Kale Bowls and Boston Nostalgia

kale bowl side

One time when I was still living in Boston, I fired up the stove (the gas kind, that makes those nice click sounds as it lights) and slapped down a sauté pan. From the next room, I heard the Roomz II say, “Are you making kale?”

Kind of freaked out, I answered with a slow, “Yeeesss…creepy. How did you know that?”

“Randle,” he said, “You eat three things: cereal, yogurt, and kale, and only one of those requires cooking. Kind of obvious.”

“Nuh-uh! Sometimes I eat oatmeal. You cook that.”

His face: -_-

raw kale

barley mix

tomato above

That’s when I realized that the only real meals I eat are usually the ones featured on the blog or picked up from a taqueria or Thai place after a long shift at the shack. Besides that, I tend to (aspire to) live primarily off of breakfast products, late-night pasta, and desserts. I have gone weeks eating cereal or yogurt and granola (which is, let’s face it, fancy cereal) exclusively. Sometimes, I would force myself to eat vegetables and things for at least one meal a day. Once that meant literally eating a head of raw lettuce, and it often meant eating whole carrots. Don’t ask my roommates how fun that was. I would walk into the living room with a whole carrot, like some kind of Bugs Bunny, and crunch away like it was nobody’s business. I’m sure they miss me a lot.

Then. I found kale.

radishes

Back in Boston, one of the places I was always dying to check out to satisfy my kale craving was this place by Harvard called Life Alive. It’s kind of hard to get to Cambridge from Newton Centre, since it requires weird, unreliable buses, roundabout train journeys, or a drive in ye olde car (parking, bleck). So when I went back for a writing conference a couple months ago, the Roomz and one of my friends from all the way back in Waco humored me on a trip to the fabled Life Alive, home of kale bowls, chaga, and deodorant-shunning hippies from across town.

It was awesome.

They had strange teas and weird soy sauce substitutes, and the Roomz even got hit on the head with a yoga mat–how apropos! They also had these super delicious bowls in all varieties that involved a bed of greens and whole grains of some sort topped with all these awesome toppings–avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried pineapples, pine nuts, pickled beets–you name it.

bowl above

I decided to recreate the delight at home. I’m sure you’re excited:

Life Alive-esque Kale Bowls
Serves 2 (makes extra dressing)

Salad:
1 head of kale
4-5 radishes
1 tomato
½ cup barley or mixed grains (dried), cooked according to package directions, yielding roughly 1 cup
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
⅛ cup pine nuts
¼ cup ricotta cheese

Lemon Vinaigrette:
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
1 Tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Options: add anything else.
Suggestions: a poached egg, candied pecans, sun-dried tomatoes, dried pineapple, pickled beets, roasted root vegetables, legumes, an Asian-inspired dressing of soy sauce and sesame oil, OR a bed of cheesy risotto? @_@

1. Prepare kale: Clean kale and remove tough ribs. Chop roughly. Steam for approximately 5 minutes. Remove the lid and immediately plunge kale into a bath of ice water. This blanching process stops the kale cooking from residual heat and, as a bonus, revives the kale’s bright green color. Remove kale from ice water as soon as it cool and drain over paper towels or a clean dish towel (my choice). Set aside.

2. Prepare barley/mixed grains according to package directions. I cooked mine in vegetable broth instead of water, for added flavor. Set aside.

3. Chop radishes to desired size — I like their spiciness, so I left them in large chunks. Not a fan of radishiness? Try something else that’s crisp, like water chestnuts, apples, cucumbers, or even carrot slices. Set aside.

4. Slice tomatoes into ½-inch pieces, removing the googly parts (if you’re like me, and they gross you out).

5. Toast pine nuts in a 375 F oven on an ungreased sheet pan, 5-7 minutes, until slightly browned and fragrant.

6. Prepare dressing: Whisk together mustard and lemon juice, then slowly add olive oil, emulsifying (whisking) as you go.

7. Assemble! Mix 2 Tablespoons of the dressing with the barley. In two bowls, spread a bed of barley, cover that with kale, then drizzle with dressing. Top with tomatoes, radishes, pinenuts, and crumbles of ricotta. I topped mine with even more dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.

8. Pump your fist for the kale train.

Other kale recipes on Crandlecakes:
Kale salad with Pecorino and Toasted Hazelnuts
Kale Salad with Pickled Peppers and Shallots and a Soft-poached Egg
Italian Kale and White Sweet Potato Soup
Kale and Dumpling Soup!

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