How to (Not) Cook Kale

The kale that I actually enjoyed eating.

I finally get it.  The secret to cooking kale is not to cook it.

I enjoy eating most types of greens, and I cook most of them the same way. I rinse them really well because they can often be gritty, tear off any nasty looking bits, remove any big, tough stems, cut or tear the greens into smallish pieces, and steam them in a small amount of water until they are beginning to soften but are still crunchy.  I drain the greens in a colander.  Then I spray some olive oil cooking spray into a non-stick pan, heat the pan, and sauté the greens for a few minutes.  I season them with salt and pepper, garlic, and something spicy, like chipotle.  It’s a tasty and healthy way to eat greens.

Kale, however, is one of the few greens that I don’t like, and Michelle likes it  even less than I do.  As far as I’m concerned, kale tastes like curly green cardboard, however you cook it.  It’s tough, and it doesn’t have much flavor.

As I reported in my post, Improving Black Women (and everyone else)’s Diets By Any Greens Necessary, author and nutritionist Tracye Lynn McQuirter is full of excitement about eating raw kale.  She swears that her kale salad recipe is the most popular one in her book, By Any Greens Necessary.

When I confessed to having a bad attitude about kale in last week’s post, I got a couple of comments from kale defenders about how great it is.  So I decided it was time to try McQuirter’s recipe.

The recipe is simple, but it calls for a couple of ingredients that you may not have hanging around the house, unless you are already a health nut, in which case you probably don’t need to read this blog.

The vegan equivalent of fish sauce

Unusual ingredient number one is Bragg Liquid Aminos, which is sort of the vegan version of fish sauce.  It smells like dirty underwear and tastes pretty salty. I know I just made it sound terrible, but it actually tastes like the vegan equivalent of fish sauce and it’s really good for you, so I think you should give it a try.

Unusual ingredient number two is nutritional yeast, which I haven’t eaten since the 1980s.  My housemates at the time used to sprinkle it on everything they cooked and I got sick of it. Now that I recall, nutritional yeast is actually very good sprinkled on popcorn, but I digress.

Other than kale and the two previously mentioned items, the only other ingredients in the salad are olive oil, chopped red onion, chopped garlic, and cayenne pepper.  After you mix everything up in a bowl, McQuirter recommends you marinate it at room temperature for about a half hour before serving.

Michelle and I ate the salad with our dinner last night, and, to my amazement, we enjoyed it!  Michelle even went back for a second helping. Raw kale actually has more flavor than cooked kale, and, although quite chewy, it didn’t make me think I was eating cardboard.  While the recipe called for more raw onion and garlic than I care for, the combination of the onion, garlic and cayenne gave it some bite, and the two mystery ingredients gave it a salty, almost—dare I say it—meaty flavor.

While I don’t think kale will ever become one of my top ten favorite greens, now that I’ve learned how to (not) cook it, I won’t be upset if it shows up in my CSA box again.  So thank you, Tracye Lynn McQuirter!

Improving Black Women (and everyone else)’s Diets By Any Greens Necessary

The crowd outside this year's Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

Although vegetarianism has a reputation for only appealing to crunchy granola types, I’ve always found a surprising range of fellow vegetarians to share recipes with.  The local food movement, along with concerns about health and climate change, seems to have inspired even more people to start exploring vegetarian food.

I knew that something was different this year when I walked up to the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Roxbury, where the annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival is held, and saw a crowd lined up at a vegan frozen dessert truck, waiting for their soft serve. The company, which calls itself Like No Udder , was doing boffo business. It was cold out, so I was able to resist temptation.

Inside, the festival was just as crowded. The diversity of products and people was truly impressive. From vegan shoes to coconut milk ice cream, the 15th annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival—now expanded to two days—had it all.

For inspiration, I went to see Tracye Lynn McQuirter speak.  McQuirter, author of By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat, has been a vegan for over twenty years.  She’s a great advertisement for plant-based diets. A nutritionist, she’s a beautiful black woman who bursts with excitement about eating raw kale.  She swears her kale recipe is the most popular one in the book.

McQuirter explains, “I’m targeting black women because we are in a health crisis – 85 percent of us are overweight.  But everyone in this country can benefit from eating plant-based food.”

When my sister Louise and I went to hear her speak at the Chicago Green Festival this spring, the crowd was much less diverse, and McQuirter was much preachier. This time, she focused on her personal story of how hearing 60’s comedian, civil rights activist, and vegetarian Dick Gregory speak when she was a student at Amherst College inspired her to go vegan.

She encouraged everyone to take their health and eating habits to the next level.  For example, she suggested that non-vegetarians visit the Meatless Monday web site and go meatless once a week.

Although, of course, I want everyone to eat healthier food and reduce the amount of meat they eat, I’m particularly eager to have the people I know and love in the black community change their diets, so they will live long and prosper. I was glad to see how many black people were in the audience for McQuirter’s talk, because I think she’s very persuasive, especially now she’s toned down the lecturing.

I bought her book at the Green Fest, but immediately gave it to my mother-in-law, Doris, so I haven’t had a chance to try any of her recipes yet. I bought another copy today and am eager to see if she can change my attitude—which is bad—about kale. As far as I’m concerned, kale is just not necessary. If McQuirter can persuade me to love it, there’s hope for all of us.