March 1, 2011

I know, I know, I know.  More kale.  I gotta be kidding you with all this healthy green shit, right?

Last week, when Jill received “no go for chemo” blood work results, we set about bulking up her diet, in hopes that we would boost her white blood cell and iron counts in the process.  Spinach in smoothies, tons of black beans and other legumes, a little steak sneaked in for good measure.  I bought bunches and bunches of kale.

Maybe it was all just psychosomatic; maybe a week’s worth of rest alone would have pushed her numbers back up to the “good to go” levels where they were this Monday, but one thing I find to be consistently true about life (with or without cancer) is that the little rituals, talismans, and superstitions can make more of a difference than you might think.

If you read Jill’s blog, you know that early in her treatment process, she christend her chemotherapy regime “Hurricane Kali,” after the Hindu goddess associated with death, destruction, and regeneration.  Jill shared the name on Twitter and Facebook; we put a picture of Kali, fierce and fearsome, on our refrigerator.  Our friends bought us all Kali necklaces, which we all wear daily in solidarity.

When Jill was cleared to start chemo again, we both said “Okay, Kali, do your thing.”  Amazing how a seemingly small and silly idea has taken on so much power in our lives.

I think this is a human thing—we find things to believe in, we latch on to what we can, we imbue our actions with meaning.  And sometimes, as in the case of Caesar salad dressing made from scratch, those actions are delicious.

from Tartine Bread, one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning

Because this recipe came out of a bread cookbook, you’re of course supposed to make the croutons from homemade bread.  I promise to do that one day, but this time I was lazy and cheated with a store-bought loaf.  I did, however, make the croutons instead of buying them, and in doing so was reminded how silly of me it is to ever pay for pre-made croutons or breadcrumbs, because it is SO EASY and much tastier to make your own.  (Unless we’re talking panko breadcrumbs, because I purchase those shamelessly by the pound).

If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, I’m betting you could make this dressing with a food processor.  You’re not going to feel like as much of a badass, though.  So really, this is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to buy yourself a really handsome mortar and pestle.  You know you want to.

Last but not least, please do not make the “ewww gross!” face about the anchovies.  You just think you don’t like them.  Anchovies are, in fact, delicious.  Like this salad.  Trust me.

for the salad:

1 bunch black kale*, stems removed and torn into pieces
2/3 cup aged Parmesan cheese, grated
croutons (see below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons.  Pour the dressing over the top, sprinkle with Parmesan, and toss to coat.

for the dressing:

2 lemons
3 cloves garlic
6 olive-oil packed anchovy fillets
1 egg yolk
olive oil (1 ½- 2 cups)

Grate the zest from one of the lemons.  Cut both lemons in half.  Place the garlic, anchovies, & lemon zest in the mortar and pound with a pestle to make a paste.  Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir to combine.

Continuing to stir, pour in ½ cup of the olive oil, drop by drop.  The mixture should look smooth and creamy.  Begin adding the oil in a slow stream; the dressing should thicken.  Periodically stop pour in oil to add a squeeze of lemon.  Taste the dressing for salt and lemon and adjust as necessary.  Once it’s ready, add small spoonfuls of water, stirring to thin the dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

for the croutons:

3 slices day-old bread, sliced 1-inch thick and torn into 1 ½-inch chunks
2 T olive oil
½ tsp. herbes de Provence (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Toss the torn bread with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  If you are using the herbs, add them too.  Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes.  Midway through baking time, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

*also called lacinato, Tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale


  1. I can’t really decide where to begin here, but: I think you’re amazing, and while I don’t think I ever actually met Jill in Tucson, I am convinced she is equally amazing, and I’m thinking as many good thoughts for ya’ll as I possibly can.

    On a more surface level: this looks and sounds delicious. I love your food writing.

    More importantly, I agree 100% with your assertion about the little things and the things that you choose to believe making a bigger difference than you think. I love the Hurricane Kali bit, and I wish that kind of attitude had been part of my mom’s thinking when she was going through chemo (about a hundred, er, 18 years ago).

    I’ll stop rambling, but: you guys are awesome, and though the situation sucks (I don’t think there’s even a semi-eloquent way to put that, is there? It just sucks.) it sounds like you’re tackling it in a wonderful, powerful way.

    Comment by karinya — March 1, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

  2. You guys are awesome! Such great spirit. I’m in awe.
    And kale, yum….

    Comment by Cheryl Arkison — March 2, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

  3. Karinya–this is one of the best blog comments I’ve ever received. thank you, thank you. I take your words to heart.

    Cheryl–I don’t know if we’re so awe-worthy every minute of the day, but we’re giving it a shot!

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — March 8, 2011 @ 6:36 am

  4. Hello,
    Seriouseats’ photograzing led me to this post. I clicked because I’m obsessed with kale. I have always wanted to eat a kale salad but I have to ask – don’t you find it unbearably bitter raw? Maybe this spunky dressing covers that up. I love anchovies so perhaps I’ll give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Laura — March 11, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  5. hi Laura–great question. I served this salad to a crowd and all of us loved it. my mom, who is a vegetarian, attempted to eat the kale & croutons with a non-Caesar dressing and she did find it very bitter. so, I think you’re right, the dressing is key. that said, I’m sure at least some tolerance for bitterness (to the level of a cup of coffee) is probably helpful. if you try it, let me know what you think!

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — March 12, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

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