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December 26, 2014

UNCORKED: When pairing wine with kale … ditch the kale

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Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 9:17 pm

I hate kale. I don’t know why it is the darling of most foodies and celebrity chefs.

For the uninitiated, kale is a member of the cabbage family. It is said that ancient Romans consumed this vegetable, but for much of the 20th century it was not something humans cared to eat.

It was mostly used for ornamentation by restaurateurs when a plate needed that touch of green, or as decoration on the ubiquitous salad bars of the late 20th century.  

There are many varieties of this hardy, toothsome vegetable. It is very durable, able to survive hard frost and harsh winters. It is so durable, in fact, that the kale harvested in Roman times may be still decorating salad bars at Western Sizzlin’.

I hate all species of this plant except for the ornamental varieties planted among pansies in winter gardens. I am told that ornamental kale is edible, if one is fond of eating one’s shrubbery.  

Curly kale is the most common kale and the variety most often found in local grocery stores, but other varieties lurk about. Dinosaur  kale, with leaves growing up its longish stalk, looks like something straight out of the Jurassic Age. Lacinato kale, also known as Italian kale, is said to be used in soups in Tuscany. But what’s in a name? A kale by any other name is still kale.

To make kale digestible, it must be subjected to human intervention. There are recipes for kale smoothies (what a revolting thought), kale Caesar salad, sautéed kale, kale soufflé and baked kale chips, allegedly more healthful than fried potato chips. Never mind that to make kale chips edible, they must be doused in olive oil and sprinkled liberally with salt.

I must confess I once made kale chips. I hired Miller Sand and Gravel to deliver two tons of kale to my front door. Two hours later, I ended up with a cup of kale chips.

That’s another thing about this wondrous vegetable. Like most leafy green things, it is high in water content; when subjected to dry heat, the leaves become like chewy parchment paper. Yum!

For all the hype this vegetable generates, one of the oldest and most comprehensive culinary encyclopedias, “Larousse Gastronomique,” has no entry for kale. Nor did the legendary Julia Child mention this vegetable that even marauding herds of vegan deer choose to forego.

As bad is kale is, there is something more abominable on the horizon: the kalette, also known as BrusselKale or flower sprouts. This is a cross between the two most despised vegetables in the world, kale and Brussels sprouts.

What mad scientist at British vegetable breeder and developer Tozer Seeds arranged a marriage between these two? Though touted by the company as having fantastic flavors with a complex taste, being incredibly versatile and easy to cook as well as providing an alternative for kids, my question is, an alternative for what?

Pairing wine with green vegetables of any kind is especially challenging in the absence of meat. Sauvignon blanc is likely a good choice for kale. Perhaps a sauvignon blanc from South Africa or New Zealand would be a good choice. Both regions are notorious for producing lean, herbaceous sauvignon blancs with aromas of eau de cat pee.

A safer companion for green things would be Joel Gott sauvignon blanc. If the pairing does not work, throw out the kale and drown your sorrow with Gott sauvignon blanc, a good, palatable, inexpensive wine that goes with a lot of things other than kale.

Gott sauvignon blanc is available at most retail wine outlets and is typically priced in the $10 range.

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