Monday, October 1, 2012

KALE, yes!

(You have to say it with a southern accent.)


There isn't much I miss about life in the United States, but kale is definitely one of them. Anyone within shouting distance has heard me lamenting the dearth of this beloved cruciferous green here in l'Hexagone. It's not like I haven't tried to source it, either. I've been to scads of markets and talked to oodles of vendors, half of whom had no idea what the hell I was talking about. "Kale? C'est quoi, ca?" or "Bah, non" were the consistent replies to my sad-eyed queries.

More than a year ago, my friend Nathalie suggested we go to an AMAP (Associations pour le Maintien d'une Agriculture Paysanne) event on Canal de l'Ourcq and talk to actual farmers to see if they'd be willing to consider growing it. One fellow expressed an interest, but only if we had enough people to make it worth his while. He needed a commitment of 30 people, which was about triple the number of people I actually new in the city. I gave up. I figured I could eat collard greens and gai lan--also known as Chinese kale--until I was back in the land of the red, white, and greens.


Back in June, on a trip to London, I picked up two bunches of kale (all I had room for) at a Whole Foods market and ferried them back home on the Eurostar. Reacquainting myself with this this old edible friend only amplified the longing for it; would it be reasonable to consider quitting France simply to gain better access to my beloved vegetable? The kale-obsessed quadrant of my brain said "oui."

Then, nearly without warning, un petit miracle: My friend and fellow expat Karin introduced me to Kristen, another kale-loving American. The difference between my love of kale and Kristen's is that this girl didn't just whinge about the no-kale situation; she actually embarked on a no-stopping-until-success mission she dubbed The Kale Project to bring the damn stuff to France. In September, her efforts made so many wishful thinkers' dreams come true: She got the farmers to grow it, and now it's being sold at a few outdoor markets in gay, gay Paree. Hallelujah! Praise Kristen!


Kale had its coming-out party at Verjus, a lovely little restaurant owned by a pair of (yep, you guessed it) expat Americans. The restaurant is the current darling of the Parisian "modern French" dining scene, and I'd wanted to check it out ever since discovering they'll do a vegan menu with a bit of advance warning. I gave absolutely no advance warning when I showed up asking for something kale-ish and vegan. (If you assumed, wrongly, as I did, that a kale menu implied there would already be something vegan, you would have been, as I was, saddened to discover otherwise.) The good news was that the wonderful chef busted out an impromptu kale gaspacho that totally exceeded my taste-bud's expectations. You really can't go wrong when you mix kale with heirloom tomatoes, smoked almonds, fennel, and onions.


A freelance reporter for the New York Times turned up for the event, as did a lot of pretty, blonde young things who look like they'd gone a long time without eating kale--or any other kind of food. But the star of the show was definitely Kristen, the kale messiah of the vegetable-loving Parisian masses. Where will I be this Sunday? At "church," otherwise known as the outdoor market, giving thanks for kale.

16 comments:

  1. I am going to have to try this Kale , I don't think I have ever eaten it. I am not sure where it is for sale here, .. not seen it in my town. So I will have to come to you for some Kale soup..:-)

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  2. Anne, yes! You must. Try. Kale. Be warned: It will change your life. Do they have Whole Foods up in Oxfordshire? If not, please do come visit and I'll make you some braised kale with garlic and red pepper flakes, which we'll pair with pasta and big glasses of red wine! (Or kale soup, if you prefer.)

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  3. We eat kale all the time :) my favorite is with caramelized onions and lentils. So good!

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  4. Caramelized onions AND lentils AND kale?! AKA three of my favorite things in one dish? Shame on me for not coming up with this melange on my own! Thanks, Lis, for the delicious inspiration!

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  5. We have been kaling since we got back to the US. We loved Versus, although I am not sure "Modern French" is the way I would describe it - it is so thoroughly Modern American (in the small plate, eclectic ingredient, chef-driven, sense) that it made us thoroughly homesick for the US when we were living there. Very glad the project worked out - it is odd that Kale is not around anymore in France given its historical prominence in European cuisine (thanks, Wikipedia). But, on the other hand maybe not - a French friend was telling me about how he had been reading in France about the fact that modern French grocery stalls have only a fraction of the vegetables available that they had 100 years ago. He cited rutabaga (swede, for the brits), which no others of group we were with (three French, one Italian) had ever heard of; Next project, maybe?

