Thursday Aug 17

Amanda-McGuire “While visions of dinosaur-kale danced in their heads…”

Quite honestly, year-round, I dream about kale. For breakfast I fry sliced kale leaves with a slice or two of bacon topped with an over-easy egg. I spread kale butter on my grilled cheese sandwich at lunch. I devour kale chips for snacks. And I sneak kale into my meatloaf recipe and almost every soup I make.
 
My name is Amanda, and I have a kale addiction, which I blame on Molly Wizenberg. Her October 2009 Bon Appetit article “How I Learned to Love Kale” was my first fix. Literally, I fixed her braised kale the same day I read her inspiring words, and from that point I became hooked. Hard.
 
As Wizenberg acknowledges, kale is one of the most misunderstood vegetables. Raw, it’s a little too forward, like a first date turned into a one-night stand. Yet, let it hang out in a little salt for twenty minutes, and you have the most polite, well-tempered green that gets along with cabbage, kohlrabi, and apple for fantastic coleslaw. Whereas spinach gets slimy when simmered in a soup, kale is sturdy, resilient and delightfully sweet. Like the ultimate mother, kale takes good care of you—no matter if you bake, blanch, braise, dry, fry, stew, sauté or stir-fry this nutritious superfood.
 
This holiday season Sarah and I could have shared our favorite cookie recipes on Spatula, but we wanted to do something different. We wanted to honor the non-feast days with low-cal goodies. During the week before or on the eve of a grand meal, I love nothing more than a simple bowl of piping hot soup for supper. Or in the midst of trays and platters of high-carb, fatty appetizers and snack foods, I always crave vegetables that are not hidden in cheese sauces. Kale chips with homemade dipping sauces are healthy, beautiful, and, most importantly, delicious finger food for any special event.
 
In the spirit of giving, Sarah and I offer you our all-time favorite vegetable, kale. May it bring you joy and peace this, and every, season.
 
Pork Meatball and Kale Soup
(Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender)
 
The only other food-related thing I might love more than kale is Nigel Slater’s cookbook/ gardening book/art book Tender. It’s probably sacrilegious that I’ve adapted this recipe, but in my experience building the broth in the same pan that the meatballs were browned in intensifies this soup’s flavor. Also, Slater says, “Don’t be tempted to cook [kale] in the stock.” I’ve cooked the kale separate and in the broth; the only difference I could see was a much easier clean up when there’s only one pot in use. Finally, if hot chiles aren’t your thing, substitute mild ones but don’t leave them out; they add a lot of flavor.
 
Meatballs

1 lb ground pork
2 small, hot chiles, minced
4 green onions, roots discarded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
parsley, 6 sprigs, leaves removed from stems and finely chopped
mint, 6 sprigs, leaves removed from stems and finely chopped
salt
a little oil
 
Soup
4 cups chicken broth
4 ½ oz kale leaves, de-stemmed and chopped
 
In a mixing bowl, combine ground pork, chiles, green onion, garlic, herbs, and salt. Roll meat mixture in small balls. (Remember, you want them to fit comfortably on a soupspoon.) Warm a little oil in a large dutch oven. Add meatballs and cook until they are toasted on all sides. When they are almost cooked through, remove them from the pot and set aside.
 
Pour stock in the dutch oven. Bring to a boil, scraping the little bits from the bottom. Season with salt and pepper and add the meatballs carefully. Decrease heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. Add the kale and cook for a few minutes just until the kale is wilted. Serves 3-4.
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Eat More Kale, Damn It!
 
Lenz Kale is a stubborn vegetable.  It wouldn’t go away until finally, I fell in love with it.  The first time I laid eyes on kale, it was far from love at first sight.  Curly, ruffled leaves adorned a platter of canapés at my wedding reception, strictly garnish.  It didn’t even occur to me that they were edible.  Never minding the setback, kale would be back a year later.  When I lived in Boise, my crunchy-granola neighbor used to stop by to talk vegetable gardening.  Every single time he would say, “You should grow dinosaur kale.”  “What?” I’d thought.  “Why would I want to grow a plate garnish?”  He’d go on, “It produces like crazy, it doesn’t need much water, and it won’t bolt when it gets hot.”  Now that I know better, these were all good considerations for the arid, high desert conditions in southwest Idaho, but still kale never made it into my small garden.  It was muscled out by more popular vegetables: tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini.

