More than three years ago, I posted many ways to eat kale, beginning the article with an acknowledgement that many people think it’s just a garnish and that, personally, I grew up knowing kale as a notorious vegetable used by my maternal grandmother’s family, seasoned with cloves and cayenne pepper and cooked “until the wallpaper peels,” to frighten away people unworthy of joining our family.
Last week, a friend pointed out to me that, although I have posted many kale recipes, I never have shared that one. I hadn’t noticed! I don’t actually make it very often; traditional though it may be, it’s very . . . intense. With only three people in the household, we prefer to convert a big bunch of kale into something we can eat in large quantity, whereas this recipe makes the kind of side dish of which most people want a few tablespoons alongside blander foods.
Anyway, here is the recipe for my family’s hazing vegetable. The quantity depends on how many people you’re serving, but for a whole onion you’ll want at least 1 pound of kale.
- Fresh kale
- 1 onion
- 3-4 cloves
- 1 tsp. salt per pound of kale
- 1 tsp. bacon drippings per pound of kale (can be omitted to make a vegetarian version)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar per pound of kale
- cayenne pepper to taste
Thoroughly wash the kale and remove tough central stems. Cram it into a pot. (The leaves will wilt, so you can cram in as many raw leaves as will fit.)
Peel the onion and poke the cloves into it. Add it and the other ingredients to the pot. Add enough water to fill most of the gaps.
Bring to a boil, then turn down heat. Simmer, covered, a long time, while you are making other foods. It will have a very strong smell, sure to drive away unsuitable suitors.
To quote my mother, “The result should look like what washes up on the beach after a hurricane.” That is, it should be very dark, very soft and floppy, like seaweed.
Set aside the onion. (Maybe you can use it in a soup or something? I did this once. A lot of the flavor will have cooked out of it, and a lot of kale juice will have soaked in.)
Pile kale in a serving dish and place on the table in a calm, matter-of-fact fashion.