I have gone green. It’s taken a long, long time, but finally I’m there. I’m not talking about environmentalism. I’ve been recycling for years. I also turn off the water while I brush my teeth, and, to the extent possible, eschew products with wildly excessive packaging. (The apotheosis of ridiculous packaging has got to be those individually wrapped prunes. Are you kidding me?)
No, I’m talking about greens. Despite being Southern, born and bred, I have never been able to stomach greens—turnip, collard, mustard, whatever. I do like spinach, but, despite Popeye’s endorsement, spinach never seemed to make the cut as greens on the Southern table.
As a child, I hated both turnip greens and black-eyed peas. This was enough to make some question my heritage. I made my peace with peas years ago and now enjoy them from time to time. But not turnip greens. Many years ago I had the bright idea that maybe it was the way my parents cooked them that made them taste that way. While many greens eaters sprinkle liberally with “pepper sauce” at table, my folks put it right in the cooking water. Like they weren’t bitter enough without adding vinegar. So I bought and cooked a batch of turnip greens and bravely tasted a bit. No, no that wasn’t it.
So I adapted. Instead of turnip greens, I substituted cabbage for the obligatory “green for money” in the traditional New Year’s Day good luck dinner. (Perhaps this explains the noticeable absence of riches in the Merrill household.)
But late in life I have made a discovery. Kale. It’s a certified cruciferous green—right up there with turnip, collard and mustard greens—and it looks similar by the time it hits the plate. I sauté the torn kale in mild-flavored oil until good and wilted, but not an overcooked mess. It has a hint of bitterness—just enough to let you know you’re eating something good for you.
I like it. What an amazing revelation. Why did no one grow kale in the backyard gardens of my childhood? My life could have taken a completely different course. You know, the one that includes fine jewelry, summer homes and extended, expensive travels.