A few weeks ago I gave a lecture to some physicians and acupuncturists about the integration of food and farming in medicine. My first slides were pictures of certain vegetables in their entirety (roots, stems and leaves) and I started the talk with a game: Let’s identify that vegetable! The first was this series of pictures:
No one was able to identify this as kohlrabi. An under appreciated vegetable here in this country, it is usually sold as a round light green bulb. Rarely do people see the growing form which looks not dissimilar to a UFO. I fell in love with this shade-tolerating vegetable after I made my first meal of kohlrabi pancakes with minted yogurt.
The second vegetable in the game:
More easily identifiable, but with a little hesitation. Everyone knows what broccoli looks like, of course, but I was stunned this summer when my brother stood at the end of a raised bed filled with broccoli and could not identify the vegetable - it was in its growing form that confused him. The head which we eat is surrounded by multiple big waxy leaves and that’s what threw him off.
My whole point with the above lessons was that we have become so dissociated with what we eat. Such that it is to the point that items like plastic-wrapped yams are conveniently pre-wrapped so they can be easily be put in the microwave and further separate the consumer from the actual vegetable. Another disheartening example is a packaged steak which appears as nothing more than a soft red wet mass of muscle; no thought is paid that it came from anything resembling an animal and even less thought to how it was raised, fed and slaughtered.
I then showed a video of a new product called “Fruit 2 Day” a fruit containing beverage the advertiser touted as a “new way to eat fruit”. The video begins with a young girl looking disgusted at a bunch of moldy strawberries she finds in her fridge.
The piece de resistance was in the subtle last statement of the commercial: “find it in the produce section.” Our perceptions of what is healthy, fresh and what is REAL food is persistently and indolently being manipulated by media and advertising. Sadly, most of us don’t know what real food is anymore and when we’re given it, we’re not sure what to do with it. Case in point: Kale.
One physician told me that she disliked getting so much kale in her CSA basket. How many times can you blanch and saute it with garlic and onions? Not only was it a non-versatile vegetable for her, she couldn’t get her husband to eat it and forget about even presenting it to the kids. I challenged that assumption and could because I was once in her shoes standing there among the abundant kale in my farm not sure how to make it interesting enough to serve it with any frequency. But I persevered, scouring through cookbooks, recipe websites and pinning down every vegetarian I knew, asking them - “what is your favorite thing to do with kale?” Now I am a kale convert and the last recipe I made with kale and quinoa was so simple and the kale so sweet from the frost that my better half emphatically jumped up declaring his new found love of kale. No, not anything like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, but hey, for a carnivore loving man to express delight over one of the most healthiest things you could possible eat, that made all my kale research and experimentation worthwhile. Now he can proudly wear his “Eat More Kale” T-shirt with newfound pride. He looks hot in it as well.
There are advantages to living in colder climates (not many for every type of food grower, I admit) and that is frost’s effects on certain vegetables, not to mention forcing us to experiment with growing cold tolerant vegetables we might otherwise avoid. Certain things get sweeter when exposed to frost: carrots, turnips, parsnips, brussels sprouts and kale. In an effort to survive the colder temperatures, the plant begins to convert its starches to sugars because sugar has a lower freezing point. Carrots become like candy and kale becomes king. That’s one thing California and Florida can’t top!
So you’re still waiting for those kale recipes, I know. Some of my favorites are the above-mentioned “One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf” on my new favorite foodie blog Food 52. Trust me, you can force down a lot of kale this way and people won’t even know it. Then there’s the now ubiquitous kale chips with its infinite variations. I give credit to the first person who fed these to me, Dan Barber, in this recipe. Kids won’t know the difference between their other starchy crunchies and these healthy bad boys. My nephew Max, pickiest eater in the universe, can attest to that. After Thanksgiving, using the turkey carcass, I made Alice Water’s Turkey Soup with Kale (and doubled the amount of kale). Kale can be thrown in with many other brothy soups as well to give it a balancing vegetable component. But the most interesting recent recipe was recently published by the New York Times: Grilled Coconut Kale by Vij’s in Vancouver, British Columbia - one of the best Indian food meals I’ve ever had. I served it along side curried chickpeas and basmati rice. Heavenly.
My hopes to you for the holiday season: find a way to get this important vegetable on your table and enjoy the way nature has changed it for you, just in time when most of our produce is no longer locally grown, so you can continue fresh local greens throughout the chill and support our local food movement.
RECIPE: GRILLED COCONUT KALE
3 bunches kale
3 cans coconut milk
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp mild paprika
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Wash the kale thoroughly and cut out the stalks. Cut the wide leaves into strips the width of the small leaves.
2. In a large pot set over a low flame, heat the coconut milk until it is thoroughly mixed and just lukewarm. Transfer to a large, nonreactive bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir in the kale, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
3. Preheat a grill or a cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Remove the kale from the refrigerator and stir to make sure the leaves are well covered in marinade. Using metal tongs, place the kale on the grill in a single layer. Cook for 45 to 60 seconds, or until the leaves are sizzling, then turn over and grill the other side for another 45 to 60 seconds, or until the leaves have visibly softened. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Adapted from Vij’s Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Cheers to the one thing we can’t live without: Good Health
HAPPY HOLIDAYS from HOOK MOUNTAIN GROWERS!