Oh, kale. Never has there been so divisive a green. Regardless which camp you fall into—camps being Love It! Or Love to Hate It! (I quote Nick Welsh: “Oh, fucking kale!”)—you are doubtless aware of its nutritional virtues, for there has been no escaping the onslaught of good press (Do vegetables employ PR flacks?), nor the relatively sudden ubiquity of kale chips for which the hearty green-believers are willing to plunk down many dollars an ounce. Really, kale is to greens as the Prius is to automobiles; something so far on the side of virtuous its only real downside has to do with its precarious position on the slippery slope to smugville.
As a food, it’s not surprising kale should be so polarizing. Its texture requires some getting used to; where lovers see “hearty,” haters see “tough.” In salads in particular, kale must be handled with care—absent the dehydration that renders chips light and crispy, or the moisture, heat, and time that leaves braised kale tender and earthy—to be enjoyed raw, kale must be massaged, like the cow that will become a kobe burger, preferably with oil, avocado, lemon, or all three, in order to break down the cell walls, and mellow its inherent tough and bitter-leaning characteristics. Skip the massage, and your jaw will get a workout from which it will not soon recover.
Scarlett Begonia’s kale Caesar salad delivers exactly what one silently prays for when forgoing the burger or shrimp and grits: something that’s equal parts virtue and vice, for it comes loaded with parmesan cheese, pine nuts, croutons, and bacon, which hardly count as sins because, kale! And that kale is rendered rich, massaged with a tangy Caesar dressing and smashed avocado to a point that leaves it toothsome without being tough. Top it off with a poached egg, and that yolky succulence will make you forget you’re being so very, very virtuous at all. Which is important, because once you find yourself in smugville, it’s tough to escape. No matter how fast your Prius will go.