The first time I met kale, it appeared as a decoration under my meal on a plate at a fancy restaurant. Nobody even suggested that it was edible. This was 30 years ago, though, back when people ate for enjoyment, not sophistication. Now kale is served everywhere and people purport to love its bitter taste, texture, and credit score. A few years ago, quinoa (the seeds of a grain crop) became all the rage. I think that was because only a few people knew how to pronounce its name correctly, which gave them the right to sneer at those who didn’t. Quinoa was probably popularized by the descendants of the people who decided how to pronounce the names of the cities and towns in Massachusetts. The founders dropped syllables and consonants and altered emphasis so that only natives would know how to say the names, therefore ensuring them ample sneering opportunities. Compounding Massachusetts-residents’ unwholesome pronunciation is the otherworldly accent employed by residents of Boston and its outlying areas. My family and I were once in Boston and we asked two men walking nearby where we could find a certain store. One of them said that he didn’t know, since he didn’t live in Boston-proper. I asked him where he lived and he said, “Not sure.” My husband, son, and I looked at him (gaped, actually). He and his friend stared back. “You’re not sure where you live?” I asked. He then took his index finger and rubbed it horizontally up and down over his lips as he reiterated, “Not sure,” only this time it came out as “North Shore.”
Anyway, as they say (with a different pronunciation in Massachusetts, no doubt), I digress. A number of years ago, I heard a morning talk-show host expounding on the wonders of edamame (immature soy beans in their pods). According to the pretty, perky host, there was no better, fat-free, delicious snack to be had. For a brief spell, edamame was the “it” vegetable, but its reign lasted for about as long as it took for people to learn how to say it. Now it appears in stir-fry recipes (along with its relative, tofu, which enjoyed its own glory days many years earlier), but you don’t see people wild-eyed and fevered over it. Kale will probably meet the same fate, sooner rather than later, I hope. Broccoli rabe and cauliflower are another story; these are two formerly ordinary vegetables that rapidly ascended the food ladder. Not long ago, broccoli rabe became the vegetable of the posh and wannabes, which perplexed my Italian relatives, who have been eating it forever. When I first tasted it, before it was well-known, I shuddered at its bitterness. Not long after, bitter was in style. Any dinner party worth its centerpiece featured the wretched vegetable. Over the last few years, broccoli rabe has lost its panache and has been relegated back to Italian dinner tables, where there is so much food that nobody (except perhaps your sister-in-law) questions why you didn’t help yourself to any. (If you are asked, tell your sister-in-law that it was the first thing that you served yourself and, because it was so delicious, you ate it first, and licked the plate.)
As for cauliflower, it, too, has been around forever. However, its blandness used to be disguised with mouth-watering cheese or cream sauces. Now, inexplicably, it’s appreciated for itself. Cauliflower is easily enough avoided on a platter of crudités, but when it shows up as a roasted side dish, there’s no sidestepping it. Unless there happens to be a dog with an undiscerning palate under the table, I’d advise resorting to childhood methods: cut it up into tiny pieces and spread them around your plate so that it looks like you’ve eaten most of it. You could also be an adult about it and actually eat it. That way, you’ll be able to discuss its impact on your taste buds using the inappropriate adjectives favored by wine aficionados.
So, what’s the next must-serve-or-talk-about-first item on the menu? There are only so many animals, and since most of them have been discovered, it’s doubtful that a new meat will surface. Therefore, gourmands and their imitators should be trend-spotting in the grain and vegetable categories. My money’s on an ancient grain with an exotic name, but parsnips are also high on my shortlist. What exactly is a parsnip, you ask? North Shore.