I Do Not Love Kale

May 9, 2013

I’m thinking of starting a support group for People Who Do Not Love Kale. Would you join me? Are you, like me, sick of hearing/reading about kale?  I’d actually like someone to explain the kale phenomenon to me.  Why is it that this vegetable specifically has been singled out as the second coming? Why the special treatment? And really – kale? It’s not the sexiest of vegetables. Someone I know said they would like to hire the PR firm that is responsible for the kale explosion.

Not only do I not get the hype, I have to say I don’t really get kale.  I use it. I like it better than some of its other dark leafy siblings (although I love this chard dish and chard is also lovely in this tart, and collard greens are terrific in this curry). I have made kale chips and my kids spit them out and honestly, so did I.  Often I have a choking sensation when I eat kale. Does anyone else have this reaction? I’ve learned to chop it in small bite size pieces no matter what dish I am throwing it into. I don’t have to do this with broccoli. Broccoli never makes me choke. (I love you broccoli!)

I keep trying to love it. I keep trying to get excited about it. I keep buying it at the farmers’ market because it is always there and I must need some of that, right? I put it in soups and stews and sometimes I just let it languish in my crisper drawer.   Which is saying something because kale keeps well.  Then I feel guilty and so I sauté it in olive oil with minced garlic and red pepper flakes, let it cool, and then keep it in the refrigerator to eat with quinoa, avocado, and poached eggs. (My new husband-is-out-of-town dinner.)

Just as there is a lot of hype about kale, there is a lot of hype about Deborah Madison these days. (Nice segue, don’t you think?) The difference is, in my opinion, Deborah Madison deserves every bit of it and then some. Her new book Vegetable Literacy is a beautiful and well-researched tome that every vegetable lover should own. Especially if you garden (which I don’t). The thing I find so incredibly inspiring about Ms. Madison is that after all these years and all these books, she still has the passion for food that she has always had, and the curiosity to do investigative journalism about produce. The book, as you have no doubt heard, is arranged by vegetable “families” and I had plenty of surprises seeing which vegetables and herbs are related.

The recipes are true Deborah Madison. If you own a few of her books (or six like I do), you might see some familiar things. Sometimes things are a little more complicated than they need to be, sometimes they are shockingly simple. In just a quick casual glance through the book, I saw no fewer than 15 things I wanted to try right away. I’ve already made one thing twice (a simple dip of all things), and I know that her recipes are tested to perfection and fairly portioned. You never have to wonder as you attempt one of her recipes whether it will turn out. And if it doesn’t, it is most certainly your fault, not hers.

This dish spoke to me at a time when I was not eating many things. For three weeks, I ate fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and lots of eggs. I was trying to see if my acid reflux had to do with a food intolerance.  You can used to a diet like that but it isn’t much fun. I decided that if I used 100% buckwheat soba noodles (which are gluten free) then this dish fit into my elimination diet. It is a testament to how tasty it is (even with the kale) that I would make it again, even now that I am eating normally again.


Buckwheat Noodles with Kale and Sesame Salad
Adapted from Vegetable Literacy
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a first course

While I will say that you should never rinse traditional Italian-style noodles, you should definitely rinse soba noodles.  They are very starchy and will clump together in one big lump if you don’t.  This recipe calls for both toasted and light sesame oils.  Toasted sesame oil is a tremendous flavor booster but you have to be careful with it as the flavor is very strong.  If you don’t have light sesame oil (I don’t), you can use peanut oil or even canola oil for that part of the recipe.

6 ounces soba noodles (make sure they are 100% buckwheat if you want gluten free)
Toasted sesame oil
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale)
5 tsp. light sesame oil (not toasted)
Sea salt
4 brussels sprouts
1 plump garlic clove
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until golden
2 pinches red pepper flakes
Slivered chives or green onions to finish

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Check the package for how they need to cook and taste a noodle to make sure they are not overdone.  Drain and immediately rinse with cold water, running your hands through the noodles to make sure they are cool.  Give them a good shake and then drizzle them with a bit of toasted sesame oil, mixing them with your hands.

Slice the kale leaves off their ropy stems and discard the stems.  Working in batches, stack the leaves, roll them up tightly lengthwise, and then thinly slice them crosswise into narrow ribbons.  Put the ribbons in a salad bowl with 1 teaspoon of the light sesame oil and a pinch of salt.  Squeeze the leaves repeatedly with your hands until they glisten.

