The opportunity to review “50 Shades of Kale” has come to me just in time when my obsession with kale as a newly discovered ingredient has not calmed down just yet. And what an interesting and unique cookbook I was given to review! No doubt, kale is a great vegetable that deserves to have a book entirely dedicated to it. I admit that I was skeptical after reading the title of this cookbook. Surprisingly, my perception has changed as I was going through the book, reading and experimenting with the recipes. I came to embrace the inspiring, creative and delicious culinary ideas presented by authors Drew Ramsey, psychiatrist and farmer, and Jennifer Iserloh, chef and recipe developer. So, please don’t take too seriously spoofy, “50 grey-ish” way authors have chosen to communicate to us about “muse and mistress Kale”. The subtle erotic undertones and tongue-in-cheek innuendo throughout the entire book should be taken with a grain of salt, and require a certain sense of humor. After all, who said that cookbooks have to be dry and boring? As cheesy as the title “50 Shades of Kale” sounds, this has become the most playful and fun cookbook I’ve ever read. But most importantly, this book opens doors, pushes boundaries and stretches the imagination by creatively and deliciously utilizing one of the healthiest vegetables around, kale, in all types of meals – breakfasts, appetizers, entrees and even desserts and drinks!
I really like how the book is structured. Introductory chapters include some useful links and references, which is great for the health conscious cook. Along with a main recipe containing chapters, funny named as “Morning Quickies” for breakfasts or “Get Satisfied” for entrees, there are sections where authors give a list of best pairing ingredients for kale and a section with short recipe ideas (I happened to really like this section). And it’s all about kale! But fear not – “50 Shades of Kale” is not just for vegetarians. A lot of the recipes contain meat or dairy products. Not shying away from animal proteins, authors make suggestions about choosing right ingredients that are good for you and are part of a healthy balanced diet.
It seems the book would satisfy culinary tastes of the widest audience, from the sophisticated gourmet food devotee to a primitive in his food choices child. “50 Shades of Kale” offers Kale Kiwi Gazpacho for the first one and Chocolate Chip Kale Cookies or Cocoa Delight (shake with a cherry, kale and coco powder) for the second one by elegantly sneaking super-food kale into cookies and shakes. The pickiest of eaters won’t be able to refuse these.
Browsing through the recipes, I found an ample amount of simple recipes, which use just a few ingredients. None of the ingredients are exotic, they are all easy to find at your local grocery store; but the way in which they are combined is quite creative and unique. Honestly, I had a hard time choosing which recipes to try; so I was carried away and ended up preparing 10! To be fair to the authors, I tried to obey two rules while recreating these recipes: first, to stick to the recipe precisely (you may know it’s not that easy!), and secondly, to be diverse in my selection of recipes. Naturally, not all recipes turned out that great. Although, of the 10 dishes I prepared, 4 went straight into my archive of favorites – a collection of no-fuss healthy recipes, surefire foodie pleasers. Others were worthy to try again and just couple of them I had to be creative and draw from experience to tweak and fix them. I think you would agree it’s a great miss-to-hit ratio for cookbook!
Let’s look closer at the recipes I’ve made.
Cheesy Scrambled Eggs and Kale – This is one of my favorites. I added this one to my personal menu. Quick and easy to make, unbelievably tasty, kale is mixed with scrambled eggs and cheese, creating gooey, juicy mass that I tossed on a top of toasted English muffins. My entire family just loved it.
Pasta e Fagioli – Another recipe my family and I loved. I was skeptical about this one – I never cooked regular pasta e fagioli before. It turned out that this recipe, bountiful in kale and other vegetables had the perfect combination of spiciness, flavor and texture. If classic pasta e fagioli is this good as this book’s Pasta e Fagioli with Kale then I’m a fan of this dish forever. This recipe was a real catch and would not change a thing about it. Real finding!
Chicken Enchiladas – This one was among my least favorite recipes from the book. It was a little on the bland side, and seemed to lack spices or some kind of sauce (although dish was pictured with a beautiful tomato based sauce on top, recipe directed to put just some sour cream and cheese on top of enchiladas). Also for whatever reason, the filling turned out a bit watery and flat in flavor. The idea behind this recipe is great in concept, so who knows – I might make some changes to this one and give it another shot.
