Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tis the season for... kale?

It's almost midnight, and I have the strangest craving right now: I want kale. And the funny thing is, I'd never cooked it before today.

Kale first got on my brain during my book club's discussion of The Omnivore's Dilemma last night. We were talking about CSA, community supported agriculture, which allows individuals to pre-buy one season's worth of a local farm's crop. Then, once a month during the growing season, the farmer delivers the produce (or meat, or eggs, or whatever else they've got) to a central location, and the "shareholders" come and pick it up.

Farmers like it because it gets them money earlier, to cover their production costs. Consumers like it because it's usually a lot less expensive than buying organic at the supermarket. However, the selection is dependent on whatever that particular farm produces; it is also obviously quite seasonal, which is both good and bad. One girl mentioned that a friend of hers had signed up with a CSA. In summer, she loved it, but when winter rolled around, all she got was boxes of kale - acres of kale, month after month after month.

We laughed. What could you possibly do with all that kale? Kale soup, kale salad, kale chutney, kale ice cream... We were starting to sound like Forrest Gump.

But in the midst of that recitation, I realized that I didn't really know how to cook kale. I'd never bought it myself, never prepared it, never paid attention to any recipes. I'd seen it in the greens section, but with its stiff, crinkly leaves I considered it somewhat scary looking, especially next to its tamer cousin spinach.

I must have considered the gauntlet thrown, because on my way home, I stopped by Fairway for a bunch of locally-grown kale. This morning, I began to brainstorm ways to cook it. Breakfast was clearly on my mind, because what did I come up with?

Kale pancakes.

It's not as crazy as it first seems: we've got potato pancakes and zucchini pancakes. Why not kale?

So, I assembled:

  • a generous handful of kale, stems included as long as they look fresh
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons flour, more as needed
  • salt to taste
  • Tabasco, Red Devil, or some other vinegary hot sauce
I sliced the greens about 1/4 inch wide. It made for approximately 5 cups of loosely packed kale, which was then mixed with the eggs, flour, and salt. (In case the quantities are confusing, I was aiming for very little batter - just enough to coat most of the leaves, no more.)

Then, I scraped the whole thing into a 9-inch crepe pan, tamped it down, covered it, and cooked it over medium heat, about 5 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other, until the eggs were fully cooked.

I turned the pancake out onto my plate and sat down with a bottle of Trapper's Red Devil. Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: sub 10 minutes. So far, kale ranked high on the convenience scale. But how did it taste?

Pretty good, actually. To my surprise, the pancake had an almost meaty texture, similar to the soft-but-not-quite-spongy mouthfeel of portabella mushrooms. The bits of stem I encountered were crisp, bright, and slightly sweet, like a flash-cooked green bean, only sharper. Even on its own, it was a satisfying dinner.

Kale was delicious. How could I have ignored it for so long?

Well, no more. Tomorrow I'm going to make my oven-"fried" chicken and braise some kale to go alongside. For Thanksgiving, I'll try this potato and kale galette. And on Friday...

Well, on Friday, I'll be on a plane. But I'm sure I can find kale in Switzerland, too.



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