Features and Occasionals

The Kale Effect: A Whispered Green Love Language

By Alice Toler

The Kale Effect is more than just recipes. Within its 80 pages, the 8×11 glossy softcover book, self-published by two women with local connections, is a handbook for building a healthy lifestyle and a healthy culture.

When I was a little kid, I had a thing for cruciferous vegetables. While other children were figuring out ways to clandestinely feed their Brussels sprouts to the dog, I was being told not to be greedy and to leave some in the bowl for other people. My mother tells a story of me as a four-year-old, having been fed and put to bed at a reasonable hour, coming back down the stairs to interrupt the “grown-up” dinner, saying “I smell broccoli!”

In addition to Brussels sprouts and broccoli, the genus Brassica also includes cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, kohlrabi, turnips, kale, rutabagas, collard greens, arugula and bok choy. Over the years, I’ve developed a penchant for hard, bitter greens like collards and kale. Kale in particular makes me swoon, and I am thus an easy mark for the wonderful new cookbook by Emily Miranda and Christina Bandara­goda, The Kale Effect.

Looking for reasons to eat more kale? How about the fact that it’s richer in vitamin C than an equal weight of oranges and provides vitamin A, phosphorus, calcium, and iron as well. Not persuasive enough? Then let Bandaragoda and Miranda woo you gently over to the green side. “For us, eating kale is about more than a multivitamin boost. It is a love language we whisper to our friends and family as we watch them enjoy the food we have prepared. It is the warm fuzzy feeling we get when people ask for a recipe.”

And what recipes! Kale is such a universal vegetable, and is included in so many native cuisines around the globe, that the soup section of this book alone contains recipes of American Southwestern, Russian, Asian and Italian provenance. Kale has been a staple food in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Nether­lands, Vietnam, Kenya, Germany, Scotland and Portugal. For the flavor adventurer, there is no reason to ever become bored of kale. For the kale-averse, there are more different and creative ways of manipulating both its flavor and its physical properties in this book than I have ever seen collected into a single document. Go on, try a little and see what you think.

I am particularly fond of the salads in this book. Kale is not traditionally thought of as a salad green, but did you know you can soften it without cooking by massaging oil, vinegar or lemon juice into the leaves by hand? The result is a double-zingy, goodness-packed salad master, which you can use as a base by itself or include in lettuce salads for an extra “wow” factor.

Bandaragoda and Miranda have also included more traditional recipes such as Irish colcannon (“kalecannon!”), made with potatoes and eaten around Halloween back in the old country.

Trying to get your kids to eat greens? Their recipe for kale chips is a good place to start. Until you try some of these incredibly flavorful better-than-any-potato snacks, you will not believe how good they are. The authors give us four variations to choose from: Kale chips a la North (with maple syrup), South (with chili), East (with sesame and rice vinegar), and West (with garlic and apple). Try all of them, then play around with your own flavor combinations!

The Kale Effect is more than just recipes. Within its 80 pages, the 8×11 glossy softcover book, self-published by two women with local connections (Miranda is currently an LCSW practicing in Salt Lake City), is a handbook for building a healthy lifestyle and a healthy culture.

In a short preface, the authors explain why “you are what you eat” is such an important concept, both individually and to our species as a whole planetwide. At the intersection of Self and Earth, at the point where the Economy and the human Mind meet, where Society interacts with Environment, and where the human Body connects with the Soil we grow our food in, is the question central to all life: “What’s for dinner?” What we eat, and how we acquire it, affects all life on Earth. Luckily for us, organic kale is both easy to buy and easy to grow! “Can eating healthy give us both food security and sustainability? Is eating kale both ‘dangerous’ and heroic?” For Bandaragoda and Miranda, the answer is a resounding yes. Try a little kale in your diet, and pick up a copy of this cookbook. It’s the heroic thing to do.

Destemming kale

To remove kale leaves from the stem, hold the kale upside down, with the base of the stem pointing up. Press your thumb against the stem to stablize the leaf, and slide your two fingers, one on each side, down the spine of the stem. If you find yoruself fumbling and cursing, just do one side at a time. The point is to get it done and get the food into hungry mouths, without adding another mess ot the cutting board.

Grow yer own!

Kale is heat-tolerant and cold-hardy. If you didn’t start your kale seedlings recently, you can still buy kale plants at some nurseries. As of this writing, Traces (1432 S. 100 E., SLC) has a good supply. Plant in the sunniest place available. Mulch, side-dress with compost, and water and harvest regularly. You should have fresh, tender kale till the weather dips down into the ‘teens.

The Kale Effect: A Leafy Green Cookbook, by Christina Bandaragoda, Ph.D. and Emily Miranda, LCSW.: 2011. $20. Available in Salt Lake City at Bikram Yoga/Sugar House, Jacob’s Cove @ the Downtown Alliance Farmers Market; and online at http://www.kaleeffect.com

Alice Bain is a Salt Lake-based artist. Look for her blog updates, appearing several times a week, at www.catalystmagazine.netߺ.

This article was originally published on September 30, 2011.