Applause For Kale, The Off The Charts Veggie!

by Sue Spirit

 

Here’s a drum roll for kale, the world’s go-to vegetable! Credit kale’s meteoric rise to the big time, from the nobody she was, to—ta dah—California! When kale appeared in the raw, risqué as it might have seemed, a star was born. The “kale kraze” is here. It’s the buzz word of the far West, and is fast creeping Eastward, for who knows how long. Credit the granola gang, aging hippies, health nuts, organic eaters, and vegan enthusiasts for this amazing development.

 

Applause for Kale

 

 

Picture a wine glass filled with a bright green liquid, the perfect shade of chartreuse, a kale-fruit health drink, only one of the myriad kale recipes for well-being.  Raise a glass: a toast to kale!

When I visited the Bay Area of California recently my friend April was growing several varieties of kale in her waist-high raised beds in Castro Valley. My friend Mike took us out to eat in the City at four vegan restaurants. For brunch I had a kale crepe. At a Mexican place my enchiladas came with half a plateful of steamed kale. A Japanese bistro featured kale in an amazing piece of edible sculpture. And sure enough, there was kale in our dim sum dumplings in a Chinatown brunch.

 

Then, to boot, both April and Mike served us juiced health drinks they had concocted, each prominently featuring kale. Pile on the fruits, and maybe even an innocuous cucumber, but, even kale lover that I am, I say leave out the kale.

 

One kale enthusiast insists that a daily health drink can be made from odds and ends around the kitchen. Her latest recipe: half an orange, a lemon, cucumber, half a pear, handful of kale, knob of ginger, piece of jalapeno, and broccoli stems. Broccoli stems?

 

Applause For Kale

 

 

“My whole being sings when I’m cleaning kale,” Lisa Laricchiuta rhapsodizes. She’s making kale chips for herself, for friends, and for barter. Kale, to Lisa, is the perfect marriage of her love of food and her passion for yoga and meditation. The result is inner peace. Lisa loves washing the kale, tossing it in the air, massaging it, and drying it. All the while she’s not thinking, just being present to the kale. Her tiny business is called “Kale Mary Full of Taste.” Recently she bartered kale chips for a yoga retreat.

 

When a vegan restaurant, Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, finally opened in Akron, Ohio, we chose it as the destination for our friend Diann’s birthday lunch. Clearly a holdover from hippie-granola days, the restaurant is heavy on one-skillet veggie-bean-grain offerings. But the star of the show is Julie’s kale chips, a pre-lunch munch to die for.

 

 

Danielle Bussone's Cheesy Kale Chips

Danielle Bussone’s Spicy “Cheesy” Kale Chips

 

What is this kale chip frenzy?  With April supplying the recipe, I had to try some of my own. Wash, dry, and stem a bunch of kale and toss the pieces with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Bake in a 350 degree oven 10-15 minutes or until the edges turn brown. Ambrosia!

 

Apparently concocting dishes with kale is the closest cooks can come to meditating while mindfully preparing food. In case you get bored with steamed kale sautéed with garlic and tamari every night, my friend Kath just e mailed me a recipe for TOASTED ALMOND AND KALE PESTO. In your food processor pulse a bunch of steamed kale (about 2 C.), 1/3 C. toasted almonds, 3 cloves roasted garlic, ½ t. salt, 2 T. lemon juice, 1 T. olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt to taste.

 

Kale has a distinguished history. It was revered in ancient Rome, and hailed by British soldiers for saving them from malnutrition in World War II. It has long been a part of holiday meals in Denmark. Michelle Obama has made a place for herself in modern gardening history by supervising the planting of kale in the White House children’s gardens, and serving it to visiting school kids.

 

Dutch Stamppot

Dutch Stamppot

 

 

There’s no vegetable with as many health benefits. Kale helps delay age-related vision loss, and is rich in fiber, beta carotene, calcium, and vitamins K and C. In case you want to plant some kale, you’ll find there are many kinds: cavolo nero (black), lacinato (dinosaur), Tuscan, curly, premier, redbor, Siberian, walking stick, red Russian, and kamona.

 

The most useless use for kale? To line a restaurant salad bar, making everything look crisp and spiffy. The best use? Tied in a grand frilly bouquet, accompanied by a winning recipe, and given as a hostess gift.

 

As we go to press, word is out that the next kale craze will be kale ice cream. If the Gilroy Garlic Festival can have garlic ice cream, why not? But wait! Word is also out that cauliflower is about to push kale out and become 2014’s trendiest vegetable. Anyone for cauliflower chips? Cauliflower ice cream?

 

Sue Spirit writes poetry and essays on nature, spirituality, travel, writing, and cooking. She divides her time between Ohio, where she has a women’s retreat center called Degrees of Freedom, and the mountains of North Carolina, where she has a small cabin. She enjoys vegetarian cooking, genealogy, movies, reading, journaling, attending writing workshops, leading writing workshops, and playing with her dog Ginger.

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