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Thursday, April 1,2010

The kale rebellion

By Kathleen Purvis

For a vegetable dissident, this leafy green presents a challenge in winter

I didn`t know it would be a mixed marriage.

After all, we agree on most things.

Same senses of humor, taste in music, politics.

There’s just this vegetable thing. I love all of them. He doesn’t like many of them.

No Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower. No sweet potatoes or cooked spinach. He prefers iceberg lettuce to my romaine, and takes to winter squash like a duck takes to mud.

After years of trying to win him over, after stir-frying and roasting and strewing bits of bacon on things, I’ve mostly accepted defeat. I make whatever vegetables are seasonal and local, and I make sure there’s always salad for him. I look away discreetly when iceberg sneaks into the vegetable drawer.

Then comes kale season. And the real battle begins.

Most of the year, eating local is easy. Spring, summer and fall have bounties of vegetables. Even my non-vegetable husband can find a few things he likes. We’re both happy with asparagus in spring and zucchini in summer.

But from January to March, what we have is kale.

Bags of it, piles of it, market tables covered with it.

To quote a famous New Yorker cartoon, my husband says kale is just leafy broccoli. And he says to heck with it.

No ruffled green kale, no wide leaves of black kale, not even red kale or purple kale.

Dane Fisher of Fisher Farms in Salisbury, N.C., says this has been a great year for kale.

See, kale loves cold weather. Usually, when leafy plants freeze, ice crystals rupture the cell walls, letting liquid leak. When the sun comes out and the plant warms up, it goes limp.

Kale has a natural waxy deposit that keeps its cells from absorbing too much water. Less water means the cells don’t rupture when it freezes. In fact, when kale gets cold, its sugar content increases, acting like a natural antifreeze.

Fisher’s kale grew a little slower in January, thanks to cold weather. But that’s good for kale lovers — it means it will be around even longer this year.

Hear that, honey? Why, we could have kale into April.

If you only have one vegetable to eat, kale is a good one. It’s packed with vitamins A, C and E, folate, calcium, lutein and iron. It’s high in fiber, and it has seven times more beta-carotene than broccoli.

Kale even has a phytochemical called sulforaphane that may help your body get rid of carcinogens faster.

None of this will do any good if you don’t eat it. There are plenty of ways to do that. You can saute kale with garlic and red pepper flakes. You can simmer it in soups with cannellini beans and diced potato. It goes great with pasta. You can even chop it up and cook it with cream, like spinach.

Maybe my husband won’t ever become a vegetable lover.

But at least there’s always salad.

Tuscan Kale Salad

Based on a New York Times recipe. The original calls for lacinato kale, also known as black kale or dinosaur kale, but I made it with a mixture of lacinato and the sweeter Siberian kale.

1 large bunch kale 1 slice country-style bread or 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs 1 clove garlic, peeled 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan Reggiano cheese, divided About 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided Juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed 1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim off the bottoms of the kale stems and discard. Pile up the kale leaves and slice them into ribbons about 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide. You should have about 5 or 6 cups kale. Place the kale in a large serving bowl and set aside.

Toast the bread lightly, then pulse in a food processor or rub on the large holes of a cheese grater to make coarse crumbs. If using fresh bread crumbs, spread out on a pan and toast lightly. Set aside.

Pound the garlic clove into paste in a mortar with a pestle or with the back of a large knife. Place the garlic in a small bowl. (If you’re using a mortar, you can just make the dressing there.) Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper flakes and pepper and whisk to combine.

Pour over the kale and use tongs to toss well to thoroughly combine. Let stand at least 5 minutes and up to 15 or 20 minutes.

Add bread crumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons cheese and a small drizzle of oil and toss again before serving.

Yield: About 4 servings. (c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

— MCT

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