Discard any funky outer leaves from the brussels sprouts.  Slice them paper thin on a mandoline (or with a very sharp knife), then toss them with the kale.

Pound the garlic with another small pinch of salt in a small mortar until smooth.  Stir in the vinegar then whisk in the remaining oil and the soy sauce.  Pour the dressing over the greens and toss well.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can also chop it roughly on a cutting board, sprinkle the garlic with the salt, and then use the flat side of your knife to smoosh the salt into the garlic.  You are looking for a rough paste consistency.  Then just transfer the garlic to a bowl and continue.)

Just before serving, toss the greens with the soba noodles, the sesame seeds, pepper flakes, and the chives.



23 Comments »

  1. Haha! I actually do love kale (and kale chips!) but I thought this post was funny. Way to own your own opinion and share it fearlessly. I mean, in today’s food world where kale is practically sacred, being willing to have a different opinion is no small thing. Also, PS, Vegetable Literacy! I’m still reading through it and admiring.

    Comment by Shanna — May 9, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  2. I’m kind of neutral about kale…except for kale chips. I caved in to all the hype about them, made them, and my husband and I hated them! All of the kale chips lovers will have you think that they are a wonderful healthy substitute for potato chips, which they are NOT. ;)

    This salad, though, is very appealing. I may have to give it a try.

    Comment by Kath — May 9, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

  3. I used to cook with kale regularly but since I’ve been pregnant it really doesn’t appeal (for a while I could hardly eat any vegetables, but kale has continued to be unappetizing). I love Deborah Madison’s work and I can’t wait to look more closely at her new book, it looks amazing.

    Comment by Anna — May 9, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

  4. I love kale…I guess just like I love sweet potatoes or bananas. I guess the “hype” is just people expressing what they love, and want others to join in on! This recipe looks so tasty – I’ll definitely be trying it!

    Comment by Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — May 9, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

  5. I don’t love kale either – give me spinach or chard any day. I do like the baby kale that shows up in my market greens spicy salad mix. As for kale chips – gag. Thanks for making me laugh out loud!

    Comment by Charlotte — May 9, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  6. I agree that kale is suffering from overexposure in the food world, but I have found several ways of eating it that I truly enjoy. One of my favorites is a riff on a Smitten Kitchen salad (Chopped salad with feta, lime, mint and sunflower seeds). I shred the kale into narrow ribbons and mix in sliced radishes, fennel, mint and either sunflower seeds or toasted pine nuts. And of course the feta. The dressing is basically lime juice, olive oil and sea salt. it is delicious! I believe the key is finely shredding the kale.
    Thanks for all your great food ideas. I am planning to look for this cookbook since I do not own any of her books.

    Comment by Karen — May 9, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  7. I also do NOT love kale. I have never said that out loud before, so thank you for empowering me! There are so many many vegetables to love, I just privately shun kale. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    Comment by Tina — May 9, 2013 @ 11:17 pm

  8. i happen to love kale (even my blog title has kale in it) but all this hype makes me feel like my little secret is out now. I felt so virtuous and clever enjoying this little loved leafy green. before I could buy kale so easily and now my local produce guy can’t keep enough in. i heard cauliflower is the next big “veg” and that can happen anytime soon

    Comment by catherine — May 10, 2013 @ 1:51 am

  9. I like kale, but I absolutely have to eat it finely chopped. I can’t wait to get my hands on Vegetable Literacy- it looks like the perfect book for me. While you’re thinking about vegetable families and kale chips, guess what I’m making soon? Broccoli leaf chips! I have so much broccoli I need to pull from the garden, that I’m going to try them out. I bet they’ll be much tastier than kale chips. (Wish I could share over the fence.)

