Applause for Kale, The Off-The-Charts Veggie
By Janis Gingermountain
Here’s a drum roll for kale, the world’s go-to vegetable! Credit kale’s meteoric rise to the big time, from the nobody she was, to—ta dah—California! When kale appeared in the raw, risqué as it might have seemed, a star was born. The “kale kraze” is here. It’s the buzz word of the far West, and is fast creeping Eastward, for who knows how long. Credit the granola gang, aging hippies, health nuts, organic eaters, and vegan enthusiasts for this amazing development.
Picture a wine glass filled with a bright green liquid, the perfect shade of chartreuse, a kale-fruit health drink, only one of the myriad kale recipes for well-being. Raise a glass: a toast to kale!
When I visited the Bay Area of California recently my friend April was growing several varieties of kale in her waist-high raised beds in Castro Valley. My friend Mike took us out to eat in the City at four vegan restaurants. For brunch I had a kale crepe. At a Mexican place my enchiladas came with half a plateful of steamed kale. A Japanese bistro featured kale in an amazing piece of edible sculpture. And sure enough, there was kale in our dim sum dumplings in a Chinatown brunch.
Then, to boot, both April and Mike served us juiced health drinks they had concocted, each prominently featuring kale. Pile on the fruits, and maybe even an innocuous cucumber, but even—kale lover that I am—I say leave out the kale.
One kale enthusiast insists that a daily health drink can be made from odds and ends around the kitchen. Her latest recipe: half an orange, a lemon, cucumber, half a pear, handful of kale, knob of ginger, piece of jalapeno, and broccoli stems. Broccoli stems?
“My whole being sings when I’m cleaning kale,” Lisa Laricchiuta rhapsodizes. She’s making kale chips for herself, for friends, and for barter. Kale, to Lisa, is the perfect marriage of her love of food and her passion for yoga and meditation. The result is inner peace. Lisa loves washing the kale, tossing it in the air, massaging it, and drying it. All the while she’s not thinking, just being present to the kale. Her tiny business is called “Kale Mary Full of Taste.” Recently she bartered kale chips for a yoga retreat.
When a vegan restaurant, Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, finally opened in Akron, Ohio, we chose it as the destination for our friend Diann’s birthday lunch. Clearly a holdover from hippie-granola days, the restaurant is heavy on one-skillet veggie-bean-grain offerings. But the star of the show is Julie’s kale chips, a pre-lunch munch to die for.
What is this kale chip frenzy? With April supplying the recipe, I had to try some of my own. Wash, dry, and stem a bunch of kale and toss the pieces with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Bake in a 350 degree oven 10-15 minutes or until the edges turn brown. Ambrosia!
Apparently concocting dishes with kale is the closest cooks can come to meditating while mindfully preparing food. If pizza is considered food for the gods, why not try …
KALE-BUTTERNUT SQUASH PIZZAS
Top two crusts with béchamel sauce: it’s like a fancy white sauce.
Melt 1 T. butter, and 2 T. flour, and gradually whisk in 1½ C. milk, a clove of crushed garlic, ½ C. Parmesan cheese and a pinch of nutmeg and of chili flakes.
Top the pies with thin slices of roasted butternut squash tossed with steamed kale, crushed sage leaves, and more Parmesan cheese to taste. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or till lightly browned.
Or how about another heavenly kale dish? In case you get bored with steamed kale sautéed with garlic and tamari every night, my friend Kath just emailed me a recipe for:
TOASTED ALMOND AND KALE PESTO
In your food processor pulse a bunch of steamed kale (about 2 C.), 1/3 C. toasted almonds, 3 cloves roasted garlic, ½ t. salt, 2 T. lemon juice, 1 T. olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt to taste.
Kale has a distinguished history. It was revered in ancient Rome, and hailed by British soldiers for saving them from malnutrition in World War II. It has long been a part of holiday meals in Denmark. Michelle Obama has made a place for herself in modern gardening history by supervising the planting of kale in the White House children’s gardens, and serving it to visiting school kids.
There’s no vegetable with as many health benefits. Kale helps delay age-related vision loss, and is rich in fiber, beta carotene, calcium, and vitamins K and C.
In case you want to plant some kale, you’ll find there are many kinds: cavolo nero (black), lacinato (dinosaur), Tuscan, curly, premier, redbor, Siberian, walking stick, red Russian, and kamona.
The most useless use for kale? To line a restaurant salad bar, making everything look crisp and spiffy. The best use? Tied in a grand frilly bouquet, accompanied by a winning recipe, and given as a hostess gift.
As we go to press, word is out that the next kale craze will be kale ice cream. If the Gilroy Garlic Festival can have garlic ice cream, why not? But wait! Word is also out that cauliflower is about to push kale out and become 2014’s trendiest vegetable. Anyone for cauliflower chips? Cauliflower ice cream?
Janis Gingermountain lives in a small log cabin in the mountains and grows kale and other veggies in her garden. She writes essays and poems and leads writing workshops.