Kale, elegantly.

Kale is a bit of an iguana, as far as vegetables go. My boss tells a story of his earlier, less well-groomed days, when he lived in a large co-op that he founded on the city's northside. As I imagine is often the case for co-ops of the activist/musician/vegan sort, this co-op had a large pet iguana. Not at all surprising, one day the activists/musicians/vegans let the iguana out of its cage for a little vacation.

When it was time to get the iguana back into its cage, so the story goes, the activists/musicians/vegans all gathered round and stared at the iguana. Iguana, holding his ground, stood in the middle of activists/musicians/vegans, and stared right back. And as my boss says, "And you know the thing about an iguana? You can't tell what it's thinking." And so the a/m/v stare, and the iguana stares, and the only thing anyone's sure about is that the iguana is not going back into it's cage any time too soon.

In the same way, I'm not always sure what Kale is thinking. For a long time, I knew how to cook Kale only one way: with lemon, tomato and indian spices, the way Umnia taught me. In this way, Kale seems a pleasant accompaniment to a hearty plate of orange-scented black beans, or maybe some toasty pintos. I arrange these two on the plate together, and they look compatible enough, if not a bit mundane. But I can't help but wonder - does Kale feel satisfied with this hearty paring, does Kale feel Kale's full potential met? Or, as I suspect, does Kale, that sly iguana, hold something much more magnificent for that brave and daring cook?

My suspicions were confirmed when I spent some time at the Palo Alto Farmer's market with Mark a few weeks ago. Surely pulled from the ground but a few seconds before it reached my hands, this was by far the finest - if not most elegant! - Kale I had ever laid my eyes on. Coupled with two immaculate heirloom tomatoes (one green and yellow stripes, one a marbled purple and red), Kale is transformed, a four-foot naughty lizard no more.

Elegant kale with heirloom tomatoes and carmelized onions

The easiest way to prepare Kale is to fold the leaves in half along the tough middle rib. Drag the tip of a sharp knife along the rib from the bottom to the top of the leaf, being sure to get the tiny young leaves at the base of each stem. Discard the rib; you'll now have two long strips of Kale (and some tiny tender baby Kale leaves) to coarsely chop. When you clean the Kale, don't bother to spin it or dry it thoroughly, as you'll use the water on its leaves to steam it as it cooks.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 large head of Kale, coarsely chopped
2 heirloom tomatoes (different colors), seeds removed and coarsely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan over medium-low heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and balsamic vinegar and cook slowly and stirring occasionally until onions turn a deep brown and carmelize, about 25-30 minutes. Remove onions from pan and set aside.

In the same pan, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and oregano and stir until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the Kale and season generously with salt and pepper, then cover to steam the Kale, stirring occasionally; the water from the Kale leaves should work to deglaze all that carmelized goodness, but add a bit more water if it seems necessary. When the Kale is crisp tender (really, this depends on the Kale - the Kale from the farmer's market cooked miraculously fast), 5-15 minutes, stir in tomatoes and onions to just heat through. Remove from heat and toss with lemon juice and basil.

Serve, illuminated by brilliant chandelier light on a platter crafted of diamonds, rose petals and caviar, while strands of your own private string quartet waft through the crisp late summer air. It's just that elegant.

(Or serve in Mark's tiny one room apartment with the gnocchi that I sort of burned, accompanied by a glass of cheap white wine in a tumbler. But whatever.)


A post in two parts. Part two:

I'm sorry, good readers, for keeping you in suspense for so long. Much longer, I know, than even the Moroccan Preserved Lemons kept me in suspense.

My first foray into cooking with the MPL (a riff on the chicken with green olives and preserved lemons from the Yellow Book, but with tempeh) proved less than satisfying, although I maintain that this was the fault of the tempeh and not the lemons. I think the flavors could be just right for a fall vegetable stew, squash and sweet potatoes, maybe with chickpeas or lentils. And what about a touch of capers? Unfortunately, Chef Yum Yum has been globe-trotting too much over the past few weeks to settle down with MPL for a second date, and I was beginning to feel guilty, knowing that you have all been checking daily - if not hourly, no minute-ly! - for part two. Thank you all for your loyalty, perseverance and above all hope, and I apologize for my delinquency.

And I will say this - there is perhaps nothing I've yet experience in the kitchen that is more satisfying than pulling the preserved pulp from the preserved rind. Really. Preserve your own and find out...!