Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kale cravings

"Mmm, kale."

Salty, crispy, green, and brown
Go ahead, roll your eyes. So did I when I first heard those words. I’d come to expect that sort of thing from my vegan college roommate, who shunned all sorts of moo-cow treats on principle and also claimed that chocolate soy milk tastes good and that diet soda tastes gross. To me, kale was the garnish of choice on synagogue tuna salad platters. Watery mayo pooling between those gray-veined leaves is not exactly a “mmm”-y memory.

Yet like so many things that come from the ground, especially during the winter, kale is all about how you prepare it. The first time I “mmm”-ed over kale was at an otherwise mediocre meal at Angelica Kitchen, a vegetarian restaurant down my block.  Their marinated kale salad (gross-sounding, I know) convinced me that this green can be transformed from gray, veiny rubber to bright, succulent silk. And after a few attempts to cook kale I realized that you can actually crave kale. Not in the chipper, neurotic way of Self magazine, but that real taste bud blooming craving, the kind that sends me dipping into the freezer for a handful of TJ’s chocolate chips or gulping a cold can of diet Dr. Pepper from the office vending machine.

That lemony roasted cabbage was outstanding, too
The fluorescent glow of an NYC kitchen
Saturday I busted my skirt with my mom’s brisket (recipe to come, if I can convince her), and disposed of several leftover chicken servings on Sunday. Monday night was no better for my waistband, since I helped a friend rescue three pounds of beef from his broken freezer. (We made this Moroccan Beef Stew. It turned out good but not great, probably because we subbed ground chuck for tenderloin and skipped the lemon peel.) After all that meat, by Tuesday I was hit with a hardcore kale craving.

I had a bunch in my fridge that I was planning to use for the Times recipe from last week. But I couldn’t be bothered with all those ingredients. As the pan was heating up, I also uncovered a wedge of leftover cabbage from last week when I made this fantastic recipe and few green beans losing their luster in the back of the fridge. I tossed the former into the oven on some foil and the latter into the pan, too. Twenty minutes later, my bowl was full. And 10 minutes later, I was frying up seconds.

You’re still rolling your eyes. If you can’t eat a bowl of veggies for dinner, I don’t blame you. But think of these greens then next time you’re looking for a weekday side-dish. They’re salty, crispy, and utterly crave-worthy.

Crave-Worthy Kale
1 bunch kale, rinsed but not dried
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper
Optional: Crushed red pepper, golden raisins, panko bread crumbs
Not at all gray after a quick zap in the microwave
Nota Bene: I am tempted to make the panko mandatory. I added some the following night when I finished off the kale. They took this dish from awesome to UH-mazing.

  • Rip or cut kale off thick stalks. Tear into bite-sized pieces, removing the leaves from the thicker sections of stem
  • Place kale in a bowl. Cover and microwave on high until tender and bright green (one minute on my microwave)
  • Heat oil in pan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles
  • Add garlic and (if using) red pepper. Cook until garlic softens and smells good, but before it turns golden (1-2 minutes)
  • Saute kale in pan, stirring every minute or two. I like mine crispy and a little browned (about 4-5 minutes)
  • If you’re using raisins, which I added into my second portion, or bread crumbs, which I wish I’d thought of last night (N.B.: oh yeah) add those in once the greens have cooked for a bit but before they’ve started to brown so they can heat or toast a little
  • Salt and pepper to taste (here, I like generous salt and just a tiny bit of pepper since the greens are already strong)
  • Toss with any additional condiments (sriracha? sherry vinegar?) or gobble up plain

Notes for the Naked:
  • I used regular kale here. You could also use the mellifluously named Lacinato kind, or any type of dark green.
  • Microwaving the kale may seem a little retro but it makes short work of cooking time while still preserving nutrients, unlike lots of other recipes that call for 20+ minutes of sautéing or boiling.
  • You can prepare lots of veggies this way (like green beans). Just toss them in the microwave, covered, until they seem soft enough to eat (check frequently so they don't go flaccid), and saute until browned


  1. dear don't cook naked,

    confession: i have several recipes that ask for kale and i have no clue what it is, besides a leafy green vegetable. (so i substitute with spinach because it's also green and has leaves.) what is kale exactly, and how do i identify it at whole foods?

  2. Dear Tae-Yeoun,

    Kale has a heartier texture than spinach (which melts at the first application of heat). So while nutritionally they're probably substitutable, those recipes may have a better mouthfeel if you use kale instead of spinach.

    You can identify kale as the vegetable that looks like this: Or follow the sign that says "kale." Feel free to give me a call next time you're in WF :)