KALE 'EM ALL



Poor kale.

One day--for thousands of years, actually--it's just a humble green leafy vegetable doing its thing, which is to say being all kinds of rich in omegas, essential amino acids and vitamins....and the next day it's suddenly been discovered. It's trendy, in the way a leather handbag or celebrity gossip is trendy. You're not eating kale? You've got to try kale! You've got to have it, not because it's a tasty superfood (it is), but because the blonde actress lifestyle guru and the television doctor say so. KALE! It's in soups, in salads, in smoothies, in baked chip form. In cakes. In ice cream. It's also, apparently, a baby name that's rising in popularity. It's even in nail polish (why, I am seriously asking....why? Am I supposed to lick it? Does it provide extra nutrients for nailbiters?). And with the passage of time and all this exposure comes the inevitable fall from grace, the branding of kale as 'hipster roughage.'

'Ugh,' I hear people groaning at the mere mention of the ruffly leaf, 'I am SO OVER KALE.'

Poor, sweet kale is a punch line now, like 'quinoa' or 'juicing'. You don't think I'm serious? Google 'kale backlash' or 'kale hype' and you'll see what I mean. Kale feels the way tofu must have felt in the late 90s, overhyped, abandoned and unloved.

And yet.........


......it's pretty. Just get a look at those delicate, intricate ruffled edges. 'Oh yeah,' it says, 'I'm here to stay. I can go the distance. Trend or no trend. Kale loves you, baby.' The leaves can range in color from deep, brilliant sensual fuchsia to emerald to dusky blue to pale, whispery chartreuse. It can grow taller than a human if left to its own miraculous devices. It's packed with nutrients, and maybe the most important qualifier of all.......it tastes good. Heartier than kind-of-insipid spinach, with more personality than cabbage. Pity the humble, yet gorgeous kale leaf, and consider setting hipster prejudice aside and revisiting an old friend. Don't do it for me, and don't do it for the blonde lifestyle guru or for the is-he-or-isn't-he-really-a-medical-professional television doctor. And especially (please, really) don't name your baby Kale.

But maybe do eat some kale.

You can start with this recipe, one of the nicest things that could ever happen to a leaf of Brassica oleracea (at least, when you're not making kale pesto, that is), and one of my perennial favorites*.


[  *Also, I apologize for the title of this post, but it really, really made my inner twelve-year-old laugh. Had to be done. ]


Savory Kale Bread Pudding with Mushrooms & Gruyรจre

Serves 4

1/2 bunch of your favorite variety of kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
1 cup button or crimini mushrooms, sliced about 1/4" thick
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, stems removed
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic (about one good-sized clove)
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups of the stale* bread of your choice (this can also be made with gluten-free bread!), sliced into 1" cubes
1 cup grated Gruyรจre cheese
2 eggs 
1 cup milk 
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard 
salt and pepper


[ *I know what you're thinking, 'does it really have to be stale bread?' Yes, trust me, it really has to be stale bread. Fresh bread cubes will go soggy on you in a hot minute. Think of it as a good way to use up bread that's on its way out--as in stale, NOT moldy! Don't go eating moldy bread and telling everyone that's what Laurel said to do--or, if you really want to be thrifty like your dear friend Sweet Laurel, you can keep a bag of pre-cubed stale bread handy in your freezer at all times. You know. For those bread pudding emergencies**. ]

[ **'But wait,' you're saying, 'I still don't have any stale bread around! Just this stupid, perfectly good fresh bread. Damn you, fresh bread. What do I do now?' Well, preheat your oven to 200 degrees, and spread your cubes of fresh bread evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at this low temperature, shaking the pan occasionally, until your bread has dried out a little and taken on the appearance and texture of stale bread. There you go! ]


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all kale leaves in a colander and rinse thoroughly under running water. Shake out as much excess water as you can. Remove ribs from each leaf and chop roughly (into pieces about 1" long), set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes until they begin to soften, then add chopped kale and continue to stir. Cook for another 3 minutes until kale is bright green and beginning to wilt, then add the thyme, garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Continue to cook for one more minute until it all becomes fragrant (don't forget about tasting it at this stage, being careful of the heat! After all, that's what 'to taste' means!), then remove from the heat.


Lightly rub a glass casserole or ceramic baking dish (I used a nonstick loaf pan, as you can clearly see in these photos. Everyone knows the importance of improv skills in the kitchen) with oil or butter. In a large mixing bowl, combine bread cubes, mushrooms, shallot, garlic and kale, and toss together.

Transfer this to the prepared baking dish by alternating layering a handful of bread mixture and a sprinkling of Gruyรจre, ending with a sprinkling of cheese on top.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and milk together. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, as well as the tablespoon of grainy mustard. Pour this savory liquid goodness over the bread mixture. You want to let the whole thing stand for about 10 minutes prior to baking so that the bread cubes can absorb as much as possible of the liquid.

Seriously.

Just go away and do something else for 10 minutes. Watch a Youtube video. Feed the dog.

Let the bread do its thing.

After 10 minutes is up, place baking dish in the oven and bake uncovered for 40 to 50 minutes, until your bread pudding is beautifully puffed and browned on top. Remove from the oven and serve warm. Any leftovers, if you actually have them, will still be fabulous the next day.