Ah, but kale is so much more.
I first discovered kale as in “kale chips” – an expensive, yuppie-like treat which comes salted, in bags similar to potato chips, but supposedly healthier. This is not the kale of which I speak.
I’m talking about beautiful, dark green leaves. Fresh kale. Until recently, I didn’t notice it in the grocery store, and never bought it. But you can find it in the produce section, and it is relatively cheap. I recently bought a whole bag of it – enough for a nutritious side dish to a meal – for 91 cents. Another time I bought it, the checkout person had to call her supervisor over because she didn’t have the code for it – but it was worth the wait to bring home that leafy green stuff, and she assured me that many people do buy kale.
I’m a fan.
I learned about it from my younger son’s girlfriend. They are both vegetarians. On our recent visit to Oakland, California, where they live, we went to the Monterrey Market and bought items to cook for dinner. Monterrey Market is like the West Side Market in Cleveland – lots of fresh produce, only in California, even in December when we went, the vegetables are locally grown. So we bought kale. I was a bit dubious about it – it’s not pale green like iceberg lettuce; it doesn’t come in small leaves like spinach. Kale has gigantic, curly, very dark green leaves.
I helped her prepare it. First, she washed it. Then, it was my job to cut the curly part of the leaf away from the thick stem in the middle. She said the thick stems are too tough and not tasty, so we discarded them. My job was to chop the curly edible part into small pieces.
We did not boil it, or broil it, or use it raw in a salad. Instead, we sautéed it. But first, olive oil went into the frying pan, followed by minced garlic, chopped onion, chopped mushrooms and, finally, the kale.
The kale took up a lot of room in the pan – but it shrinks as it cooks, like spinach. So what looked like an unwieldy amount of kale in the pan turned out to be perfect when sautéed down.
My son’s girlfriend added some spices while the kale cooked. One of the spices was something mysterious. She is from Louisiana, and it is a spice from Louisiana that her mother supplies her with. When I sautéed the kale here in Ohio, I just added seasoned salt and pepper. It did not taste exactly the same, but it was fine.
So now I have added kale to my repertoire of cooked side vegetables. I love the way it looks – so dark green and healthy. I love the way it cooks down to a beautiful mix of mushrooms and vegetation.
But most of all, when I prepare it, it makes me think of my son and his girlfriend (and their dog, a rescue dog named “Ula” from Hawaii). The secret of cooking is not just the food, or the nutritional value, or the anticipated feeling of the full stomach it produces. It is the memories and associations we have with that food.
And kale, to me, evokes that meal in California and the wonderful people I shared it with.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]