March 20, 2013
Americans are crazy for kale. So crazy, in fact, that we might as well be singing "Kale to The Chief!" All kidding aside, it's taken a while, but kale is now solidly entrenched in our vegetable lexicon. Whether raw or cooked, it has firmly planted itself on restaurant menus. Bushy bunches of it crowd the produce aisles of supermarkets. And the farmers' market? Forgettaboutit. When kale's in season, there are so many different varieties piled high on tables, it's hard to choose. Earthbound Farm Organic, the greens and produce company, recently added a baby kale mix to their growing variety of prewashed salad greens, and I'm smitten. So are a lot of other customers where I shop, because the store can't keep it in stock for more than a few hours. I now know what day and approximately what time the baby kale shipment arrives each week, and whenever I can, I stock up. It comes in 5-ounce plastic clamshell containers, and one package provides enough salad for four people, but for lunch at my desk, I can easily consume half a package. The minerals and vitamins in raw kale are impressive. It's loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron, and keep in mind the calcium in kale is easily absorbed by the body. Health stats aside, I'd be eating the baby kale mix anyway because it makes a salad of substance and real flavor. In a salad smackdown, leaf lettuce wouldn't stand a chance; it's got a wimp problem. Meanwhile, baby kale is so tender and hassle-free, I'm not likely to go back to salads made from mature kale, where you have to cut out the center rib, then thinly slice the leaves. I tried to find out exactly which varieties of kale are in the mixture by calling Earthbound Farms, and while they were gracious, the spokesperson explained it was a proprietary blend that she just couldn't share. The mix obviously changes with availability and the seasons because the kale leaves in the salad in the top photo are different from the ones below that I photographed a month earlier. My favorite dressing for baby kale, as well as baby arugula, comprises only two ingredients: extra-virgin olive oil and ume plum vinegar (the liquid in the ramekin at left in the top photo). Sometimes labeled umeboshi vinegar, it's the prized by-product from making Japanese umeboshi plums. You've probably already sampled the pickled sour plums smeared on rice inside a maki roll. The fruit, which is actually closer to an apricot than a plum, is layered in barrels with sea salt and red shiso leaves, which tint the resulting fruity brine a beautiful pinky-purple. But don't mistake ume plum vinegar for a regular vinegar. Consider it more akin to a liquid salt (with almost magical abilities to make anything taste better), and use it sparingly. For 5 ounces of baby kale, I start out with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss it well,...
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