Here’s how Kathy Beach manages to cook for herself: She grills a piece of salmon only partially, eats the thinner, fully cooked end for dinner, then finishes cooking the thicker side with a few seconds in the office microwave the next day. Other times, she invites friends over for dinner, then sends them home with the extras, reserving enough for just a meal or two of leftovers for herself. This year, she’s splitting a single community-supported agriculture share with a couple, taking one-third of the produce.
Perhaps most important, after getting home from work by about 4 p.m. and greeting her border collie-husky mix, Charley, she makes cooking a priority. She has positioned the television in her Silver Spring townhouse so she can see it from her kitchen. And she doesn’t usually start her prep without pouring herself a glass of wine or perhaps making a margarita. For Beach, making dinner is about unwinding, not stressing out.
Some single cooks have things pretty much figured out.
Nonetheless, the plastic surgery nurse at Walter Reed Army Medical Center thinks she has more to learn, which is why she asked me to show her some cooking-for-one strategies. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I had all that much to teach someone like Beach, especially after she made me her version of fajitas: perfectly seasoned and grilled flank steak with peppers and onions, served with stewed black beans on homemade corn tortillas. (Confession: I did help her with tortilla-making skills.)
So what was she having trouble with? Simple: “I need to eat more greens.”
And by “more,” the gregarious 56-year-old really means “some,” because she has eaten virtually no greens beyond lettuce mixes since her mother steamed some spinach for her when she was a girl and she found the taste off-puttingly bitter.
Beach’s request has a practical aspect: Her new CSA starts delivering any day now, and even though she’s sharing it with two others, she’s worried about not having the ammunition (or, possibly the appetite) for all the greens she expects to see in that box every week.
I could handle that. I’ve been consuming my fair share of collards, spinach, chard and kale for a couple of decades now. I didn’t like them much as a child, either, but that’s because the only spinach I remember was from the school cafeteria, where if it didn’t come out of cans it sure tasted as if it did. But I quickly learned to love homemade collard greens at barbecue and other down-home restaurants throughout the South, in joints where the collards were sometimes as much of a draw as the meats. And I became addicted to raw spinach salads and spinach-filled enchiladas in my 1980s college days in Austin, thanks largely to a vegetarian restaurant called Mother’s Cafe.
These days, I stuff collards with grits, roast kale for chips, and steam, braise or saute other greens, sometimes leaving them raw. (If you haven’t tried it yet, they can also be pretty great in smoothies.)
Greens, in case you haven’t heard, are nutritional powerhouses. Of the top 10 foods on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, or ANDI, scale, eight are green leafy vegetables, with kale, collards, mustard greens and turnip greens scoring a perfect 1,000.
And of those, I’m most enamored of kale’s flavor and texture, so that’s where I put my focus when I mulled recipes that I thought might win Beach over. The two vegetarian recipes I gave her are also relatively low-fat and low-calorie, something I thought Beach would appreciate since she’s trying to lose weight.
The key to making sure the kale would be palatable was twofold: I’d feature baby varieties from one of my favorite farms, Tree & Leaf, which sells at the FreshFarm Market in Dupont Circle on Sundays. And I’d add a little spice to the greens, knowing that Beach is an admitted chili-head.
Inspired by a salad at the restaurant Animal in Los Angeles, I thinly sliced tender kale leaves and tossed them with fresh lemon juice, then made a quick mushroom-miso omelet, chopped it up and added it to the salad, coated the mixture in chili-spiked olive oil and topped it with whole-grain crouton crumbs.
For the second dish, I added crushed red pepper flakes to a Paula Wolfert recipe for Tuscan kale with garlicky white beans that I’ve been making for more than a decade, including for my sister’s wedding.
In keeping with Beach’s desire for (minimal) leftovers, each recipe makes a generous portion to serve one ravenous person or two more reasonable eaters: just enough for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow for a busy nurse.
Beach was happy to find that the kale wasn’t bitter. She immediately started thinking of other adaptations: more garlic in the beans, some nuts instead of the bread crumbs in the salad, and perhaps another little something to bump up the flavor even further.
Wouldn’t the raw kale be good with a little bacon? she asked.
Spoken like my kind of cook. Confident, that is.