Sunday, October 5, 2014
Though it pains me to say it, I am not immune to the charms of the cultural phenomenon that is kale: curer of cancer, rescuer of kittens from trees, solver of the crisis in the Middle East... At least, you'd think that was the least of its magical powers, the way people go on about it.
Now, I have been favourably disposed towards kale for quite some time. I read about cavalo nero ('black cabbage', not kale, but close enough) in the first River Cafe cookbook the Guinea Pig bought me about 10 years ago, and was completely seduced by the dark, velvety leaves: they seemed mysterious, potent, and infused with the sense of rustic romance westerners wilfully impose on all things Italian. Of course, back then, no one in SA had even heard of it, except members of the most esoteric food circles. Today, Woolies stocks kale, and it's a best-seller at farmers' markets. Yesterday, I bought several bunches of cav. nero and kale at OZCF.
Now, if you have a food blog addiction, as I do — particularly of the health-obsessed, manic-pixie-dream-girl variety, God help me — you will almost certainly have encountered more than a few kale salads. Kale and blueberry salads, more specifically.
Because super foods.
Most people (and I include myself in this) who describe themselves as 'health-conscious' — actually, let's say ... most people, in general — are sitting ducks for marketers. Man, whoever invented the term 'super food' must surely have their own hallowed shrine in the Museum of Marketing. (I suspect it was Dr Oz.)
Blueberries were the first to be ordained a 'super food' (correct me if I'm wrong?), and all us 'healthies' (cringe) ran out to buy them. And still do. Thanks to that success, a slew of other foods, mostly exotic, began to vie for the super food title, like a messy, produce version of WWE SmackDown.
Gogi berries. Cacao nibs. Black soy beans. Edamame. Chia seeds. Hemp seeds... Eventually this trend culminated in the deification of kale: a humble, tough, bitter-tasting member of the cabbage family.
The problem is, we're after that magic bullet that's going to give us perfect health and make us live forever. Our obsession with health foods is a denial of our mortality. Of course there's nothing wrong with being health conscious, but this obsession with singling out foods and venerating them above all others makes many of us blind to the bigger picture: which is that all fruit and veg are 'super foods' and you should eat a lot of all of them if you want to live a bit longer.
But this post is sidling closer to a lecture on health, so let's step back from the brink and look at the kale & blueberry salad I made.
Look, it's not bad. But it's not great, either. I can only assume I thought it would be a good idea because I'd been brainwashed by the countless hysterical blog posts I'd read on the subject.
Raw kale, even after being lovingly massaged with olive oil (a weirdly intimate practice that is supposed to mellow its slightly leathery fibrousness), still requires some committed mastication. It's chewy. The blueberries, roasted almonds, avo, croutons and goats cheese go some way towards palatability, but frankly, I would rather have made this salad with some shredded red cabbage and lettuce. And bacon. It's chief allure is that it bestows a solid sense of righteousness, the culinary equivalent of saying 200 Hail Marys.
DON'T make this salad. (Kale is much better cooked, imo, especially in this soup.) Rather, DO buy Willow Creek's Blood Orange Flavoured Extra Virgin Olive Oil*. I got a bottle from work a while back, and it had been sitting in my cupboard for ages before I decided to try it, because I don't usually go in for flavoured oils. But it was a revelation. It's delicate, fresh and slightly floral, with that unmistakable citrus tang underneath. It helped me work my way through this kale salad, and almost enjoy it.
*I haven't been paid or asked to promote this product — I just genuinely like it.