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March 25, 2009

The Leaf-Roasting Secrets of Making Kale Edible


Here is a secret the world’s great chefs share among themselves when no one is looking: Becoming a great cook is less about knowing how flavors interact than it is in knowing how to communicate.


You can see this, usually late at night when it is dark and the great chefs are left alone in their kitchens. If you sneaky-sneak into the place without being seen or heard, what you discover are men and women whispering sweet words to the ingredients in their kitchens. They know that, at the end of the day, the secret to a good relationship is built on a foundation of trust, which itself is based on knowing how to communicate.


One of the most preening, yet rewarding, foods is kale. Most people who look at kale see it as a green leafy thing. The leaves are tough, and unlike other greens, it defies you to put it into a salad. You can chew and chew and chew and never manage to break the leaf down. You can use hammer and chisel and no more than dent its surface. You can drill and watch your diamond-tipped bit shatter to dust.


For years, decades, even centuries, this defied man’s ability to eat. It was long known that kale is a healthy food, but it was not known how to unlock those qualities of edibility. The world’s community of culinary experts tried all manner of innovative ways to communicate with it. An entire army of professional yes men were brought in. They failed, and the survivors added to humanity’s lexicon the word “misanthrope.” Professional empaths were made to weep and cry mercy. A bishop, on the fast track to sainthood, was converted to a nihilist by kale’s stern exterior.


What finally succeeded started with kale leaves, a bowl and a small amount of olive oil. Today, we know how this process works, and it begins by massaging the leaves with the olive oil. This is the non-verbal food equivalent of a shoulder massage. It is saying to the kale, “You are home now. Hang up your hat and relax. Here is a massage, a cold drink and a stuffed pipe. Dinner will be in 10 minutes.” What you aren’t telling kale, of course, is that kale itself will be dinner.


While kale isn’t looking, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. How to accomplish this? Kale, though a difficult green to finesse, is particularly slow witted. It always fall for the “Hey, what’s that?” trick. After the oven is on, dust over the oiled kale some salt and pepper.


Lay kale on a cookie sheet and place into the oven. After about five minutes, flip kale over. You may hear a crackling sound while standing next to the oven.


If you are looking for the proper word for this, it is roasting. You are roasting a leaf. Contemplate this for perhaps another five minutes and then remove kale from the oven.


It should be crispy. More than that, it will be edible.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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