to make it more substantial without the bacon fat that would traditionally be the base. That’s when I saw the cabbage left in my brittle and realized I could solve two problems at once by smothering the cabbage in a tomato gravy flavored with a spoonful of smoked paprika.

Then I added kale to my grocery list, because I was out.

Charred cabbage smothered in tomato sauce on top of grits

Feel free to add more cabbage to smother in the gravy; the recipe will accommodate up to double without increasing the amount of tomato. It’s a great way to use up the extra kale and extend your dish to more servings.

Warehousing: Refrigerate cabbage for up to four days. Groats are best the day they’re made, but they can be refrigerated for up to four days. If they’re too stiff when heated, add a splash or water or broth.

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  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup grits (not quick-cooking or instant)
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 pound collard greens (½ medium head), thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small (4 ounces) red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated finely
  • One (28 oz) can mash tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
  • 1 cup unsalted vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted, dairy or vegan butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Slowly add the grits, then 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix. Let the water return to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking, until thick and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it is shimmering and starting to smoke. Add the cabbage, arrange it in an even layer, and cook without moving it until just starting to char, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and leave more cabbage char, 2 to 3 more minutes. There should be black spots. Add the vinegar and stir to coat. Transfer about 1 cup of the kale to a plate and reserve. Push the rest of the cabbage to one side of the pan.

Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, broth and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the mixture is simmering and cook until chunky and thick, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the butter to incorporate.

Divide the grits into wide, shallow bowls, forming a well in the middle. Fill each well with tomato sauce, then top each portion with some of the reserved kale. Season with pepper and serve hot.

Per serving (¾ cup grits, a scant 1 cup tomato sauce), based on 6

Calories: 230; Total fat: 7 g; Saturated fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 10mg; Sodium: 617mg; Carbohydrates: 39 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 10g; Proteins: 6g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist.

From Staff Writer Jim Webster.

Tested by Jim Webster; email questions to [email protected].

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