Tuesday, February 3, 2009

//Momma said eat your greens (and reds and purples and whites), so I do


Greens are good for you, especially the cruciferous kind that come from the species Brassica oleracea (family members include broccoli, brussels sprouts, and collard greens). These vegetables are anti-inflammatory, and are nearly bursting at the veins with beta carotene, vitamins K and C, lutein, and zeaxanthin (it's a cartenoid that's also found in the retina of the eye). Kale and broccoli also contain high concentrations of sulforaphane, which is believed to prevent cancer.

A silent supporting character in cuisine, we see kale used primarily as a garnish in our culture. The lavender-green variety of the cultivar, for instance, can be used to accentuate and liven up the plating design of almost any main course dish. But kale shouldn't be something that's just pretty to look at; it should be eaten and enjoyed as well. However, as anyone who's eaten raw kale before will tell you, it kind of feels like you're chewing through a miniature forest. It's dense, slightly prickly, and the texture is rough. Straight from the bag, cruciferous vegetables also tend to be bitter (evolution's way of deterring creatures from eating them). Cooking mellows out the flavor; however, there's a fine line between undercooked, just right, and overcooked greens. If what you've made looks like it came from your elementary school cafeteria, chances are you've overcooked it and thus rendered it unappetizing. Ever catch a waft of broccoli that's been oversteamed? or brussels sprouts that have been baked for too long? The smell is absolutely putrid, the taste even more so. Improper cooking hasn't been kind to this family of vegetables.

But there are ways to prepare these dynamic greens that doesn't involve heating, smothering them in a thick cheese sauce, or dunking them in buttermilk ranch dressing. Off the top of my head, I can think of five ways to prepare kale alone. Today I'll just talk about one — my favorite way.

My friend Troy introduced me to kale salad dressed with balsamic and guacamole almost two years ago during an impromptu dinner get together at my (then) home in West Hollywood. The way the velvety mashed avocado managed to tuck its way into the ruffles on the leaves, and how the onions, tomatoes, cilantro and balsamic vinegar came together to create a crescendo of flavor caused me to make the dish at least once a week for several weeks thereafter. I just couldn't get enough of the stuff.

This dish is definitely nutrient dense and healthy, but note well that the adjective "healthy" does not translate to "flavorless." Each of the ingredients plays a role in bringing out the best in the kale. But since you won't be convinced until you try it, I'll focus on the healthful end of things for now. The lycopene in the tomatoes helps protect against prostate and breast cancer. The poly and monounsaturated fats in the avocado are heart healthy. Sufficient amounts of garlic will lower your blood pressure and aide your liver in removing mercury from your bloodstream (so you ought to get it whichever way you can). Onions are also rumored to have a host of medicinal properties; in fact, before the discovery of antibiotics, people used to break up the mucus generated by bad chest infections by placing a bag of boiled onions on the sufferer's chest and letting them inhale the vapors. When the Black Plague was going around, the convent where Galileo's daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, resided washed their clothes in a mixture of hot water and vinegar. It has long been believed that that is what prevented them from being infected. If vinegar can keep the Bubonic Plague at bay, you should consume it.

OK, enough with the chit-chat! Time to make the salad. The tree trimmers were at it at 7:30 a.m. this morning, so I went ahead and made the salad then.

Kale with Balsamic Guacamole Dressing

1 bunch of kale
1 ripe avocado
1 half tomato
1-2 slices of onion
1 clove of garlic
The juice of half of a lime
3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
Salt, pepper and cilantro to taste
Optional: add a few cherry tomatoes after the salad has been tossed.
Writer's note: I used capers and parsley instead of salt and cilantro just because I wanted to conduct an experiment.

Break the kale into small bite-sized pieces and set aside in a large enough bowl so you can toss the salad without it flying out of it. Slice the garlic, onion and tomato into small pieces; finely chop the cilantro. Cut the flesh from the avocado and remove the pit. At this point you have some options: put all of the ingredients in a food processor, a chopper, or just mash it on the cutting board like I did. While you're mixing, add the lime juice and the balsamic vinegar. * * * * Important * * * * The acid in the tomatoes and vinegar will help break down fibrous vegetable, so let the salad sit and allow the juices to permeate the kale.

When you're finished, be sure to go find your S.O. and give them a full on smooch. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.





Since we're talking about onions, I thought I'd take the time to talk about how to chop a whole one. Another bit of sage wisdom from Momma concerned men and how I'm not supposed to cry over them. Unfortunately, Momma never said what to do when it came to onions and the fact that they're a pain to work with. This has been difficult for me because I love onions; and no matter how much them make my eyes well with tears, I keep coming back to them. I know, I shouldn't... but they're so good to me! Really. I swear.

First you're going to want to peel and then refrigerate the onion for a few minutes. To peel it properly, slice off one end and pull back the husk like so.


Then, following the seams of the onion, cut down straight through it from one side to the next. The way you originally peeled it will keep your knife from severing the onion all the way across. This makes rotating and cutting the onion horizontally a lot easier because it'll stay intact.


It helps to have a sharp knife. If your slices aren't perfect the first time around, just keep practicing at it. I love how the onion takes on a lotus blossom kind of shape after it's been thoroughly cut and falls apart.


1 comment:

  1. I would have never thought to combine kale with guac. It's a great combination. Thanks for posting this.