It’s January. What’s with all the green at the farmers’ market? I bought two armfuls of kale, supposedly from New Jersey. Curious as I was about how these curly leaves were going to taste, I also wondered how they even existed. The root vegetables make sense to me; they stay cozy underground. But leafy greens?

In my cynical (and ignorant) mind, I conjured scenarios of being duped. Perhaps that nice farmhand, rounding my bill down to the nearest dollar, is actually an experienced swindler who bought the bulk of his goods at the nearest KeyMart and, by adding the admittedly-lovely if inauthentic farmer-market experience, sold them at an up-charge? Or, I thought to myself, trying to remain kind, perhaps he has a greenhouse?

However, having never eaten kale before (to my knowledge), this was the most pressing mystery to be solved. Not long after arriving home, my taste buds were relieved to peppery, bitterness with a forgiving texture (see recipes below). Next, I found the answer to my worries over its existential nature.

Kale likes snow.

It’s like the polar bear of leafy greens. The cold weather actually sweetens its temperament and helps bring out its dark goodness. (On that note, avoid yellow leaves.)

I now have new respect for flora. I can’t exist for more than a few hours in these temperatures, let alone live out there. And I am at peace with again with Phillips’s Saturday stand at the tip of Prospect Park.

The simplest way to experience kale magic is to make:

Kale Chips
These turn out beautifully crispy and can quickly (and healthfully) sub in for potato chips.

Cut leaves, sans thick stems into rough two bite pieces.
Dress lightly with salted oil (and vinegar if you like)
Roast at 350 degrees until crispy – about 20 minutes.

But in honor of Chinese New Year, here’s what I did with the kale last night:

Dragon Stir Fry: Kale and Chicken

Serves two:

2 Tbs peanut oil
4 garlic cloves (2 if using store bought instead of farm bought)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 chicken filet, thawed/soaked in orange juice and a couple dashes of fish sauce
4 oz (large handful) of peanuts
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 cups curly kale, stem bottoms removed, cut into two-bite pieces (will shrink)
~4 Tbs duck sauce (that orange sweet sauce that is always almost-thrown out after ordering Chinese food)
soy sauce

Saute garlic and onion in hot oil. Cut chicken into long narrow strips. Brown chicken in pan w/ garlic and then remove and set aside. Throw a large handful of peanuts in the bowl with it to keep it company.

Pour marinade into a small pot. Add a dash soy sauce and duck sauce (and some crushed red pepper) to taste. Boil like crazy. You are trying to reduce it to nice syrupy sauce.

Put bell pepper in pan with garlic and onion. Saute until just getting tender. Add kale. Saute and then pour hot juice syrup over the greens. Add chicken and peanuts. Stir to coat and raise temperature.

Serve with steamed rice.

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