Saturday, March 10, 2012
KALE! KALE! THE GANG'S ALL HERE.
My only experience eating kale was in England. We were staying with our cousins and Lea announced that she had bought some kale at the market for the evening’s vegetable. She said she’d never cooked it before, but the price was right and the vegetable man told her she needed to cook it a lot so it wouldn’t be tough but that it was tasty, so she bought it.
I’d never eaten it before. In fact, the only time I had ever been close to it was at the Claim Jumper restaurant where for years it always sat, raw and purplish, decorating the end of a plate. To the hand it felt like cardboard.
To make a long story short, it was a good thing Lea had other things on her menu that night, because not a one of us could gag down the cooked kale. I don’t remember how long she had cooked it, but it certainly wasn’t enough. I have looked askance at it ever since.
However, kale has suddenly come into fashion here in California and perhaps elsewhere. An article in today’s LA Times about using it as a salad almost makes one a believer. The cook has to go through some simple but important machinations to make it edible, but even doing that isn’t so off-putting as to strike it from the “To Try” list of an intrepid cook.
The key, apparently, is simple: Chop or tear it into bite sized pieces and then, using both hands, give it a good massage. Russ Parsons, whom I trust and who not only writes with words I can understand but also with directions I can follow, says to grab the pieces, squeeze the daylights out of them and then rub them together. Like kneading bread, he says. You are supposed to watch the pieces wilt as you rub. And instead of staying tough, they will turn dark and silky. If you do this correctly, and he makes it seem as if it’s not possible to err, the volume would reduce to about half of what you started with.
He says a little taste will confirm that you have massaged long enough, that you will find a sweet component that shows up to mitigate and blend with what little bitterness there might be. The best part of the whole thing is that you really don’t need much in the way of a dressing. He suggests a bit of good olive oil and salt on the leaves while you are massaging and a squeeze of lemon juice (or vinegar) upon completion – and VOILA', there’s your salad. He says this works with all kale, no matter the color.
Even better, he suggests mixing in some home-made toasted bread crumbs and then topping the salad with grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Russ notwithstanding, I still remember the feel of the first bite of the greyish-green cooked kale as it went down my esophagus so many years ago. That was enough to make me think I probably now should leave well enough alone. But that was then and this is now and I might take another look at the kale next week when I go to the grocery store.
I wonder if all this is true and if Russ himself tried it and found it to his liking…. I wonder.