Falling for Kale
A matured appreciation for winter greens
The first “real” chef I ever worked for was a Swiss born culinarian who moved to Aspen, Colorado when he was 18 years old. He eventually opened the Sopris Restaurant in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. I suppose he was in his fifty’s when I worked in his kitchen. He spoke with a thick accent and of course, he intimidated the heck out of me! I was scared to go to work for at least the first month on the job, but, at 17 years old, the skills I learned in that kitchen were some of the most important of my career.
Besides teaching me how to use a knife and to work with a sense of urgency, this European chef taught me to appreciate foods that I was unfamiliar with. A local farmer would bring fresh Swiss chard to the kitchen regularly throughout the late summer and early fall months. It took me a while, but eventually I grew to like the hearty green leafy vegetable. Today my challenge is to teach my own children to appreciate such food items. My wife and I regularly bring kale and collard greens home for an accompaniment to our family dinner. We have found creative ways to incorporate the vegetable so that our kids will enjoy it, or maybe they simply won’t realize it’s there at all.
The most memorable soup my wife has ever prepared for us at home was one of a chicken broth base cooked with potato, roasted garlic and leek. The soup is pureed and seasoned with smoked paprika and fresh ground black pepper. To finish it off she topped the soup with a soft poached egg, Parmesan cheese and thinly sliced kale. To some this may sound a bit unique or complex, when in fact it is quite simplistic. This soup accomplished the quintessential “umami” flavor profile. (This means savory and is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty.) Everything in this soup worked beautifully together and the egg was the ingredient that made this dish acceptable to our four children.
Kale, collard greens and Swiss chard are commonly available in our area grocery stores, and I am on a mission to convince home cooks to familiarize themselves with such products. When preparing these leafy vegetables just remember the most important rule of cooking. “Simplicity always wins!” If all you do is drop them in salted boiling water for thirty seconds and then sauté in a hot pan with a little butter, garlic, salt and pepper, you’ll boost the color profile and nutrition of your meal to a new level.
As a teenager I was convinced that kale was good for one thing only. Garnishing a salad bar. Needless to say, I have matured gastronomically since. Very few food items on the face of this planet provide more nutritional value than properly prepared winter greens, but don’t let that ruin your appetite. Just keep cooking good food.
Eric Watson is the owner of Mezzaluna and Mosaic Foods in Fargo. He is also the founder and president of the Fargo branch of the American Culinary Federation.
For more information on the ACF go to acfchefs.org and like it on Facebook by searching The Red River Valley Chef’s Association.