Kale a hardy, beautiful green and packed with nutrients
Kale has gotten a lot of press in recent years as a nutrient-loaded food, the darling of the local-food craze and a versatile green that can be used raw, steamed, in soups or even toasted into chips.
There’s even another reason I like kale — it doesn’t mind a frost.
That means that this time of year, when the garden is dead and done, I still have fresh kale and its cousin, collard greens.
Kale is beautiful. We have three kinds growing — curly green, curly purple and a kind called Lacinato that has dark green, long straight leaves, almost like huge feathers. It’s my new favorite kind.
Not only does kale stand up to frost (truth be told, it wilts in frost but perks up again), it actually tastes better after frost. The cold brings out a touch of sweetness.
Why is kale so healthy? It’s basically the king of the dark green leafy vegetables, rich in vitamin K, folic acid, beta carotene (which your liver converts to vitamin A), calcium, flavonoids, vitamin C, lutein (which supports eye health and prevents macular degeneration), fiber — it’s a long, long list. The antioxidants in kale are the kinds thought to have anti-cancer benefits, the fiber lowers blood pressure and it’s an anti-inflammatory.
And it tastes good.
You can steam kale — five minutes is plenty. You can cut out the harder center ribs or leave them in for crunch. You can chop it fine or slice into thin ribbons. Serve it steamed with butter, or sauté it, as my Italian friend does, in garlic and olive oil.
Don’t overcook it — like its cruciferous relations (cabbage, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts, bok choy) if you overcook it it turns dark and smells sulfurous.
You can add kale to rice — toss chopped kale to steam with the rice in the last few minutes before the rice is done. Then toss together, and add toasted nuts or sesame seeds.
You can use kale instead of cabbage in bubble and squeak — boiled potatoes with sliced cabbage thrown in at the end.
You can also use kale raw as a salad. Because it’s tougher and chewier than, say, lettuce, you need to massage the oil right into the leaves. That softens the kale to salad consistency, but it still holds up in the fridge for a few days.
I slice the kale into thin ribbons, put it in a big bowl, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over it and sprinkle a bit of salt. Then I use both hands to massage the oil and salt into the leaves, making sure to get to all the kale.
After that you can leave the kale in the fridge (covered) until you’re ready to use it. It makes a good salad all by itself. Or you can toss in any of your favorite salad fixings — tomatoes, peppers, cukes. Toasted nuts and seeds work well, and my sister like to add something sweet, like raisins, dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds.
Some people use a squeeze of lemon or lime with the olive oil. You can add cheese — a dry aged cheese like Parmesan or Assagio works. Or go Greek with feta and olives.
Even my son, the pickiest eater in the family, cleans his plate when presented with a kale salad.
A couple of weeks ago, he became concerned for some reason that he wasn’t getting enough vitamin C. Maybe they were learning about scurvy in health class.
“Mom,” he said, “I haven’t had an orange in months.”
When I told him that a serving of kale has twice as much vitamin C as an orange, he was visibly relieved.
“OK,” he said. “Then I’m alright.”
“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at email@example.com.