I'm not the first woman to write an ode to kale.
But I'll tell you what: after not even being able to identify it amongst a sea of green four years ago, I am truly a convert. A leafy-green lifer, if you will.
When I first dated kale, it was a little too assertive for me. I gave it a little heat, blanching it, to calm it down. I'd blanch it, chop it, smother it in cashew sauce and choke it down. I ate, no lie, one bunch a day. That's a lot of blanching and chopping. (And a lot of refrigerator space). It was definitely a food with a certain power. I didn't absolutely love it, but I could not stop eating it. It fed me in a realm that was hard to articulate. The hit of minerals and vitamins it rushed to my system spoke to my primal brain. Kind of like eating liver or sardines. Not delicious, if not prepared well, but so nourishing that I kept coming back for more, and was hell-bent on finding a way to make it delicious.
I met other women who shared my little fetish. I had a long conversation with my family doctor one day about the crack addiction of kale. We swapped recipes, favorite varieties, and Farmer's Market location where we could score our favorite little vegetable. I think I fell in love with her a little that day. I bemoaned not having any in the house and this composed, confident woman, about a vegetable, she said: I know. I get a little desperate. It's powerful, isn't it? About kale.
I've let kale wiggle into my heart. I like to saute it with thinly sliced garlic and a really bold olive oil, I like it roasted into nori-like crispness, I like it in my eggs, in my soup, in my bowl, in my bowl, in my bowl.
And it grows. In my garden. In my slug-opium-den, hornworm-central, I-forgot-to-water garden, it grows. Russian Curly and Lacinato (Dinosaur), this year, despite me, it grows.
The kale epiphany came when I met Cynthia Lair's cook book, Feeding the Whole Family (the second most abused and hence most-loved cookbook on my shelf. Second only to my 1960's-era Joy of Cooking, which instructs me, amongst other things, on how to pickle tongue and skin a squirrel). Feeding the Whole Family accompanied me on the last leg of my vegetarian/bread-baking/"natural sugar" journey and it was one of the only cookbooks to make it over the ocean to the land of Paleo. Because even though I just ignore the soy, grain, and legume preparations these days, her veggies, nuts, meat and fish dishes are all winners with us. Not a week goes by when I don't crack that baby open for some flavor guidance or a piece of inspiration (or even just some common sense. She has a great section on calm and loving approaches to feeding young children, an endeavor that I have found anything but calm at times). She's a voice of reason that urges us to cook with our children, challenge their palates, sit down around a table as a family, feed everyone real food, and trust our own intuition in a world where none of those tenets hold much prowess.
But back to kale. One of her salad recipes is a simple raw preparation of kale massaged with sea salt to soften and sweeten it up. Yes, an honest massage, with my hands. And it does wonders, and it requires no cooking, and it is such a hippy-dippy way for me to commune with my food that I have to say: rub them down! Massaged greens are absolutely divine.
I since have taken to giving most of my hearty greens (kale, but also: mustard greens, collards, beet greens, cabbage) a tender little massage, maybe a light dressing and a few accessories, and serving their blissed-out little rubbed bodies to all sorts of yums and thanks. At it's most simple, a rub-down with some sea salt, a few glugs of olive oil, and a hit of pepper. This is usually how we eat it at home. Five minutes, I am a dinner-making genius.
But you can take it further. Get a little saucy and add some lemon or lime juice, or maybe a hit of vinegar. Take it a step further and introduce a toasted seed or nut. Get all wild and crazy and dairy-eating and throw in some feta or shave a little pecorino in there, maybe toss in some fruit (dried or fresh) or avocado.
A note about the dressing - I used coconut aminos here. I'm not sold on them one way or the other, but I like them well enough. I ended up with some coconut aminos in my refrigerator after being dissatisfied with the flavor of gluten-free tamari. Coconut aminos have been touted by some as "just like soy sauce!". I don't know. For one, I don't love soy sauce, and honestly, coconut aminos taste like...coconut aminos. They're their own food. But they have a body and sweetness that I wanted to work with, and I have been craving iron-rich, sweet and sour combinations, and so I put them to work in this dressing with a salad of kale, dulse (an iron-rich sea vegetable), raisins and avocado. It's a season-changing thing with me, this visceral telegram I obey to prepare foods that are a little heavier, rich in minerals that my tired body needs, and (oh, as usual) require little work. Which is why I was frying liver in beef tallow today at 5 p.m. in 90 degree heat, but that's a story for a different day.
Irongirl Salad of Kale, Dulse, Raisins and Avocados
1/3 c olive oil
2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice
3 tsp coconut aminos
1 tsp raw honey
1 bunch of kale (roughly 15-20 large leaves)
dash of sea salt
1 small red onion
1/4 c raisins (organic, always people!)
1/8 c dulse (dried)
2 tbsp raw sesame seeds
Make your dressing:
Add all ingredients into small mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Alternately, do this in a blender; the dressing will be creamier and your ears will be ringing. Up to you.
Rip the kale of the central stems, ripping the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Wash and spin dry the leaves, discard the stems. Place leaves in large salad bowl and sprinkle with sea salt (be conservative). Start to massage the kale with your hands, rubbing gently - within a minute or so the leaves will start to darken and soften. The longer you rub, the softer and sweeter your salad. (I prefer mine on the crisper, more tart side). Add raisins as you complete your massage - they benefit from a little touching, too. Slice the red onion into thin half-moons and place in cold water. Quarter the avocado, remove pit, peel skin and chop quarter into chunks, set aside. Snip the dulse into thin ribbons and sprinkle on top of the kale. Drain onions and add to bowl. Toss salad and add dressing, tossing gently. Add avocado with last few tosses.
Heat a small skillet over high heat. When hot (I test with a drop of water - it dances, it's ready) pour the sesame seeds onto the dry pan, and stir gently as they toast. When they start to pop and brown, remove and transfer to small bowl. Sprinkle a a little of the coconut aminos (like, 1/4 tsp) over them and allow to cool. Serve as a garnish sprinkled over salad.
Prep time: 15 minutes. Keeps well for up to 2 days in refrigerator, though I would remove the avocado (really, who has left overs?).
Lusting after a vegetable is normal, right? Please tell.