My relationship with kale started off rocky. I first encountered this lovely leafy green at the dinner table at my parents' house in Brooklyn, circa 1993, and it wasn't exactly a love at first sight type of situation. My mom, an excellent cook far ahead of her time in her utilization of healthy ingredients, particularly whole grains, was fond of serving plain steamed vegetables with nary a shake of salt. Hint: when feeding two young children, this is not a particularly sound method (sorry, Mom!). My brother and I hated the stinky, sulfuric pile of stringy greens so much that we would actually form them into little pills in our mouths and swallow them whole with a swift chug of orange juice, our beverage of choice at that time. It wasn't pleasant for anyone involved, and if my memory serves me correctly, my parents finally relented and ceased forcing us to eat steamed kale.
It seems, though, that my mother was prescient in her kale-eating ways, too. Kale is having its fifteen minutes of fame in the food world right now: it's all over restaurant menus in New York City (even in cocktails), and recipes for kale dishes are being featured prominently on food sites like Serious Eats: here's one recipe roundup and one drinks post featuring kale juice. (I'll note, however, that I haven't seen any recipes for plain steamed kale.)
Unlike my mom, I usually like to slick my green vegetables in a bit of fat, in the form of either oil or butter. It doesn't have to be much, but a little lipid goes a long way in rounding out the sharp edges in flavor that some greens have. Usually, I go the classic Italian route and sauté some garlic and red pepper flakes together, then add the greens and maybe a bit of chicken broth to help them break down. But when I received a bag of beautiful, tender baby kale leaves from my CSA last week, I knew I couldn't do the gorgeous produce the disservice of cooking it. Luckily, at my internship at Serious Eats, I had recently edited Kenji's post on one month of veganism, and had spotted a recipe for a marinated kale salad, something I had heard of but never tried. This was the perfect opportunity.
I started by tossing my greens in a marinade of salt and oil, and let that sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. The salt and oil start to break down the leaves--the salt, by drawing out their moisture, and the oil by cutting through their natural waxy, water-resistant coating. The kale becomes more tender and easier to eat, but because there's no heat involved, they retain a bit of their texture and crunch.
When I was ready to serve the kale, I shook on some red pepper flakes and squeezed half a lemon over everything. Because I was eating with friends, and there wasn't quite enough kale to go around to call it a side dish, I decided to divide it up over little garlic toasts, adding an extra drizzle of oil at the very end. I've come a long way from steamed kale, and I don't think I'm ever going back:
Marinated Kale on Garlic Toasts
Serves 4 - 6 as an appetizer
1/4 - 1/2 lb. kale, rinsed and cut into ribbons (about 1/4 to 1/2 bunch)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Red pepper flakes
1/2 a lemon
Half a loaf of bread, cut into 8 -12 small slices
Garlic clove, peeled
1. At least one but preferably two hours before you want to eat, marinate the kale: toss kale with salt and 2 tbsp. olive and let sit at room temperature.
2. When ready to eat, preheat oven to 350°. Place bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with a small amount of oil. Bake until toasted and crispy, about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from oven and rub each slice with the garlic clove.
3. Finish the kale salad: squeeze the half lemon over kale and add a shake of red pepper flakes. Stir to combine, then divide kale evenly among toasts. Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve.