Top Shelf

Beating up on kale

by Ari LeVaux

There are many who purport to be sick of kale – its popularity as much as the vegetable itself. If you search the web for negative phrases that include kale, such as “kale” in conjunction with “the F-word,” you’ll find an astounding array of websites devoted to complaining about this leafy green, as well as numerous opportunities to purchase anti-kale T-shirts. There’s an “I hate kale” Facebook page, and a Twitter account, @daily_kale, that combines equal parts kale and sarcasm as it proposes a slew of snarky ways to use “delicious kale.”

I get it. Kale has become the “it” food, the supposed cure to every ailment and nutritional deficiency one could suffer, a mainstay of every trendy field-to-fork menu, and many have taken their public displays of affection for kale to absurd lengths. Kale is the Justin Bieber of vegetables, and the people who sing its praises are as annoying as his fans. Those with contrarian tendencies can’t help but rail in protest to this kind of pageantry. But the fact that many have elevated their love of kale to such levels doesn’t make it any less of a source of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, flavonoids and other important goodies.

But despite its virtues, those who love kale can find themselves running low on ways to prepare it. Stir-fries, smoothies and kale chips can only get you so far. And if they’re not careful, even diehard kale-philes might find themselves cursing it under their breath. If that’s you, I have some suggestions that will help bring the magic back to your relationship with delicious kale.

The frosty air of autumn brings out extra sweetness in kale leaves, which makes consuming it raw more of an option. Raw kale is even better for you than cooked kale, as cooking will denature some of the enzymes and delicate biomolecules. Autumn is also a good time to stockpile kale for the freezer, as the farmers markets tend to end long before the kale crop turns in for the winter. So if you know any farmers that might have some kale in the field, call them up, make a deal, and stock the fridge and freezer (frozen kale should be blanched first). Then, follow these instructions.

The first recipe is more of a technique, a method of softening kale and unlocking its sweetness without cooking it. Many non-members of the “I Hate Kale” Facebook page might appreciate the idea of giving it a massage. Not a gentle massage, but a wrenching workover that will leave the kale tender and broken. This tough love you inflict will break the cell walls and release enzymes that will further soften the kale’s many fibers, while chopping it’s starch chains into sugars. The result is raw kale that looks and tastes cooked, but since the kale is not heated, those enzymes will still be alive when you eat the kale, and will function as digestive aids.

Any kale will work, and there are many varieties to choose from these days. Curly green kale is my go-to variety, but black kale, aka dino, aka Tuscan, aka Lacinato kale, will work as well. Wash the kale and shake it dry, or use a spinner. Pull the leafy material off of each stalk, and put the spineless leaves in a big mixing bowl.

Add a ¼ teaspoon salt and half a lime’s worth of juice per bunch. The salt and acid will further tenderize the leaves as you massage them. Squeeze, twist, pull, rip and otherwise traumatize the kale; it will wilt down to a fraction of its former size.

There are many different directions you can take your massaged kale. They will mix gracefully with the lettuce leaves, the quinoa grains, the jet-lagged tomatoes, or whatever else you pair them with.

My favorite way to prepare massaged kale is add ¼ cup olive oil per bunch, and grated or pressed garlic – a clove or so per bunch. Toss the salad with olives and cheese – either grated Parmesan or crumbled feta. Top with a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds. If you want to get extra fancy, toss in thin slices of blood orange, peel and all. The bitterness of the peel bridges the flavors of the bittersweet orange and the bitter kale, while providing a juicy, colorful contrast. Some toasted pumpkin seeds go well on top.

The next recipe is the ubiquitous golden beet and kale salad, which can be found in various forms at a co-op or natural food grocer near you. Poking around online I was amazed at how many versions of this recipe exist, most of which include ginger, sweet bell pepper and broccoli sprouts – all of which I prefer to do without. I also skip the olive oil, leaving the tahini in the dressing as the salad’s only source of oil.

If using fresh kale, massage as above. If using frozen kale, allow some to thaw. Chop the kale as coarsely or thinly as you like (most versions of the recipe call for chiffonade, or thin ribbons). For each bunch of kale, make a dressing of 2 tablespoons each of tahini, soy sauce and cider vinegar. Stir it all together, adding two tablespoons of hot water if necessary to soften the tahini.

Grate 1-2 medium golden beets per bunch of kale, and a medium carrot. Press or mince 1-2 cloves of garlic. A tablespoon of oregano, optional, adds an herbal contrast that works surprisingly well.

Toss it all together and marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Thus prepared, the kale is drenched in a nutty, soy saucy flavor that is tough to get sick of. Even tougher, in my opinion, than Justin Bieber.

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows