Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Food in my house growing up was the worst. I suffered through countless gag-able meals at the dinner table, but found creative methods of hiding the food that I was forced to “finish” before I could get up and go about my business. Once, I buried a cubed steak in the sandbox. Another time, I stuffed green beans in an old purse and stuck it under the couch. I got into big trouble over that—if I remember correctly, I was accused of being so careless I could kill the whole family with botulism. And, I’m sure I flushed a thing or two down the toilet. In the midst of this process of avoiding my mother’s bad cooking, I learned quickly that processed food was predictable and tasty. I requested canned ravioli on a weekly basis, hot dogs, Velveeta cheese on Fritos … and I spent most of my allowance each week on candy. Looking back on it, I am sad that I didn’t learn to enjoy fresh food when I was young. Sometimes, I still have to remind myself to eat something real and whole when I’m hungry, like a piece of fruit instead of crackers or a granola bar out of a package.
It wasn’t until I pulled up my southern stakes and moved to the Pacific Northwest that I questioned my culinary aesthetic. Land of fresh salmon, organic produce, and amazing coffee: I owe my acquired love of real food to Seattle, Washington. Shortly after my move, I bought an old-fashioned pressure canner on eBay and started a new hobby. Reading about which foods could and couldn’t safely be preserved or canned at home, I started looking more closely at the ingredients in my processed food. I was shocked. Thus began my journey of simplifying the ingredients in my food. I still drink my high-end coffee with cream and sweetener. Judge me, I don’t care, I’ll drink it that way until I die, they’ll put it on my tombstone.
After my colorectal cancer diagnosis, however, I had to get really serious about my relationship with raw vegetables. Specifically, green vegetables. The most difficult of all was to avoid the hard stare of Kale. It knew that I needed it to survive, but I resisted. In the end, we had to come to a compromise, Kale and I. It had to be in soup and easy to swallow, or sliced thin like vermicelli and sautéed in a fat and an acid. Too many sense memories of my mother’s bad cooking and all the gagging and dry heaving made it impossible for me to eat kale without some sort of cooking intervention. I still don’t know how people can eat big pieces of kale without a flinch. Just the thought of a huge curly bite getting bigger and bigger in my mouth. Gag. A. Maggot.
But recently, I experienced a glorious surprise. Kale snuck up on me in a salad while dining at a great spot in Nashville. I mean, in the South, y’all. And Kale pulled out all the stops to get me in there: baskets of beautiful blue hydrangeas at the entrance to the eatery, gorgeous high ceilings, coats of white paint on almost everything, giant light fixtures that looked like jewelry on display for Athena (she’s huge—just go to the Nashville Parthenon and see if you don’t shake in terror at her stare), quaint green dining chairs, and a completely visible kitchen that was impossibly organized and orderly. I didn’t even look at the menu until I was in line—one of those that are impeccably printed in chalk on large overhead boards. So many options, I just chose one that included steak and roasted broccoli, both of which I love. I had consumed half of it before I realized I was eating raw kale, and this is why: they chop everything with this handy tool!
I’ve seen “chopped salad” on menus before, but it never occurred to me that cutting kale into really small pieces would make it palatable for me. This is so exciting! And, I’m including a “choose your own adventure” recipe to recreate this for yourself until you take a weekend excursion to the amazing gem that Nashville has become in the past 15 years. When you do, get thee to Greenery Co.
Missy's Poor Copy of Chopped Kale Salad
1. Grilled steak slices, marinated in lime juice, garlic, salt, and pepper
2. Quinoa cooked in your choice of liquid
3. Red Chimichurri Sauce (this one works)
4. Roasted broccoli (I love roasting with just olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper)
5. Finely sliced sweet potato (this is not really necessary, but adds a sweet counterpoint)
6. Sliced radish
7. Roasted pumpkin seeds
I toss in chopped avocado, sungold tomatoes, red onion, and probably some goat cheese.
Chop chop and serve with an Argentine Malbec. Enjoy! Your whole body will thank you.