Finding My Way Back to Cooking: Sauteed Kale with Parmesan and Croutons

My mom died in May.

It was a good death, which sounds like a strange thing to say, almost an oxymoron. But a peaceful death, at home, far from scary rhythms of hospitals, in her bed, surrounded by her family, her dogs, her horse and her cat. I believe that she felt all the love the room when she finally let go, and the pain lines etched on her face eased at last. The funeral was lovely too, in a tiny white country church, filled with friends and family who traveled from far to celebrate her life. We cried, we laughed, we drank and ate a lot. My mom would have loved the dinners we had in her honor.

Then I came home.

The grief hit me hard. I am an orphan now, and even though I’m in my 40s, I feel unmoored, alone and untethered. I’ve lived in different countries from my parents since the middle of high school, but we were always close. Even from afar, I felt their eyes on me, their concern, their care, their pride. But no more.

Only Netflix made me feel better. I became completely addicted to Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman, an early 90s relic that I’d missed while at college. I couldn’t get enough. Every day I longed for my pajamas, and a few hours of escape on the Colorado frontier. Everything else, even cooking, just felt exhausting.

When my dad died, cooking was therapeutic, but this time, I had no energy. My mom taught me how to cook, and just picking up a wooden spoon made me ache with grief. Our meals were on auto-pilot. Supermarket roast chicken. Pasta with canned sauce. Homemade sloppy joes if it was a good day. The kids were happy, but I hated it. Cooking is such a huge part of who I am, it was like I was missing a part of myself, in addition to missing my mom.

Four months later, I’m beginning to feel like myself again. I quit my very part-time French teaching position and got a different job with more hours, new skills, new challenges. My mom would have been so proud. I started to emerge from my cocoon of grief, and started to feel the urge to cook again.

Cooking is just like working out. You can’t just turn it back on. I needed to new inspiration, new recipes in order to get back into cooking shape.

Leite’s Culinaria has been my go to website for inspiration. Their newsletter hits my email inbox and my mouth starts to water. Their photography is dazzling and their recipes are filled with flavor and good ingredients. This week, I took their recipe for Thai-Style chicken skewers and made them with bone-in pork chops instead. They were UNBELIEVABLE. So flavorful.

Cuddling up with Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life has also been gentle yet powerful inspiration. I modified her Kale with parmesan recipe and it was something I will crave. A new recipe of comfort food that’s good for you. Just what my soul and body needed.

Sauteed Kale with Parmesan and Croutons
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Who knew that kale could taste like comfort food? Kale is transformed with the help of fish sauce and parmesan, two truly magical ingredients.
Recipe type: Weeknight Cooking
Cuisine: American
Serves: serves 4
  • 2 cups of Kale, shredded and cleaned
  • 1 sweet onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of fish sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of shredded parmesan
  • ¼ cup of cheesy croutons
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  1. Shred and clean the kale into thin strips. Chop the onion.
  2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the onion and the fish sauce. Sautee for 5-7 minutes until soft and glistening. Add the salt, pepper, and ancho chili powder.
  3. Add the kale and toss to coat with the onion mixture. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, until it begins to yield.
  4. Remove from heat and put in serving bowl. Add the parmesan and bread crumbs. Toss vigorously. Serve warm.

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