Monday, November 8, 2010

On a Kick

I'm definitely the person who can play a music album over and over and over again and not go insane. In fact, I once drove from Lexington, VA to Washington, DC with "Linger" by the Cranberries on repeat. Not the album. Just the same song for 3 hours straight. I was clearly in the car alone. Lately I've realized I also have this strange "repeat behavior" with food. Until about a week ago, I ate a whole wheat English muffin with almond butter and sliced apple for breakfast every morning for 4 months straight. I don't know what you call that. OCD? . . . Creature of habit? . . . Good taste?

I do prescribe to the philosophy that variety is the spice of life, so I'm not really sure what this little caveat of repetitive eating is all about. Maybe it's because my brain is tired at times and can't think of anything else to eat? As much as I love food, there are some days when I wish we could take a magic meal substitute pill and get all of our required nutrients without the bother of eating. But there are also days when I'm really craving something and when I have it, I realized how delicious it is and I want it again the next day, and perhaps even the next. Maybe my body is actually missing a nutrient and therefore is fixated on having it? But that doesn't really seem applicable to pizza and wine, which my body seems to want every single day.

My current culinary obsession is a raw kale salad. I know, that probably threw you for a loop there. Maybe I have been in California too long. I'm not sure I ever even had kale before this stint. Growing up on collard greens, kale seemed like a red headed step child. You just didn't eat it. I'm not even sure you could buy it in the grocery store. But I've seriously eaten this salad about 3 times a week for the last month. My poor friends who've been unlucky enough to join me for dinner several times during this period have started turning down invitations for fear of me serving this salad to them yet again.

I read a lot of food blogs and magazines, and it just seemed like all of a sudden everyone was talking about kale salad. Whoever is the kale sales rep out there is doing an excellent job. It was like, "I got to get some of this kale stuff!" So off I went to the grocery store in search of kale. But I got there and realized there several types, of which I know nothing about. I was totally eavesdropping on the produce guy talking to this college student about the different options. The funny part is that I'd already made my selection but was still fake-browsing in the vicinity to see if I'd chosen wisely. It turns out the black kale or Tuscan kale (I think officially called Lacinato kale) is what the dude was singing praises about, so I had to wait a reasonable amount of time to make my subtle kale swap. I think he was mainly partial to it because it was local and fresh, but regardless I'm now also a big fan of it because it's delicious! [It's also super nutritious. You can read all about that here if you're interested.]

I can see why it's also called dinosaur kale as each leaf is bluish-green and bumpy — almost warty. It tastes a whole lot better than that description may inspire. It's got a subtle bitterness because it's full of iron but it's not overpowering. It's more in the class of an herb-infused martini, if you can imagine that. It's got a leafiness and freshness to it but it's not like you feel like you just ate a handful of grass. It's more like slightly bitter cabbage. Once you remove the ribs, you just chop it up for the salad. I have done several iterations now and my favorite is to add chopped granny smith apple and candied pecans, along with my other staple ingredients: crunchy croutons, grated pecorino for some saltiness, and a tangy lemon vinaigrette laced with just enough red pepper flakes to add a hint of heat.

It's such a great combination of textures and flavors. It's truly addictive and a welcome change of pace for a nice Fall salad. It's special but simple. It would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving because the kale won't wilt like lettuce so it could stand up for a lengthy meal. It would also be a wonderful counterbalance to the richness of many of the standard side dishes you typically find on the Thanksgiving table. Don't be surprised, though, when there are no leftovers to enjoy.

Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

4 cups black kale
1/2 - 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (I just take a piece of whole wheat bread, tear it into chunks and toast in a dry skillet for a few minutes)
1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino cheese (could substitute parmesan)
1/2 granny smith apple cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup candied pecans, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 garlic clove, smashed into a paste with some salt
dash of red pepper flakes
pinch of pepper and more salt if needed

Lay the kale leaves flat on the side so the rib is exposed on one side and cut out the rib. Stack the "de-ribbed" leaves and cut into 1/4 inch ribbons and place in a large bowl.
Make the dressing by combining the olive oil through the salt and pepper. If the dressing is too tart, add a few drops of honey to mellow out the flavors.
Dress the kale with some of the dressing and allow to sit 5 minutes. Add in the apple, pecans, bread crumbs, and cheese and toss together. Add more dressing as needed.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, my friend. I LOVE kale, and chard, and most other dark leafy greens. BUT, I have never eaten them raw! I always saute in some olive oil and garlic, and sometimes toss in something else like diced tomatoes or dried cranberries at the end. You have inspired me though. Maybe I will try raw kale. Maybe. I'm kind of afraid though.