Friday, January 9, 2015

Kale Me, Kale Me Now!

The culinary world, like the world at large, is subject to the ebbs and tides of fashion. Things come and go, they fall in and out of vogue. The seasons change and so does the culinary world.

Anyone that thinks this is a recent notion should be disabused of it rather quickly.

"I hate everything Egyptian", said Goethe once. He can't have been too familiar with Egypt never having been there what with travel being so difficult in those days. He was responding to the aftermath of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and Syria which set off a fad for all things "Egyptian". (There may have been more than a trace of anti-French attitude given the nationalistic times but the point stands nevertheless.)

In the same age, Byron, the hedonist poet of his age and burgeoning metrosexual, who was so terrified of his figure that he weighed himself compulsively, advocated a diet of vinegar and rice and thanks to him being the male Beyoncé of his day, not only did women (and men!) throw themselves at him in disproportionate proportions but also did they submit themselves to the regular bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that came with the dietary territory.

Fun times.

America has always been the land of food fads. What with Fletcherism ("chew your food 100 times in a minute before swallowing") to Kellogg who invented cereals as a "cure for masturbation" (sic) to low-carb diets and the low-carb backlash (Atkins), there has always been room in a new country for a new mechanism to reinvent yourself.

Not that the old world is exempt. Almost all of the modern ideas derive in one way or the other from the ideas of Galen (29 A.D.) The notion of things as "hot" and "cold". There are competing systems in India ("Ayurveda") and China (食疗).

All of which are completely bogus, of course.

The latest fad seems to be kale but most people don't know how to work with the vegetable. It seems to be a "cure all" but nobody in the 19th century would've considered it so. It was peasant food because you have to work to make it edible. It's natural form is not given to tasting good.

Tasting bad is, ironically "mostly universal".  It tastes bad because we have evolved a mechanism whereby something that tastes bad is probably poisonous or rotten and our senses are steering us away from it. Except that we humans, are insanely inventive. We invented cooking which neutralizes these poisons. And we're risk takers so that when we taste something bitter (bitter melons, brussel sprouts, beer!) and survive, it's like a roller coaster and we want more of the same.

This leads us to a digression. If you are going to make something that "tastes good", it takes considerable ingenuity to make it so.

Kale is undoubtedly "good for you". It also undoubtedly sucks in taste in its native form. We've had millennia to figure this out. The rational response has always been to pair it with a completely irresistible umami flavor and whether you did it via meat, mushroom, tomatoes or cheese is irrelevant. We have recipes from across the globe that do this.

There are a few things that need to be done. Firstly the tough central rib must be removed. They would've been fed to the animals on the farm. Secondly, with winter kale, you must massage it vigorously with your hands. You are breaking up the cellular structure. You will feel the kale go limp in your hands. After that, let the umami begin!

The recipes here are not only "good for you" but also "waste very little" and it will also make you roll your eyes back in pleasure.

Kale & White Bean Soup with Parmesan Broth


1 bunch kale
1/2 cup white beans

1 large onion (chopped coarsely)
4-6 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 parmesan rinds
6 cups water

olive oil



First make the parmesan broth. You need to have saved some parmesan rinds. They function like the "bones" in the broth.

Fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Add the rinds and the water, bring to a simmer and let it simmer for an hour at a low temperature. Strain the broth through a strainer retaining the liquid.

Meanwhile, make the beans. Simmer in water and salt until just below tender. This depends on the age of your beans. Separate the beans and the liquid and retain both.

Prep the kale. Remove the tough stems, and cut into a chiffonade.

Combine the broth, the beans, the bean liquor and bring to a simmer. Add black pepper to taste (the CC likes to amp it!). Adjust the salt. The parmesan is already salty so you may not need much. When it simmers, toss in the kale leaves and let wilt for 3 minutes.

Serve at once preferably poured over stale bread.

Kale Salad with Buttermilk Dressing


1 bunch kale
4 radishes (sliced paper thin)
1 carrot (sliced paper thin)

4 tbsp.. shaved parmigiano-reggiano (or more!)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
buttermilk (read below - exact proportions are hard)

salt (to taste)
black pepper


Note: When the CC refers to buttermilk, it means real buttermilk. When cream is whipped, it separates out into butter (the fat) and the liquid (the non-fat). The latter is the buttermilk. It has a smooth complexity thanks to the lecithin. Commercial stuff called "buttermilk" is not really buttermilk. It'll still taste good but you will have to thin it with water.

First prep the kale. Remove the tough stems and cut into thin strips. Do the massage thing. They will wilt. (This is important otherwise you will be chewing like a cow and cursing the CC. Not recommended!)

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Add the parmesan, olive oil and vinegar. Slowly pour in the buttermilk while whisking continuously. You will need more than the conventional 3:1 ratio because the parmesan is adding heft to the dressing. Thin till it has the consistency of a dressing. Add the salt and black pepper to taste.

Mix everything together. Let sit for at least 3 minutes. Dig in!

1 comment:

Varsha said...

Mmmm. Kale.