Open Sesame – Is a super easy and quick recipe. Too bad it was a bit too sweet for my taste. This sweetness paired well with a fragrant sesame oil, but I thought it was a bit too overwhelming. So, I broke my own rule and added a splash of sherry vinegar to balance it out. The result was an uplifting, beautiful dish that I enjoyed a lot.
Kale-onaise – Is a lovely condiment which is no more than mayonnaise blended with a good amount of fresh kale and a couple of other flavoring agents. I’m glad that the author does not shy away from such a great and classy condiment as mayonnaise emphasizing our attention on a quality of mayonnaise used. After all, it all depends on ingredients put into it – what can be wrong with olive oil, egg yolk and vinegar swirled together into famous French classic dressing? Brought to a higher level with kale, this condiment firmly got its place in my archives too. I have used it for the Shrimp with Kale-onaise appetizer (see below).
Chocolate Chip Kale Cookies – Got approval from the pickiest audience – kids. Along with chopped kale it includes whole wheat flour, oats and couple of other healthy natural ingredients. You won’t taste any kale there but it creates awesome texture and chewiness to a cookie. Even after I had to confess to my little one about kale as an ingredient, he couldn’t resist biting into the cookie and did not have regrets (double batch disappeared too fast!). So, this recipe is a definite keeper too!
Kalejito – That’s where I stumbled upon ingredient quantity incompatibility for the first time – recipe called for way too many mint leaves and kale. I ended up with a thick green alcoholic “sauce”. When I poured it on top of ice in a glass, it didn’t help or seem drinkable at all. I fixed it by adding some more sugar syrup and club soda. That worked for me but unfortunately not for my friend who said it was too bitter.
Shrimp with Kale-onaise – You won’t find it in the list of recipes there. But, as I mentioned before, there is a separate section in a book with a brief recipe ideas. Freshly boiled and chopped shrimp, mixed with kale-onaise, with a drop or two of my favorite picked chili sauce, made one of the most simple and satisfying shrimp appetizers ever!
Zucchini and Kale Bites – Were a real surprise to me! I wasn’t too excited about this particular recipe, I just happened to have all ingredients on hand. Turned out, the zucchini come out very tasty, walnut with kale topping was so crusty and delicious and finishing touch of raw walnut/kale pesto on a top was so appropriate and creative! Deliciously juicy and crispy at the same time, these zucchini bites had no salt listed in the ingredient list and, what was very interesting, I didn’t miss the salt at all!
Cocoa Delight – Turned out being indeed delightful. Although when I started to blend all ingredients, my blender refused to blend without any liquid! So I added 1 cup of icy cold water and got a great, thick, chocolaty shake with an awesome cherry flavor. Have authors forgotten to list milk, water, or juice for this shake?
Overall, in my humble opinion, “50 shades..” can become a valuable addition to any semi-experienced cook who is not afraid to experiment and who is devoted to using healthy produce in his/her cooking. The book is highly inspirational, full of ideas and useful information.
To the overall excitement from this book, I believe there is some room for improvement. For example, a bit of frustration hit me when authors, describing different types of “muse and mistress Kale”, didn’t support it with pictures so I had to fire up my computer and do an image search to be able to identify some of the different varieties of kale before going shopping. Or, another recipe pictured a delicious looking tomato sauce on top of enchiladas. To my disappointment nothing about the sauce was mentioned in the text (see this enchilada review above). Also I noticed a few discrepancies in some of the drink recipes (see descriptions of Kalejito and Kale Cherry Shake above).
Even with all these minor inconsistencies, I’m really happy to have this book – there is a whole bunch of recipes I can’t wait to try. Easy and playful style of writing, high quality pictures which accompany each and every recipe (just the way I like my cookbooks), inspiring recipe ideas – all these make me a fan of “50 Shades of Kale”. Even the paper feels nice to the touch! That is that kind of a cookbook I like to read before falling asleep to make my plans for tomorrow’s cooking and that is the same book I like to have handy in my kitchen as a creative recipes reference and a great inspiration for a mindful healthy way of cooking.