Warm Kale Salad

IMG_8074

Combine and whisk together in a large bowl :

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tsp prepared mustard, preferably of high quality

1/8-1/4 tsp tamari

1/4 tsp vinegar (sherry, rice wine or black vinegar are best)

Dash of Maggi or Golden Mountain Seasoning (optional)

pinch or so of salt

1/8 tsp sichuan peppercorns (or black peppercorns), freshly ground or crushed

Take :

10-12 oz kale leaves, de-stemmed but not chopped

Place in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes, pushing the kale down and covering the pot with a lid.

Drain kale immediately. Then quickly wrap kale in a thick kitchen towel and squeeze as much liquid from the kale as desired. I usually don’t fuss over this too much, just making sure that the larger portion of the water absorbed by the kale has been squeezed out.

Place the kale on a chopping board and roughly or finely chop it depending on your tastes. Toss immediately with the dressing, turn out into a bowl and serve with fork or chopsticks. Garnish with sesame seeds or–even better, a Japanese seaweed-sesame seasoning combo like Nori Komi Furikake.

IMG_9071

This is one of the simplest ways to serve kale, accompanied only by seasonings selected to bring out its’ naturally complex and hearty flavors. This feeds two people as a starter and one person as a hearty lunch, accompanied perhaps by a piece of fruit or hunk of bread.

Kale salad is as ubiquitous as bad driving in the Northeast, too often it is either matched with incongruous ingredients (radish? blueberry?) or just not properly cooked. I find kale best lightly boiled like this (or even steamed if you can muster the energy) ideal for a salad, served either warm or cool. Now, if I was to serve this particular salad cool I would add perhaps a bit more of the liquid ingredients, but warm these proportions are just perfect.

Key – The key to this recipe is to proceed as quickly as possible once draining the kale, as maximum heat in the greens will cause the flavors of the dressing to blend better and come out more.

Mock Strawberry : A Disdained Common Edible

IMG_9515

As a child I used to gobble the “wild strawberries” that, then as now, popped up in our lawn and mulched beds alike. Sure, they didn’t taste like much but they were a pleasant nibble. Perhaps more caution was in order, but the darned things are so inoffensive looking that it would be difficult to suspect them of being hazardous. Older and slightly wiser, nowadays I don’t tend to eat anything without being quite careful about it. In the grocery store, one examines a package. In the wild or the backyard, one makes sure to clearly identify a plant before consuming it.

These wild “strawberries” were of course not true wild strawberries (which are far from flavorless) but the invasive, pernicious ground cover known as Potentilla indica or Duchesnea indica. The confusion over classification is a recent one and Duchesnea is still mainly used. Potentilla seems to be the more accurate fit (though I am hardly a botanist), since that genus contains the cinquefoils whose leaves are used in very much the same way as those of mock strawberry.

Leaves? That’s right. For years and years I have eaten the charmingly inoffensive fruit of the mock strawberry without realizing that the far more interesting and useful part of the plant was staring me in the face. The leaves are an excellent food and tea, tasting faintly of cucumber (with a hint of sage) and widely available for almost the entire year. For years I have let this plant grow wild in my yard and planted beds for the simple fact that it is harmless and excludes other, non-useful weeds. Now? I will definitely encourage its’ growth and use it whenever necessary. Which, honestly could be often–the only plant that grows more prolifically in my yard in the off-season is ground ivy, equally edible but quite bitter once springtime has ended.

So what about those fruits? Many find them banal or insipid, but I consider that a judgement based more on its flavor in comparison with other wild berries or with commercially cultivated fruit. Another common observation is that they taste like watermelon bitten very close to the rind. That rings true to me, and also implies the thing I do really like about mock strawberry, which is its’ pleasing texture. Too often we are disdainful of things which have mild or inoffensive tastes. I have a feeling we would be less disdainful if we did not have such a surplus of food. Then we might be quite pleased to have a plant which is edible in the Northeast in one form or another for almost the entire year.

When we forage we learn a lot of lessons about plants and our relationship with them. Mock strawberry is a good example : as much as we might despise this little scrubby ground cover, we can potentially (no pun intended) learn from it and its’ ways. Sometimes the best and most useful plants are those which we most ignore. I have always tolerated and sometimes enjoyed mock strawberry as an invasive plant which excluded far more annoying weeds. Now I just might let it run riot, and delight in the free surplus of winter greens and summer berries. Insipid? Maybe. But when you’re starving don’t come over and scoop up my “mock” strawberries. I’ll still be enjoying them, tasteless or not.

IMG_5770