'Smitten Kitchen' Author On Learning To Love Kale

Sep 5, 2013
Originally published on September 10, 2013 3:21 pm

Kale has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Once relegated to the sidelines as a mere garnish, the green now appears on 400 percent more restaurant menus than it did four years ago.

But not everyone has bought into the gospel of the vitamin- and mineral-rich green. Even Deb Perelman, who writes the blog and cookbook Smitten Kitchen, was initially a kale skeptic.

"I've said before that I've often thought the world would be a better place if we could stop pretending that kale tastes good," she tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block.

Perelman says she's since come around to the vegetable and uses it "tepidly" in recipes. But she still doesn't understand the obsession around it.

"I don't actually think that a world where people are eating a lot of kale versus a lot of, I don't know, potato chips or bacon is a bad place," she says. "I just don't understand the fervor."

One dish that helped changed her mind was the kale salad at Barbuto in New York City's West Village. Even though she wrote "the last thing the internet needs is another kale salad," she posted a recipe for it on her blog last month.

"It was so good and I just tried to imitate it. Like, I missed it on Monday when I hadn't had it in two days. Maybe that's how it happens; it's like a long dark road from here," she says.

When recreating it at home, Perelman used a lighter kale that she cut into thin ribbons. She then tossed it with toasted breadcrumbs and walnuts, raisins, pecorino romano cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

"We inhaled it," she says. "I'm going to have to reconsider my identity as a kale skeptic. I thought I was all Team Swiss Chard but now I'm not sure."

She says she isn't quite sure what makes the salad so wonderful, but theorizes it has something to do with its combination of a few simple ingredients that would make almost anything taste good — dried fruit, salt, cheese and toasted nuts. Yet, "it looks so wholesome and you think: 'How could this possibly taste good?' " she says.

Recipe: Kale Salad With Pecorino And Walnuts

This recipe is based on a kale salad offered at Barbuto in New York City. Tuscan kale is also known as black or lacinato kale and is the thinner, flatter leaf variety.

1/2 cup walnut halves or pieces

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1/4 cup panko slightly coarse homemade breadcrumbs (from a thin slice of hearty bread)

1 tiny clove garlic, minced or pressed

Coarse or kosher salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch tuscan kale, washed and patted dry

2 ounces pecorino cheese, grated or ground in a food processor, which makes it delightfully rubbly (1/2 cup total)

Juice of half a lemon

Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste

To prepare walnuts, heat oven to 350 degrees. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, tossing once. Let cool and coarsely chop.

In a small saucepan over low heat, simmer white wine vinegar, water and raisins for 5 minutes, until plump and soft. Set aside in liquid.

Toast bread crumbs, garlic and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a skillet together with a pinch of salt until golden. Set aside.

Trim heavy stems off kale and remove ribs. I always find removing the ribs annoying with a knife, because the leaves want to roll in on the knife and make it hard to get a clean cut. Instead, I've taken to tearing the ribs off with my fingers, which is much easier for me. Stack sections of leaves and roll them into a tube, then cut them into very thin ribbons crosswise.

Put kale in a large bowl. Add pecorino, walnuts and raisins (leaving any leftover vinegar mixture in dish), remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice and toss until all the kale ribbons are coated. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and some of the reserved vinegar mixture from the raisins, if needed. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving, if you can, as it helps the ingredients come together. Just before serving, toss with breadcrumbs and, if needed, a final 1 teaspoon drizzle of olive oil.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


You know, I have a kale confession to make. Not long ago, I inflicted a batch of chocolate kale cupcakes on the staff here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. They were leaden and leafy and just wrong.

Now, the cupcakes did get devoured because these folks will eat just about anything. But it was a cruel, cruel thing to do, and it would've won me no points with food writer and kale skeptic Deb Perelman. She's the author of the "Smitten Kitchen" cookbook and blog, and she joins me now from New York.

And Deb, among kale people - you do not count yourself, correct?

DEB PERELMAN: I've said before that I've often thought the world would be a better place if we could stop pretending that kale tastes good.


PERELMAN: I have come around to it. I now use it tepidly in recipes. I don't actually think that a world where people are eating a lot of kale versus a lot of like, I don't know, potato chips or bacon is a bad place. I just don't think it's - I don't understand the fervor.

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, it's interesting to me because you say on your blog that the last thing the Internet needs is another kale salad, and yet there you are with a recipe in which you ask the question, am I on the wrong blog?

PERELMAN: I really felt like it. I was like if you probably Google kale salad, you know, you'll probably get - I'd imagine - easily, 10,000 results. So it's not like the Internet is short of preparation ideas for kale. But it got me. I had a salad about a few weeks ago at Barbuto in the West Village, and it was so good. And I just try to imitate it. Like, I missed it on Monday, when I hadn't had it in two days. Maybe that's how it happens. It's like a long, dark road from here.

BLOCK: You are going over to the dark side.


BLOCK: Well, why don't you give us the broad outlines of this recipe for kale salad?

PERELMAN: I use a softer, lighter kale that I think goes more nicely in salads. And I like to cut it very, very thin, like thin ribbons. And what I think really counts about the salad is the stuff you put with it. I used toasted walnuts, which I remembered from the salad I had there. And also, I plump raisins slightly, in a mixture of vinegar and water, so they get an almost - not just sweet but like, a really punchy affect; and then a good amount of romano cheese. Pecorino romano is like, really aged and salty, and it adds a really nice flavor there.

And then just some lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper, though you'll barely need any salt with that salty cheese in there. And you put it together, and you have this salad that just - I don't know. We inhaled it - like, who are we? I don't know. I'm going to have to like, reconsider my identity as a kale skeptic. I thought I was all team Swiss chard but now, I'm not sure.

BLOCK: And we should say that listeners can find this recipe on our website, npr.org. And I think you're forgetting the toasted bread crumbs.

PERELMAN: Oh, my gosh, I forgot the toasted bread crumbs.

BLOCK: Yeah.

PERELMAN: Boy. The toasted bread crumbs add a really nice crunch at the end. You just toast them in a little bit of olive oil. If you're gluten-free or, you know, if you have gluten-free bread crumbs, they'll work too. But if - you could skip that as well, but it does add a really nice crunch and adds like, sort of this layer of luxury where you're getting like, this whole thing - a salad that really feels like a meal.

BLOCK: You're kind of just drowning out the kale there, aren't you, Deb?


PERELMAN: No. We are bringing out the wonders of the kale, and it is funny because it's so dark green, and it looks so wholesome, and you think: How could this possibly taste good? But I kind of have a theory that you could probably use this combination of like a dried fruit, a salty cheese, a toasted nut and a little bit of crunch with most things, and it would taste good. But it does happen to taste particularly good with kale here.

BLOCK: Deb Perelman, of the "Smitten Kitchen." Deb, thanks so much for talking to us.

PERELMAN: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.