    Comment by Kathleen — May 10, 2013 @ 1:58 am

  10. I have grown to like (not love) kale, because we subscribe to a weekly home veggie delivery service (like a CSA, but it gets delivered!) and last year, their farm had a bonanza year of kale. We got it every week for several weeks. My favorite recipe so far is Massaged Kale Salad. Basically cutting the kale into ribbons, squeezing a fresh lemon, salt and olive oil over it, and massaging the liquids into the kale for 1 to 2 minutes. Adding chopped fruit (apples, mango, dried cranberries) and usually gorgonzola cheese makes the salad quite good. The massaging really seems to take the bitterness out of kale. Also, I have made kale chips three times thinking that it was me who was making them wrong..they are horrible, no matter what I do! Glad I am not the only one who thinks so. :)

    Comment by AnnieM — May 10, 2013 @ 2:55 am

  11. I do not like kale at all and I love most leafy greens–chard, spinach, most cabbages, beet greens, etc, but kale always seems fibrous, vaguely undigestible and has a strangely unpleasant edge. I think the kale trend is down to it ticking “health” boxes (it’s a a leafy green) and being easy to produce (it’s easy to grow, easy to ship and has a long shelf life) like so much of our produce these days. So there’s both supply and demand reasons for its prevalence.

    I did, however, recently buy something called sprouted kale at my farmers market that looked like what I think mustard flowers look like and it was fantastic–peppery, mustardy, delicious. I wonder if it was really kale or if they just called it that.

    Comment by Susie — May 10, 2013 @ 9:46 am

  12. Susie, I’ve seen sprouting kale at my markets too but haven’t tried it. So glad to know its good and will purchase next time.

    Comment by dana — May 10, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

  13. Well I do really love kale, but I love swiss chard more (especially that tart you mentioned – it’s a favorite of mine!). I always do tear/cut it into really small pieces so maybe that’s why.
    I finally ordered vegetable literacy and it should be arriving today…I seriously can’t wait since I love Deborah Madison so.much. I’ve seen this pasta around the blogosphere and have been meaning to make it before brussels totally go out of season. Maybe next week?

    Comment by Joanne — May 10, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

  14. Oh, I am so sad that you don’t love kale! To be honest, I can’t say that I LOVE it, just maybe I’ve learned to tolerate it. I like it in smoothies (you can’t taste it!).

    I also really like massaging it with olive oil, making it in a bed in a glass, oven proof container, sprinkling it with pepper and salt, and then resting a few eggs in it. I top it with diced tomatos and feta or blue cheese, and then bake it for like 20 minutes on 425 or so. The kale gets all crispy and it’s really good! Maybe you’ll become a fan :)

    Comment by Naomi — May 10, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

  15. Naomi, that totally sounds like something I can get behind. I will definitely try kale that way!

    Comment by dana — May 10, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

  16. I have to chuckle because earlier this year, I wrote a post called “How to Eat Kale without Tasting it.” If you start the club, can I join as a representative?!

    For the record, I do eat kale, but I don’t get the hype. We have some in the garden – they grow so well I can’t keep up! So most of it gets blended into a green smoothie or fed to the backyard chickens as a snack.

    Or, I could try this recipe.

    [K]

    Comment by Kim — May 10, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

  17. I will gladly join your support group. I have tried, boy how I have tried, to jump on the kale bandwagon, but I just can’t. My husband was a waiter in his 20s and the first time I brought kale home he said, “that was what we garnished the salad bar with.”

    Comment by Eileen — May 10, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

  18. Oh Dana, this makes me sad. I’m obsessed with kale! So much so that I actually have a kale-leaf pendant necklace that I love to wear ;) I’ll definitely be making this!

    Comment by Ele — May 16, 2013 @ 6:56 am

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  20. Yes, I will join your club!

    I don’t like kale, especially in it’s trendy “forms”. LOL I’ve eaten it boiled with ham hocks and vinegar. Didn’t really like plus kale really stinks up the house while boiling. Haha. I’d rather eat lowly collards or mustard greens.

    There’s an Asian market close by that carries amazing exotic greens, many grown locally. I like to experiment with those. My new favorite are pea tips. Beats the heck out of kale any day. Another favorite is gai lan, Chinese broccoli. Nothing like the American broccoli which I dislike also. Sweet potato leaves are good also as well as mizuna, amaranth, kikuna, and baby bok choy. SO, buck the kale trend. You’ll sound cooler and hipper when you start rattling off the names of some exotic vegetables! Have fun! BTW, you can have my kale!

    Comment by paizley — July 9, 2013 @ 9:25 am

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  23. you have it all wrong, kale is a distinct improvement on grass, hay and heavy chunks of seaweed, and contains so many nutrients that it is a contender for the space programme to nourish astronauts on the journey to the sun. mmmmm…tasty kale.

    Comment by TOMH — December 27, 2013 @ 9:48 pm



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