A Million Little Fibers

by Ari LeVaux

Photo by Ari LeVaux
Photo by Ari LeVaux

Kale has reached that point on the popularity curve where people are hating it because its popular. Once, it was easy to file away this dark green leafy vegetable as just some hippy food, but now it’s everywhere. It’s on the menu, on the vegetarian entree and meatloaf alike. Your favorite celebrities are gushing about their daily green smoothie.  Still, many people don’t enjoy eating it. And sometimes these haters get triggered by people who do. 

“Kale makes you lose weight because it makes everything taste like shit,” Tweeted a smart-aleck in my timeline. “Stop putting kale in everything,” begged another, to the cold, uncaring universe. Haters are saying “f**k kale” at nearly the same rate that they are saying “f**k yoga.”
For some reason it’s natural to resent success in others, and kale is a wildly successful species. The goal of any plant is to make and spread its seed, and kale is grown in all 50 states, shipped to all 50 states, has its seed farms dedicated to its future success, and these seeds are delivered to growers around the world with computers and airplanes.  And now chefs are putting kale in everything. Forget conspiracy theory. The ascendence of kale is a conspiracy fact. 

I’m in on the kale conspiracy, but I agree that it shouldn’t be added to everything. Those bitter fibers really wouldn’t work in a delicate flan, for example.  If kale is overcooked or burnt, the taste and smell can be terrible. And if kale is added to a dish that already sucks, it will still suck. 
And really, a little kale here and a little there isn’t going to do it. You need to eat more than trace quantities to get the benefits. 
Whether you’re in it for the fiber, the calcium, the social statement, or whatever, you still have to actually swallow it. So it isn’t a matter of putting kale in everything, as much as putting everything, or anything, into kale that will make it more palatable. Because regardless of what the haters and the trolls would like you to believe, the more kale (and leaves like it) that you eat, the healthier you will be. Food people argue endlessly about fat, carbohydrate, protein, dairy, sugar, fruit, meat, and every other ingredient or macronutrient you can think of. Nobody has anything bad to say about leaves. 

To some extent, the form in which you eat the kale, as well as what you eat it with, will determine how it performs in your body. Many of the people who are most excited about kale are regular users, who have a system down that works for their bodies. 
In terms of health impact, almost anything that can be said about kale can be said about collard greens, chard, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli leaves, and many others. But the tactics that we will now explore are tailored to kale specifically. 
We can thank a weary farmer who flagged me down as I walked by his booth at the end of market last Saturday, and offered me a box of kale for $10. It was a better fate than the compost pile for everyone involved. Except the kale, which couldn’t kare less. 
My body seems to “function best” (a delicate way of saying “makes the best poops”) when I eat between three and six kale leaves per day. So the following tactics, which are really mini-recipes, are geared toward consuming that amount. 

Salad

Novices may want to start by massaging their kale, for a softer salad. Squeezing and rubbing the leaves with your hands will break the cells, releasing enzymes that begin cutting up those fiber chains. Massaging with salt and lime juice increases the effect, and since both of those are in the dressing there’s no reason not to. 

Unless, of course, you want your kale coarse. Once upon a time my wife the salad whisperer would massage the kale salad, but now doesn’t want the leaves so soft.  “Once you massage it they lose their structure,” she says. “I like a structureful salad.”  
The dressing consists of olive oil, lime or lemon juice, and salt. Vinegar, while acidic, makes a terrible substitute for lime or lemon. She typically doubles down on the salt by adding feta or parmesan cheese to the salad. And she adds onion, because something needs to stand up to all of that fat and fiber. 

Strip the leafy parts from the stem and mince six leaves of kale. Use half a cup of olive oil, a quarter cup of lime juice, and salt to taste. If you want to massage it, take a 1/4 cup of dressing and rub it in. Then toss in the rest, and add extras like cheese, onion, olives or sun-dried tomatoes. 

With bacon 

It’s kind of cheating, but at least it’s cheating with historical precedent. Cooking kale with bacon recalls the Southern dish of collards and ham hock, and that’s no coincidence. Pork and brassicas--a plant family that also includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts--is a winning combination. I usually take it in an Eastern direction, by making a mix of soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar or lime juice.  

Rip the leafy parts off the stem of three or so kale leaves, and mince the leafy parts. Cut bacon into little pieces and fry. When it’s half cooked add the garlic, and lay the kale on top. When it wilts down, stir it around, season with black pepper, hot pepper, and finally pour in your little sauce. Those leaves will shrink way down, and look even smaller as soon as you take your first bite.

There isn’t enough space for me to tell you how to make green smoothies and kale chips, but those have been covered online in great detail. Suffice it to say, if you really want to make the green medicine go down easy, you can do worse than make your kale taste like ice cream and potato chips.