Thursday, November 13, 2014

More than the sum of its parts

I like the way my friend Melanie would say it when anyone tried to organize, emphasizing the end: pot-luck. As in, a "pot-luck" is by nature a luck-oriented ordeal. It is a meal where people convene and are asked to bring and edible "something." But there is always the chance that it won't quite work. There may only be salads. There may only be chips and dip. There may be no magic at all.

kale and delicata salad with pomegranate and rosemary

I brought this kale salad to a potluck last week, and I have to admit that I flitted about like a six-foot faery when anyone said a kind word about it. I used to make this sort of thing every other day. A salad, with a green something and a hearty something, fruit, herbs, and a scattering of nuts or seeds. That's how I got through my days. It's how I got through my nights. It's how I ate lunch. And often enough the salads were inspired. But for some reason, it's been quite some time since I have pulled together a salad or a stir-fry or a one-bowl-meal with the flippancy of what's-for-dinner and produced such a cohesive outcome. I mean, this is salad, people. I worked olive oil into the leaves, not meaning. But a few key people I like liked it, too. So that is something.

In fact, this particular potluck was a shindig of sorts to celebrate the release of Wendy Ortiz's brave new book, Excavation. We ate and talked and offered question after question to Wendy, who managed an imitable cogency, clarity, humility, and openness throughout the night. Sometimes writers are not the best people to inspire in the public, spoken word realm. Sometimes, we writers should shy away from speaking engagements and stick to the writing itself. Not Wendy. It was an evening of warm, authored magic.

Which is funny, because I signed up in the same spirit I made the kale salad. The event was organized by poet, teacher, and writer, Rae Gouirand, for her workshop attendees past and present. I got the update back in August, and I jumped to say yes. Author's night? Count me in. Wendy who? (For shame!) I trust Rae. Kale salad? Sure. Use up that pomegranate. La-teedee Dee, throw in some rosemary.

Potluck, indeed. Perhaps the best seeming luck is neither pot-luck nor a result of a puppeteer. It is a convergence of energies, of souls or ingredients or stories, separate and even ad hoc but somehow still connected. And I don't want to take this too far - it is just salad and a reading - but sometimes synergy happens. The gathering is more than the sum of its parts. And that is the luck - that good things come together, and make sense, for no apparent reason.

If you would like to know more about Wendy Ortiz's book, try this review, then go to her site. If you want to know more about Rae Gouirand's writing or workshops, start here.

Raw Kale and Delicata Salad with Pomegranate and Rosemary

2 small delicata squash

1 bunch lacinato ("dino") kale
olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt plus more and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, minced
seeds from 1 small pomegranate*
1/4 cup toasted pepitas, 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash and dry the delicata squash. Cut off the ends, split lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds.

Slice squash into half moons about 1/3-inch wide. Toss in a large roasting pan with a couple three-finger pinches of salt, some freshly cracked black pepper, and generous pour of olive oil, about 2-3 tablespoons worth. Bake, uncovered in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes - the sides touching the pan should be roasted and golden. Turn gently, taking care not to break them apart and bake on the other side for 10-15 minutes, or until fork tender and toasty.

While the squash bakes, prepare the kale. Wash, dry, and strip the leaves from the tough center ribs, and cut into approximate 2-inch squares. Put the kale in a large bowl and drizzle over a tablespoon of the olive oil, a grinding of black pepper, and a tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Wash your hands well and dry them.

Massage the kale for a couple of minutes, being sure to work the oil into each leaf. This softens the structure, making the kale seem almost cooked. The leaves should have lost their structure and be glossy by the end.

Now is a good time to seed that pomegranate.

When the squash is ready, pound the garlic, rosemary, butter, and salt together with a mortar and pestle, or, crush and stir with the back of a wooden spoon in a cast iron skillet. When mashed and combined, transfer the mixture to a skillet (if it isn't already there) and heat over a low flame until melted and fragrant. Pour this over the kale, massage again for a minute, and taste. Adjust the seasoning: too pucker-y, add oil; too bland, add salt; too boring, add another garlic clove or pepper; not enough rosemary, add it minced.

Layer the kale and squash and pomegranate seeds on a serving platter, and top with pepitas. This is best still warm, but it travels well and holds its own at room temperature. Enjoy!

*A note on seeding pomegranates: To extract the seeds without excessive thwacking or bursting of juices, try this: slice off the north and south poles, score a cross at each of these ends, following the crossed path all the way around. You are making quarters. Then, at the north end of the pomegranate pole, insert the knife tip into the center of the cross, lining up the knife with one of the meridians, and twist the knife slightly. Repeat with the crossing meridian. This second prying should pop open the pomegranate with a minimal amount of seed loss, and you will have four quarters to roll seeds from into a big bowl.


  1. So glad to have this dish commemorated! I'm sure I'll be making it at least a dozen times this winter. xoxo