Last week, while traveling through the south, I had a vegetable epiphany that I haven’t had in years. Sure, I love vegetables (to photograph, to eat, to chop, to throw at bad comedians) but I felt like I had made all of my vegetable discoveries at this point. (Realizing some time in high school that mushrooms were astoundingly delicious made me sincerely regret each and every time I secretly slid a mushroom onto my mother’s plate.) I’ve had jicama and nettles and delicata squash and ramps and fiddleheads – and loved them all – and felt like I had settled into my vegetable rhythm for life. Love cucumbers and zucchini and mushrooms and every onion varietal, truly enjoy everything else, tolerate tomatoes (and love them when they’re good) seemed like a decent strategy.
But then last week, I found myself completely entranced by a salad of something I’ve never loved: kale. This “Naked Kale Salad,” from Caviar & Bananas in Charleston, SC, was enchanting. The kale was tender but still crunchy, the salad had a sweet and salty tang (aged gouda, cranberries, blueberries, grape tomatoes, lemon vinaigrette) and the crunch of the kale was enhanced by the dusting of almond slivers on top. Had I known that my picnic companions would not have thrown me off the grounds, I would have eaten the whole damn container.
I always found the concept of kale completely unappetizing. The leaves are tough, the prep work trimming the thick ribs interminable, and the taste never did it for me. I can imagine myself in some alternate universe, saying “ugh Mom, kale for dinner again?” with the same disdain with which I used to speak about spinach (kale wasn’t really a…thing in Massachusetts in the 80s.) But this salad changed my mind, and with that I’ve resolved to try cooking kale on a regular basis – learn its quirks – and incorporate it into my diet. Tonight I made a flash-sauté of kale from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” which is always my starter volume when I don’t know where to begin. I’ve adjusted the recipe to account for the terrifying splatters and the 10 oz bags of pre-chopped and trimmed kale that they sell at Trader Joe’s. What? I may be resolving to eat kale, but that doesn’t mean I’m resolving to stand in front of my counter for an hour trimming it.