When the biweekly vegetable box appeared on my doorstep, my despair had less to do with the fact that my dogs announced its delivery at 5:15 a.m. and more to do with the majority of its contents. There was kale in there, a lot of kale, and since I had done some shopping without knowledge of the box's bounty, it joined a sizable amount of the stuff already in the refrigerator. Only an Andrew Weil-reading, chia seed-popping yoga instructor could eat this much kale.
I was a northern California ex-pat in Los Angeles for almost seven years. During that time I saw kale salads, bakes, soups, stir-fries and kale baked into chips as the cruciferous vegetable's popularity swept the country — born on a wave of antioxidants and glucosinolates. Kale was a protective talisman its followers believed could ward off or cure any ailment, particularly if ingested in the midst of a cleanse, which I can only describe as a secular version of ritual fasting that involves a lot of blended juices and occasional hallucinations. It got to the point where one could no longer discuss the vegetable amongst the non-believers, who had begun to think of the plant as an invading force and its proponents as cultists with nice skin.
Personally, I like to walk the middle road when it comes to most anything. Particularly with food.
I’ll say it: I like kale. It stands up to most cooking methods and holds its own amongst other ingredients, which makes it an ideal counterpart to many vegetarian recipes that need a little oomph. It comes in different colors and textures that suit a wide range of culinary applications. I had an abundance of lacinato kale (also called “dinosaur kale” because of its big leaves and rough texture). I read an article that recommended steaming the stuff for maximum cholesterol-lowering properties. Of course kale lowers cholesterol. It also babysits and cleans up after dinner.
A few minutes in a steamer and the kale’s chalky green appearance gave way to a more lustrous hue. I tossed the pliable strips with low-calorie shirataki noodles, a "gelatinous substance" that comes in scary little bags filled with questionable-smelling liquid, but takes up sauce pretty well when stir-fried with a simple Asian sauce. If you are not a fan of shirataki (and there are definitely some who aren’t), go with rice noodles or plain 'ol pasta. This recipe serves 2.
Kale Noodles in Asian Cashew Sauce Recipe
- 2 cups lacinato kale, sliced into ribbons
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup unsalted cashews
- 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Up to ½ cup hot water
- Dash of fish sauce, optional
- 2 packages shirataki noodles, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- Cilantro, chopped for garnish
- Heat two inches of water in a pan that fits a steamer basket. Rub the basket down with olive oil and add the kale. Steam 5 minutes, remove from basket and set aside.
- Add cashews, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, chili garlic sauce, half the sesame oil and fish sauce (if using) to a food processor. Add hot water until you reach the desired consistency — a little looser than barbecue sauce, but not watery. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
- Heat a pan, preferably a wok, over medium-high heat with the remaining sesame oil. Add the shirataki noodles, and sauté until they have a bit of color, stirring constantly. Add the kale, and stir.
- Add the sauce and stir. If you like crispy bits, turn up the heat. Cook another minute or two more until the sauce adheres well to the noodles.
- Serve up and garnish with cilantro and/or additional chopped cashews, as desired.
Because of awesome noodle recipes like that one, I tend to draw the health line at kale smoothies, a very popular use of the vegetable amongst people who seem to not appreciate solid food. I can think of better ways to manage my produce consumption than through liquids, at least those without alcohol in them. I paired a kale-strawberry margarita with my black bean and kale tacos dressed with salsa and guacamole the following night, leftovers of which create a killer breakfast with a fried egg on top.
To be honest, unless you like the taste of grass mingling with your añejo, I would steer clear of the beverage. Although, even that had its perks – the pitcher was drained and I felt no ill effects the next morning. Kale as a hangover buster? You betcha.
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