I’ve got a soft spot for books written by expats living in France. As someone who up and left her life in Australia and moved to Paris with not much idea what I was doing back in 1995 (pre-Internet, imagine!!) I’m always interested in reading about how others came to be in France. In Kristen Beddard’s case, she followed her husband. And like many expats, she went about her new life, a little restless after the initial glow of “being in Paris” wore off, looking for a “purpose” (along with learning French!). For Kristen, that purpose was to start a one-woman crusade to bring back what the French call a “forgotten vegetable” – kale!
Kristen’s recently published memoir – Bonjour Kale – tells how she missed kale (something she’d grown up eating) when she arrived in Paris and set about 1. finding it and 2. making it widely available (yes, single-handedly in a country where she didn’t really speak the language!). She was surprised to find out that many people didn’t know anything about this popular “super food” in France – indeed that it was classified as a “légume oublié” (forgotten vegetable) and that people didn’t even agree on what it should be called! Kristen launched The Kale Project, chronicling her quest to bring kale to France. Five years later, not only has she been widely acknowledged as responsible for the rebirth of kale in France (see her profile in the New York Times) but kale is everywhere on French menus!
It may seem like a very unorthodox way to make one’s mark in a new country but Kristen’s determination and passion for re-introducing kale to the French diet is admirable. Working from home, with limited (language) resources, her story starts with spotting mustard greens (another rarity in the world of French greens) at a market and approaching the stall holder to chat about kale. I’m not going to reveal the charming ups and downs of Kristen’s quest but suffice to say, her tale is tinged with frustration (as someone who has lived in France and who regularly deals with French bureaucracy, I cannot even imagine pulling off what Kristen has at the same time as learning the actual language!) but in the end, perseverance and passion win.
Bonjour Kale also features recipes with wonderful back stories – both Kristen’s and French chefs (including a Michelin-starred chef). As soon as I saw Kristen’s recipe for “Kale Frisée Solo Salad”, I knew we were kindred spirits! I spend a fair amount of time in France on my own and these type of salads are what I live on. Of course, when I was living there, there was no kale to be found so my salads were mixed greens only. Here, as I shopped for ingredients to make the salad last weekend, I could find plenty of kale but no frisée – go figure! Kristen tops her salad with a poached egg or two but as I was serving this alongside a main dish, I left the egg off. But DO make this for a solo supper sometime soon. Pair it with a crisp glass of rosé.
Kale Frisée Solo Salad
Kristen says: "There is a beautiful moment when the frisée salad first arrives. The poached egg sits gently on top, waiting to be punctured open, the yolk running down the valleys of the lettuce leaves. Frisée is a lettuce with curly tendrils that starts in shades of white near the roots and becomes a fresh green toward the tips. A member of the chicory family, it is cousins with radicchio and Belgian endive and has a slightly bitter taste. In traditional French frisée salads, the dressing and egg yolk create a warm creaminess that takes some of the edge off the bitterness. When I make my own version, I like to fry the shallots in the grease from the lardons and add a few halves cherry tomatoes if they're in season."
- 1 cup (30g) kale, washed, destemmed and finely chopped
- 1/4 head (120g) frisée lettuce, washed and broken into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (original style, without visible mustard seeds)
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/8 pound (50g) lardons (or substitute bacon cut into pieces)
- 1 shallot, chopped (optional)
- 1 to 2 eggs, poached so yolk stays runny*
- Put the prepared greens on a plate.
- To make the dressing, mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake well.
- Add the dressing to the greens and toss lightly.
- Heat a small pan on medium heat.
- Fry the lardons in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crispy.
- Remove the lardons, setting them on a plate with a paper towel to drain the excess grease, and cover to keep warm.
- If using the shallots, add them to the pan, and fry them in the remaining lardon grease for 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened.
- Fill a small saucepan ¾ of the way with water and cover with a lid.
- Boil the water. When the water is boiling, crack an egg into the water, being careful not to break the yolk.
- Boil (poach) the egg for 2 minutes, until the egg white is cooked but the yolk still appears runny.
- Top the plate of lettuce with the lardons, shallots, cherry tomatoes, and poached egg, being careful not to break the yolk.
- Sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper, and serve.
Bonjour Kale is a sweet story of how one American not only adjusts to life in France, but finds her place. Perhaps not in the way she initially imagined, but making her mark in a way that many kale-loving French are certainly thankful for! If you’ve ever lived in France, even for a short amount of time, this book will make you nostalgic for France but if not, at the very least, this will make you yearn for a trip to France. Where, no doubt, you’ll have your eye out for kale too!!
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Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of Bonjour Kale and opinions are, as always 100% my own. I was provided with a copy of Bonjour Kale courtesy Kristen Beddard/ Sourcebooks to give away.