Kale ‘meatballs’ evoke fond memories of Yale

With their final semester cut short, many of Yale College’s 2020 graduates are finding comfort in their favorite Yale Hospitality recipes.
Illustration off a person cooking kale meatballs in a pan, with the recipe card.

(Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

There were certain things Yale seniors graduating last spring expected to miss when their final semester was cut short due to the pandemic: Spring Fling, Senior Week, a commencement full of pomp and circumstance. 

But the kale meatballs?

Once students had relocated to homes and apartments away from campus, many found what they missed most were the shared moments with classmates and friends in their Yale dining hall — and the small comforts of a favorite dish.

They adjusted to Zoom classes and virtual events. But how, they wondered, would they replace the foods that had come to define their undergraduate days — the grilled three-cheese sandwich, the chicken and white bean chili, the chicken tenders? 

When I knew I was not going back to school, a lot changed,” said Tyler Bleuel ’20 B.S., who studied in Beijing and Taipei in 2019 as part of Yale’s Richard U. Light Fellowship. “But at some point, it hit me: I’ll never have the kale and feta meatballs again.” 

The meatless “meatballs” are made with sautéed, finely chopped kale mixed with breadcrumbs, feta, eggs, and seasoning, formed in balls, rolled in flour, and fried. 

Faced with a future without this dining hall favorite, Bleuel decided, on a whim, to send a message to Yale Hospitality on Instagram asking if they would share the recipe. To his delight, they did.

The night before graduation, they emailed me the recipe,” he said. “It was the best graduation gift.” 

He’s currently living in New York City, where he is about to start a remote position at Google, and has cooked the “meatballs” a couple times, pan frying instead of deep frying. They didn’t taste exactly the same, he said, but close enough to fill the meatball-shaped void. 

Tyler Bleuel ’20 fries up kale ‘meatballs’ à la Yale Hospitality.
Tyler Bleuel ’20 fries up kale ‘meatballs’ à la Yale Hospitality.

When Bleuel posted his success story on Twitter, he learned he was not the only student missing a favorite Yale Hospitality dish. 

For Helena Bui ’20 B.A. nothing topped Yale’s Chicken Tender Thursday. “I really miss it,” she said, “It’s one of the experiences that makes Yale Yale.” 

Today, Bui is a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Framingham, Massachusetts. A year ago she served as a freshman counselor, or “froco,” and she says that some of her fondest Yale memories took place in the Pauli Murray dining hall, talking with friends and first-years. Every Thursday, she would send a group chat reminding friends that it was tender time. 

Christelle Ramos, senior manager of marketing and communications for Yale Hospitality, said she learned about the campus-famous chicken tenders not long after she started in her role in March 2020, two weeks before Yale staff went remote. She has since received enough requests for the recipe that she now keeps it handy. As requests for other popular items have come in, she’s added them to her digital recipe file, scaled down to standard serving sizes. They include the pear and olive oil cardamom cake, the kale and feta meatballs, and the grilled three-cheese sandwich. 

Everyone is home missing their daily meals from the dining halls and cafés,” Ramos said. “We’re happy to see the enthusiasm, and we’re more than happy to share.” 

This semester, undergraduates living on campus are able to access the dining halls after they’ve completed the mandatory quarantine period. However, food options are limited within the takeout only model, Ramos said. Dining halls reopened for “dine in” access last Friday, she said, with plexiglass dividing the tables and ongoing enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing measures. 

Madeleine Hutchins ’19 B.A., who is currently on leave but will be attending Yale Divinity School, said cooking for herself has given her a new appreciation for the dining options at Yale. Her favorite dish was the chicken and white bean chili, but, she added: “It was not a popular opinion. They stopped making it my junior year.” 

For those two years, she considered asking for the chili recipe. At home during the pandemic, she decided to do it. “I thought: ‘What do I have to lose?’ I’m trying to do meal prep, and stews freeze well.” 

Yale Hospitality shared the recipe, pulled from the archives, in its original five-gallon, 106-serving format.

Undaunted, Hutchins made a pot earlier this month, using leeks from her backyard garden in Brooklyn, Connecticut. “It was not the same,” she said, “But that was user error — I didn’t have the right proportions of some ingredients. It was still tasty, and I’ll certainly be trying it again.”

The recipes are making the rounds on social media: a lot of students and recent alumnae are eager to recreate a taste of Yale at home.

People might not think about specific foods being a big part of their college experience,” said Bleuel, “But we ate three meals a day at these dining halls. It’s the food itself, but it’s also the association of these foods with memories.”

Dining halls reopened for “dine in” access last Friday, with plexiglass dividing the tables and ongoing enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing measures.

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Media Contact

Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643