Glorified

Looking back over what I’ve been eating this winter, I realize it’s been a lot of “glorified such & such.” Glorified peasant breakfast, glorified roasted vegetable puree-as-soup, glorified shit from my fridge.

Then I thought: Wait, when is anything I make not a more or less glorified version of something really basic/dirty/easy/lazy? And furthermore, aren’t these glorified dishes the ones we celebrate the most enthusiastically? The ones we crow about to our friends? “No seriously, this pasta thingy took me 15 minutes to make and I was in the shower for about 10 of them.” How many times have I finished putting up a Shit From My (Whatever) and thought, “You know, in retrospect, that was actually a really lovely dish. I’d totally make it again, but, like, not… accidentally.”

So I guess what I’m saying here is that “glorified” sort of loses its shimmering properties when you realize that all the stuff that comes from your kitchen can be, and probably is, kind of… well, glorious.

It’s in this spirit that I exalt the humble kale green. It seems a lot of folks have been writing about it and cooking with it lately, though it’s certainly not a new thing. Kale is healthy. Kale is tasty. (Kale is cheap.) And, for the lazy-ass I seem to have become in these waning weeks of winter, fresh kale keeps in your fridge for way longer than any other green thing I’ve seen. So at the grocery store last week, I picked up two enormous bunches of lacinato kale all for myself. See, like most greens, kale cooks down to about .0000000001% of its original size (in my highly-scientific and not-at-all-dramatic opinion), and I had been without it for several weeks, so I budgeted one bunch for a fabulous reunion evening in which I singlehandedly devoured an entire bowl of the greens, sauteed and probably garlicky, and one bunch for when I’d use it in smaller, less obsessive quantities.

Cut to Tuesday night, riding north on the red line with my lovely friend Neil. We were discussing the peculiarities of academia and academic folk, as well as his recent visit to Blackbird. Trundling north of Belmont we began trading farewell sentiments, which included discussion of dinner ideas for the evening. I mentioned to Neil that I had piles of kale lying around and I intended to cook it all up, throw some accessories on it, and pretty much just dig in.
“Will there be garlic?” he asked.
He asks me if there will be garlic…” I mutter playfully.
“Are you using stock?”
“I have chicken stock,” I said, “but I’ve used white wine vinegar too in the past…”
“Oooh, wait, how about some lemon juice?”
“OHMYGOD. Yes. I actually just picked up a lemon the other day. Perfect perfect! Oh, Sheridan approaches… happy trails!”
Mark Bittman suggests using white wine vinegar in his quick recipe for “flash cooked kale,” and I’ve used it, and I dig the tart acidity in contrast with the earthy, almost meaty (?) (but no, seriously) greens. But this lemon thing was a nice idea, I thought. Spring is tiptoeing toward us, and I’m starting to look toward things that grow instead of things that live in bottles to flavor my food.
Yes. Pretty, huh? Sweet (kale) dreams are made of this:
  • 1 bunch kale, rinsed & dried, then chopped into 1- to 2-inch strips. (Some people cut out the rib/stalk thingy that runs through the leaf, but I’ve found it cooks down just about as quickly as the leaves, and that I like the different texture that the stalk brings.)
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • red pepper flakes
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • salt & pepper
Cook the garlic in the olive oil on relatively low heat, for about 3-4 minutes, until they get just golden & a little soft. Add the kale. Enjoy the crackle it makes in the pan when the teeny water droplets that refuse to be dried off the leaves hit the oil. (Wonder if you’re weird for seriously loving that sound.) Saute for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You just want these to wilt down and for the stalks to soften. (Taste test often.) Salt generously and pepper, uh, normally, and add red pepper flakes to taste (I’m trying to up my tolerance of spicy things, so I kinda went to town this time). Add the lemon juice, making sure to get some over all the kale, and the pine nuts. Stir to combine, and leave the heat on (still low-ish) so the lemon juice cooks down a little bit and the pine nuts get a little golden & toasty. Turn off the heat and transfer to a big-ass bowl, adding the feta on top. It’ll melt a little bit but keep some of its tang. And you will be very, very pleased with yourself.
So these are just glorified garlicky greens, right? Nothing special, nothing exotic. But they’re tangy and kind of deep, and though kale is good in lots of forms, though always cooked-down and looking sort of ragged-yet-self-satisfied, in this version it seemed optimistic, too. Bright, because of the lemon, and dressed up with feta and pine nuts. Like daylight savings wasn’t an inconvenience but instead a sign that our shabby winter faces would soon be looking at longer days.

Tell me what you think...

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