In which I find a violent way to end my feud with the bitter green
For what seemed like weeks it was there, in my crisper, an ominous green shadow that somehow dared me to open the drawer and release it into the world. Kale, not the cute baby kind, the outlaw of the vegetable world, bitter and ancient. Its presence weighed on me like a bad Lovecraftian evil, lurking and ominous.
Honestly, my relationship with the crinkly cellulose greenery has been something that bothered me as a cook. It went through the trendy phase where I couldn’t escape its presence at dinner parties, in wonderful-looking, inedible salads, and as chips that were not, I’m sorry, just as good as potato chips (few things are).
As I age, I have become a fiber nut and I love my cruciferous vegetables, those earthy green things that last through the winter. Any leafy greens in a pan swirled in olive oil with handfuls of garlic and red pepper made my day. But kale defied me. I simply could not stand it. It reminded me why we do not eat woody cellulosey things. Our systems can’t digest them. Even cows need multiple stomachs to process that stuff.
But I’m a cook and a healthy friend had gifted me her excess kale with a challenge to find a way to declare it delicious. So it sat in its plastic prison where I saw it daily though I no longer opened that drawer, hoping that one day it would dissolve, or something. Or I could buy a new fridge…
Now, I had helped a friend make those kale chips I mentioned and honestly they were almost edible. The recipe required me to massage a small amount of oil into the leaves, vigorously, before spreading them on a baking sheet and cooking them until crisp and edible. The cooking and the massage had broken down down the cellulose. And that massage made me think.
What if I just beat the crap out of it? Why not? If it didn’t help, I’d throw in the towel and toss it. So I cut the stalks out (they were irredeemable), put the leaves on my big cutting board, got out a large rolling pin and crushed the shit out of them. I rolled them, I beat them, I rolled them again and again, until they lay in a pulpy mess. It was cathartic. Then I sautéed them with an insane amount of garlic, olive oil and chili, seasoned them, and stuck a fork in there. And they were delicious. The bitterness was subdued and appealing, they were a little tender, and I was shocked. And converted.
The chemistry here is simple. We cannot break down raw cellulose fiber. It can still perform its intestinal magic but most of the nutrition value is locked in those cells unless we basically boil or broil it until it breaks down. It’s like steaming wood until you can bend it.
But my violent approach served to break down those cells and then the sautéing did the rest, releasing some of the bitter flavors, and leaving enough to be delicious. So, I’m a convert with caveat: I do not want your kale salad. Life is too short for chewing my cud with every bite. But the stuff is a masochist- beat it to within an inch of its life and it gives up the goods. Finally.