In another few years kale would strike again. I moved to Ohio, and my gardening space grew exponentially.  I flipped through the glossy, rainbow-colored vegetable photos in the Seeds Savers’ Exchange catalog, and there was an heirloom variety of kale.  Among the other brassicas, like the bright green broccolis and the towering brussel sprouts, kale was underwhelming.  The photo showed black-green leaves, warty-looking as a toad.  I’m not sure why, but I added a packet of lacinato kale to my seed order early that spring.

That season, kale showed its tenacity.  I planted it in a partially shady area because I wasn’t willing to give it prime real estate with the other vegetables I loved; nonetheless, it refused to die.  It slowly, stubbornly grew lizard leaves, splayed from a central stalk like a bouquet.  I nearly forgot about it, until I read an article in Bon Appétit about flash sautéing kale in butter and olive oil, and finishing it with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, Maldon salt flakes preferably, if you have them.  It was early December, and everything else in the garden was dead, except the kale.  Its leathery, prehistoric, leaves were fresh, even as snow fell around it.  I snipped some leaves, sautéed, and sunk my teeth into a vegetable revelation.  The kale was bitter, but as bits of the leaves caramelized against the heat of the pan, turning toasty brown, a wholesome nuttiness emerged.  The lemon punctuated the deep, forest green flavor and the salt made it all sparkle on the palate.

Now I love kale not only for its taste, but for its obdurate character as well.  It’s a perfectly unrelenting vegetable that holds on despite poor weather and soil, and lasts though snow into December or later.  It withstands high-heat cooking and long simmers in soup without turning into mush as weaker greens, like spinach, do.  It doesn’t go to seed early, and it produces all season long, pound after pound after pound of lush leaves.

Now I understand those bumper stickers that say, “Eat More Kale.”  Perhaps, like me, kale’s cult followers worship this cruciferous veggie because they see their own stubbornness reflected in it.   I’m drawn to kale because I am stubborn, too.
Kale has become a banner of my bullheadedness.  I wave it in under my husband’s nose, refusing to back down.  I will do anything to cajole him into eating this magnificent green.

“Why won’t you just eat it?”  I ask, my voice sugary sweet, as I tuck into a plate of sautéed kale with a fried egg on top.  He takes a microscopic bite and winces, as if in deep pain.

“It’s the texture,” he claims.  So, I whip up recipes that hide the rubbery toothiness of the thick leaves: kale butter, puréed with walnuts; kale chips, tossed in olive oil, baked until crisp.  But he refuses them again and again.

“Maybe, it’s not the texture I find so gross.  It’s just the whole disgusting taste.  Why can’t you just accept the fact that I will never eat kale?” he asks.  He doesn’t understand it has something to do with how eating kale makes me feel strong, invincible even.  I surreptitiously put the tiniest bits of kale in soups, but like a carbon monoxide detector, he goes off at the slightest whiff, balks, and refuses to take another bite.  If he were my son, I could ground him, make him stay the table until he cleans his plate, but instead he makes himself a peanut butter sandwich and whines that I never cook anything that he likes.  That’s fine.  Kale and I will just keep at it, stubbornly refusing to back down until some day, he’ll fall in love.
 

Wash some kale leaves and remove the tough stems. Any type of kale will work: Dinosaur, Tuscan, or Curly. Dry the leaves with a clean kitchen towel. Spread the leaves in a single layer without crowding on your largest cookie sheet. Gently drizzle with olive oil. The key is to gently coat each leaf, but not drench it. Now, massage the olive oil into the leaves. This step is crucial because if the kale is not completely coated in oil it will not crisp evenly. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper if you'd like, and roast at 250 degrees for about 17 to 33 minutes. Each batch I've done has timed out differently, so start checking for crispness early and often. The only way you can flub up this recipe is to let the leaves burn. As soon as all leaves have reached desired crispness, remove from oven and devour immediately, using your hands.

The end product has an earthy toasted flavor and crunch not unlike a fresh potato chip. However, underneath the toast and crunch is a fresh, sharp--well--green flavor for lack of a better word. 

The leaves come out looking fabulous--as I hope you can see from the picture--after roasting they become translucent and luminously green.