Jessie Raymond: Kale — if you know what’s good for you
At the risk of getting too personal, I have to ask: Have you massaged your kale lately?
Normally, that’s a subject I’d bring up only with my closest friends, but I can’t resist. I just learned a few weeks ago that you could — and should — massage your kale, at least if you intend to serve it raw. And here I was, unaware that kale was prone to nervous tension.
Then again, I know little about kale. I had never tried it until a few years ago at a friend’s house, and only then did I realize just how bleak my first 40 or so kale-free years had been. I was raised on spinach, which I hated. Because I believed other dark, leafy greens must be equally abhorrent, I avoided all of them.
I’m fussy about my food’s texture — meaning, I like it to have some — and the watery, quick-to-turn-cold mush that is cooked spinach makes me gag. No wonder Popeye had to strong-arm kids into eating it. Until I met kale, I had no idea that greens could have so much personality.
I love kale. I love its deep color. I love its toothiness. And I hear all the time that it’s good for you. Kale has become annoyingly trendy in recent years, but I didn’t know that when I fell in love with it.
I’m not a person who jumps on food trends. I’m still eating gluten, even in public. I never got into the caveman diet, given how it turned out for the cavemen (plus I’m convinced any diet that expressly forbids fresh baked bread would not be worth the toll on my mental health). I have yet to go gaga over acai, flaxseed or even the once-exotic quinoa, which is quickly becoming as ho-hum as Rice-a-Roni was in 1975.
Kale is simply delicious.
I generally prepare it by chopping it in narrow strips across the rib, mostly because I’m too lazy to remove the rib — and why would I? It adds a bit of crunch. Then I sprinkle it with water and sauté it in a cast iron skillet with several cloves of chopped garlic, a liberal splash of olive oil and a bit of coarse salt and ground pepper. The trick is to cook it over fairly high heat until it starts to brown and caramelize; the browned parts add some crispness and a delectable nutty sweetness.
My heart is beating a little faster just thinking about it.
OK, so maybe it’s the cooking method that I love as much as the kale. I prepare most vegetables the same way. In my opinion, there is almost nothing that doesn’t benefit from fresh garlic and olive oil and a little caramelizing: asparagus, broccoli, packing peanuts, shredded legal documents, you name it. I kick myself for all the years I dutifully ate bland steamed vegetables, believing that anything that tasted good had to be bad for you. (Exhibit A: Doritos.)
Anyway: kale massage. I didn’t know that, given its hearty texture, kale could be eaten raw. I always figured if I were to include it in a salad, dinner guests would spend the evening masticating for all they were worth. Conversation would flag. Jaws would cramp.
But then I read that raw kale softens up with a good massage. At first I thought this might be a joke. After checking to make sure I was in fact reading a cooking magazine and not Cosmopolitan, I googled the technique — with justifiable trepidation — and discovered to my relief that it’s legit. You can even YouTube videos of people massaging kale. All the cool cooks are doing it.
If you’re uncomfortable with that level of intimacy with your kale, however, you can just soak it oil and vinegar for several hours and speak to it in soothing tones until it softens up. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can plunge your hands into a bowl of the green leafy loveliness and literally massage it, breaking down its connective tissues to leave it tender yet not lifeless.
Eager to try this method, I recently threw together a salad of raw massaged kale, sunflower seeds, shredded carrots and dried cranberries with a maple vinaigrette dressing. The result was a dish that was colorful, flavorful and pleasantly chewable. Trendy, perhaps, but good.
It does make me a bit nervous, though. Now that massaging kale is becoming socially acceptable, I can’t help wondering what’s next in food trends. Whatever it is, I don’t dare google it.
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