Mason jars are the new black. And kale. Kale is the new black, too. Or the new green, maybe. Or it least they were a few years ago. If you store your homemade kale chips in mason jars, you might be the epitome of trendy. Somewhere along the line kale became an almost comical vegetable. Once relegated to the back shelves of health food stores, some may say for good reason, it has risen to inexplicable fame as the poster child of local, sustainable, meat-light, veggie-heavy, juice-crazed, eat-your-greens, sugar-free, organic life. There’s Tuscan, dinosaur, lacinato (three words that all mean the same thing), curly, Russian red, the list goes on (Note: see my winter garden for an illustrated who’s who of the kale world).
Here’s the thing: kale is not that good. Don’t get me wrong, I eat kale all the time. I’m fully on the kale wagon. But the taste… it takes some getting used to at best. My go-to kale is the jurassic variety, and chopped up in a veggie stir fry, it has a sort of earthy bitter flavor, like someone snuck a shot of wheat grass into your smoothie at Jamba Juice while you weren’t looking. Winter kale is a bit better - after every freeze kale gets sweeter as the cold breaks down cells and releases sugars. A winter kale salad is one of my favorites. Sure the kale still packs a stronger punch than your garden-variety lettuce, but I like to know I’m eating more than just a limp vehicle for water. I top the sweet, chiffonade leaves with a strong, flavorful cheese, maybe feta or goat, or for a real treat: halloumi. If you haven’t discovered this Greek cheese that you can fry (!), go buy some. Stat. I’ll add to the salad some toasted nuts for a crunch, pine nuts or hazelnuts maybe, and add some sweet fruit: apple slices, dried cranberries, or, recently, pomegranate seeds. Carrot ribbons make an appearance on occasion, or radishes. Garbanzo beans add some protein in one of my favorite varieties. I can eat an entire head of kale in one meal.
So if it doesn’t actually taste all that good, how has kale made a name for itself? It’s just so virtuous. You throw a handful of kale in with the pasta water for the last three minutes, and suddenly your carb heavy spaghetti dinner is healthy. Chopped kale mixed with the potatoes you shredded and fried in 1/2 inch of olive oil to make a breakfast hash turned it green enough to earn you an extra egg and grating of cheese smeared over the top. Kale chips dried in the oven and packed in your kid’s lunch: you’re practically a saint. I once saw a billboard for the broccoli industry (who knew there even was one) that said: “Broccoli: now 43% less pretentious than kale.”
I’ve just received word from the food powers that be, and I’m sorry to be the one to report this, that kale is on it’s way out. Gasp. It’s true. Kale has had its 15 minutes and now must cede the pretentious vegetable throne to the next lucky winner. Rumor has it that Brussels sprouts are vying for the seat. Get your kraut recipes ready! Maybe you can even make some pickled Brussels’ and store them in a mason jar.
Winter Kale Salad with Grilled Halloumi and Pomegranate Seeds
Adapted from Kendall Brown
This salad makes a great winter meal. If you haven’t yet discovered Halloumi cheese, you’re in for a treat. It’s a salty Greek variety, a bit like feta but rubberier, but the best part is: you can fry it (!) It browns up in a pan and then goes on top of the salad warm. You can find Haloumi at specialty grocery stores or sometimes even Whole Foods. I usually serve this salad all on its own, maybe with a good loaf of warmed bread.
1 bunch lacinato kale, chiffonade
10 slices Halloumi cheese
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (about half of the fruit)
3 T toasted pine nuts
1 red bell pepper, julienned
Juice of 1 lemon
3 T olive oil
1 t maple syrup
Destem the kale leaves by forming your fingers into and “A-OK” shape and pulling each leaf through the hole.
Roll the destemmed leaves into a bunch and finely chiffonade them with a large chefs knife.
Slice Halloumi and place in a frying pan over medium high heat. You won’t need to add any oil as the cheese releases its own fats.
While the cheese browns, toast pine nuts in a separate pan until golden and remove the seeds from half a pomegranate.
Toss kale with fruit, nuts, chopped avocado and red bell pepper pieces and top with warm slices of cheese.
Toss the whole thing with dressing and enjoy.