Meatless Monday: Kale-Crazy With Chad Sarno

Chad Sarno, the vegan chef who created the sexy plant-based recipes for Kris Carr's bestselling "Crazy Sexy Kitchen" makes "a beautiful vegetarian bolognese or vegan gnocchi," but what he really loves is kale salad. "I have a true appreciation for greens," he says.

His young daughter AJ does too, possibly because Daddy turned her on to green smoothies when she was a toddler. His secret? Giving them to her "in a dark sippy cup. It works for adults, too."

Sarno, chef and culinary educator for Whole Foods' Health Starts Here program is on a mission to "share information and culinary knowledge about helping people take control of their health." The easiest way to do that? "Get in your greens every day -- steamed, sauteed, or in a salad or smoothie. They're incredibly versatile." Not to mention incredibly good for you. Kale, chard, spinach and other leafy greens are motherlodes of calcium, antioxidants and vitamins.

Good health and good food are intertwined for Austin-based Sarno. He comes from a gregarious, Italian cooking-obsessed family, but grew up as an asthmatic kid who spent much of his childhood sucking on inhalers and "going in and out of hospitals."

When he was in high school, a family friend told him a dairy-free diet might help relieve his symptoms. Sarno stopped eating dairy, "and in six months, I was off all my inhalers. A healthy diet can affect your health -- who'd a' thunk, right?" Sarno laughs. "I say I was blessed with asthma because I don't know if I'd have found a healthier path without it."

He and longtime Crazy Sexy friend Kris Carr, the gorgeous cancer survivor, bonded over their passion for "a clean plant-based diet," but more than that, they bonded over grandmothers. "Our greatest culinary influence was our grandmas. We connected on that."

Sarno dedicated "Crazy Sexy Kitchen" to his Nana, who loved bustling around the kitchen, "cooking, feeding everyone around her." But she also suffered serious diet-related health issues. "My Nana passed away while I was writing the book," he says, softly.

So don't tell Sarno it's too hard to move towards a more plant-based diet. "There's no excuses." From cookbooks to videos, "There's a flood of knowledge, so many options, so much innovation." At Natural Products Expo West, the number of companies working with "raw foods, whole foods and ancient grains just blew me away. It's become more appreciated from a culinary angle as well." Thanks, in part, to Sarno himself, who created stellar raw vegan dishes at Saf in London, Istanbul and Munich.

What he advocates, though, is empowering people with basic kitchen smarts. "Shop in bulk. Buy seasonal. Buy local. Simple scratch cooking. When you're working with bold, fresh flavors, making clean vegetarian food, eating real food, you can't go wrong."

It's the kind of cooking he does with his daughter. "Getting her involved in the process has been amazing. I'll say, 'We're going to make fresh pasta and sauce today,' and we'll go to the farmers market and get purple carrots and cherry tomatoes for marinara. She loves it." So does Sarno. He makes his Nana's recipe. "I used to ask, 'Nana, what's in this? What's in that?' She'd always say, 'The greatest ingredient is love.'"

For Sarno, greens are a very close second. "I just eat what makes me feel good," he says. "I'm not saying I never eat a vegan sloppy joe, but I'm still going to have greens."

Crazy Sexy Kale

from "Crazy Sexy Kitchen"
by Kris Carr, recipe by Chad Sarno

Kale is the supreme king of the leafies and the ruler of this prevention-rocks salad. Serve it solo, with your favorite cooked grain, or wrapped in nori or a gluten-free tortilla. Crown your kale creation by adding chopped fresh herbs or your choice of diced vegetables. If you want to be fancy, serve the salad wrapped in a cucumber slice.

1 bunch kale, any variety, shredded by hand
1 cup diced bell peppers, red, yellow, or orange
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 avocados, pit removed and chopped
2 tablespoons flax oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
Sea salt, to taste
Pinch of cayenne, to taste

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Massage and mix with your hands to "wilt" the kale and cream the avocado (this should only take a minute or two), and serve.

Serves 2 to 3.