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    1. Rutabaga doesn't have quite the same sex appeal, somehow, as kale! But I'm all for rooting (nyuck nyuck) for the underdogs of the vegetable kingdom. Here's to a rutabaga renaissance! Really though, I think most cultures in most countries only eat a fraction of what is grown, has been grown historically, or has potential to be grown. I mean, in the US, it's tomatoes, potatoes, and broccoli. And iceberg lettuce. There is so much more out there! Hopefully, we'll start exploring all the possibilities, wherever we happen to be. I've enjoyed trying things in France that I've never been exposed to before, like jerusalem artichokes and those weird little orange fruits that come in a tomatillo-type husk. The heirloom food movement has helped broaden the spectrum a bit; I just wish they'd leave the chickens out of it!

      Thanks for clarification on Verjus' culinary classification. I will refer to it as "modern American" from now on, or perhaps ask the owners themselves how they'd peg their cuisine. All I know was that the kale gaspacho was totally to-die-for. I can't wait to go back for the vegan tasting menu!

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  6. So I am going to try a new recipe today! I have all the ingredients already, except coconut milk, and it sounds yummy: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/pot-meals-kale-and-potato-stew-recipe.htm

    I am so glad that kale is in Paris now. Yay! My bunch I just bought two days ago says "chou vert frisé" on the label. Is that what it is being called?

    And hey, I would love to take the props for introducing you to Kristen, but I don't think it was me. I did not know Kristen before I left Paris... I don't think. Unless there was an event that we went to together and she was there, too? Am I losing my marbles?

    I am so proud of the Kale Project coming into being. I think it is just great, and shows grassroots (kaleroots?) activism in action. YAY KALE!!

    Thanks for writing this up, Aurelia! Such a happy kale fairy tale. :)

    xoxo
    Karin

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    1. Hmm...I could have sworn it was you who made the introduction! It was a virtual intro, not the "real-life" variety. No?! Well, whoever it was, I am grateful! FYI, "chou noir de Toscane" -- black Tuscan kale -- is what they're calling the lacinato kale that's being sold here. Same good ol' stuff with a fancy Italian name!

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    2. Like I said, I will take the cred, lol! But I have a feeling it was someone else... I know that I posted something about kale a couple of weeks back, and then the blogger at Love in the City of Lights, Kasia Dietz, linked in Kristen's Kale Project blog to me... Oh you know, I wonder if she had another blog earlier, though... Now I remember telling you about a blogger I read who was *looking* for kale. I never met her, though! But I did perhaps link you to her blog way back when... Was that it? Anyway, glad to be of service.

      Sexy name for the kale!! Oh lala! Cou noir de Toscane! Makes me wanna get somma that. :-)

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    3. *Chou noir

      Not "cou" although that is kind of funny, haha!

      Cou-cou!!
      Bisous!

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  7. Rutabaga can actually be quite good, but it seems to be a hated veg in the US, la pauvre. I don't know whether Verjus would agree with me or not, but they could definitely hold their own in the NY/SF/LA scene. And in the bar, at least, they are super nice.

    You are right about the disappearing produce problem being not just France. It is good, however, that at least in metropolitan areas there is a whole lot more choice now. In places in the middle of the US, however, it is miserable. Even in "farming" states you can't find farmers markets as corn for nasty purposes has taken up the vast majority of the midwest. Tragic, really.

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  8. BTW, Aurelia -- you can't use an iphone to comment on this interface I have found twice today. Shame as it probably is reducing the number of comments you get.

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  9. Aurelia, we (my mostly vegan family) are coming to paris from the Uk in October, we are bringing a mostly empty suitcase over with us, happy to bring you some kale if you need a hook up

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    1. Lisa, you are too kind! A few months ago, I might've actually taken you up on your offer! Today, though, I am not dependent on the generosity of strangers. All I have to do is ride my bike across town to one of the (now) several weekly markets carrying kale. I can hardly wait for Sunday and the Marche Bastille! Now, if they would just start selling it at my favorite market: Marche d'Aligre. When you visit, be sure to spend one morning (not Monday!) meandering through that market. It's so much fun, and there are lovely little cafes all around where you can sit and soak up the ambiance! I will look for you there :0)

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  10. Hey Aurelia,

    I know, that lack of kale in France really annoys me. I've never actually tasted the thing, as I'm a French vegan, but I keep on reading about it on food blogs and get really frustrated.

    I've just discovered your blog, thanks to the article about Paris in VegNews, and really liking it :)

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    1. Hi, Skylark! I'm not sure where you are in France, but if you come to Paris, you should be able to try this amazing vegetable! My favorite way to eat it is to chop it up, drizzle a bit of olive oil over it, add salt or shoyu (soy sauce) and a squeeze of lemon, then sprinkle with hot pepper flakes and eat. It tastes better the longer you let it sit before digging in. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

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