Years ago when I first bit into a kale leaf, I grimaced. The tough texture and strong flavor did not endear the vegetable to me – and this leafy green did not appear on my shopping list again for years.
But today we are no longer limited to that one variety of curly leafed kale. Now we have Red Russian kale, white Russian kale (no resemblance to the delicious drink alas), lancinate kale and more!
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to give kale another look. Or another bite. I think you may find, like I did, that this nutrient-packed vegetable has earned a place on your dinner plate. And for its delightful flavor, not just because it’s good for you.
Now that we’ve wrapped up the Thanksgiving holiday, waved goodbye to our loved ones, and eaten up the last leftovers, perhaps you, like me, are looking to fill your fridge with some healthy fare. These next weeks are a challenge as we’re inundated with holiday sweets and treats presented by well-meaning co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances.
Well, hand out those excess cookies to the neighbor kids and put on a pot of kale!
What’s So Great About Kale?
I’m lucky enough that I need to only stroll into the backyard garden to clip my daily dose of this delicious green. The hardy vegetable is still growing with gusto here on the north coast of California. I love the fact that kale is still in the garden at Thanksgiving – and I can always bring a festive and creative kale dish to the Thanksgiving feast.
But, even if you don’t have a row of kale gracing your own garden, it’s generally easy to find at any supermarket at this time of year. And a bunch of kale won’t make too serious a dent in your wallet.
Kale isn’t just for the cooler time of year. Where ever you live, and whatever time of year it is – a serving of kale won’t let you down when it comes to supplying your body with necessary nutrients.
This leafy green gives you more nutritional value – with fewer calories – than just about any other food or vegetable!
It contains more than 45 different flavonoids – such as quercetin – which provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Because of this, eating your kale will do its part to help you limit the discomfort of chronic inflammations.
And of course, like many of its leafy green cousins, kale is high in calcium, providing similar amounts as that found in many dairy products. Some say that the calcium in greens is more assimilable by the body than that found in milk and other dairy products.
It also lowers cholesterol. Weirdly, though, its cholesterol-lowering properties are enhanced when the kale is steamed rather than eaten raw. Apparently when the greens have been steamed, their fiber components can bind together more effectively with bile acids in your digestive tract. The result of this binding process is a significant lowering of cholesterol levels.
However – this doesn’t mean you should skip the kale salad recipe below. It will still work to lower cholesterol when eaten raw.
Like many other vegetables in its family of crucifers, kale contains anti-cancer nutrients. Numerous scientific studies bear out this leafy green’s anti-oxidant and cancer-fighting properties.
Kale can regulate the detoxifying activities in our cells, and it contains more Vitamin K than other vegetables. Vitamin K is a key nutrient for regulating the body’s anti-inflammatory processes.
Just how does kale do all this stuff? Well, if you like to get geeky about the science (and want to find out lots more about kale’s nutritive components) – check out what a nutritional power punch that kale packs over here.
The Many Faces Of Kale
As I mentioned above, there are lots of varieties of kale. There’s curly kale (that original tougher variety – but don’t get me wrong, some people love this type of kale), dinosaur (also know as Lacinato or Tuscan) kale, the Russian red and white kales, and even an ornamental kale that looks pretty nice in a flower garden.
Lancinate or dinosaur kale features dark blue-green leaves with an embossed texture.It has a slightly sweeter and more delicate taste than other kale varieties and it’s my personal favorite. Luckily for me, it’s grown like a weed in our garden over the last few years. Before that though, I think the slugs got to enjoy more of it than we did!
Russian red is my next favorite, and it’s another delicate and lighter-tasting variety. The Russian white is similar. Even the original curly kale(which made me grimace lo those many years ago) can be pretty tasty and tender if it is picked early enough and cooked correctly.
Wondering which kale to try? The best thing to do is to experiment with the different varieties. You may need to visit a health food store rather than a conventional supermarket to find a selection of different kales. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have some garden space, check out some different variety of kale seedlings at your local nursery when it’s time to get planting.
Kale is a sturdy vegetable and it keeps exceptionally well in the fridge. Wrap it in a plastic or mesh bag and store in the vegetable crisper. When you’re ready to cook some up, wash each leaf well, and then remove the tough center stem with a sharp knife. The remaining leaves can be cut into whatever size pieces your recipe (or desire) calls for.
So, What’s The Best Way To Eat The Stuff?
I’m a little lazy in the kitchen, and I enjoy simple flavors, so I most often simply steam my daily kale serving – often brightening the flavor with a little lemon, or with some tamari soy sauce and nutritional yeast.
That’s the easiest way to cook it. Prep the leaves as described above, stick them in a steamer basket and cook till it bright green and completely wilted. Some folks think you need to cook the heck out of kale – like for 15 minutes or more – because of its reputation for toughness. Not so! I steam my kale for about 5-7 minutes and find that to be plenty. So experiment to find the perfect texture for you.
You can spiff up the basic steaming recipe by cooking the kale the same way I recommend for collards here. Basically you sautee some onions and garlic, then add the kale along with some broth. This gives the greens a more robust flavor and may go over better with more finicky vegetable eaters.
Chopped kale leaves add flavor, texture and nutrition to any vegetable soup or stir-fry as well. Or try some steamed with poached eggs and sautéed mushrooms. Yum!
My new favorite way to eat my kale is as a salad. It never would have occurred to me to eat kale raw – but my daughter Ciel introduced me to the idea of these salads, and wow! When you use the massage technique (outlined in recipe below) and let the greens marinate in the vinagrette for a short while, that kale is just as tender as when it’s been carefully sautéed!
And although the cholesterol-lowering properties might not be quite as strong, I’m sure the kale retains more of its vitamins and minerals in the raw form.
(Okay – this is just one option. The thing about kale salad, that I learned from my daughter, is that you can make it up with whatever you have in your fridge or pantry. I loved this version with the mangos and pumpkin seeds, but you can really just any flavor enhancing ingredients that strike your fancy at the moment. Try it with dried cranberries and walnuts, mess around with different versions of the vinagrette, or do a South-of-the-Border version with avocados, cilantro and sunflower seeds. Poke around on the web for ideas. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever followed any one recipe exactly. I mix and match from what I find.)
1 bunch kale, any variety, washed, de-stemmed, and sliced into very small pieces
1/2 – 1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil.
Coarse salt (Kosher is good)
2 teaspoons honey
Fresh ground black pepper
1 cup diced mango (about one mango per bunch of kale)
3-4 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
Place kale in large bowl, add the juice of 1/2 lemon, a drizzle of the oil and some coarse salt. Massage the kale leaves until they begin to wilt and soften – it’ll take a couple of minutes and the leaves will turn an even deeper green.
In a separate small bowl, whisk the remaining lemon, vinegar, honey and pepper. Pour in the olive oil, whisking as you go. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Pour the dressing over the kale and toss. Place the greens into a serving bowl and garnish with the mango and pumpkin seeds. Bon Appetit!
(Who knew that chips could actually be nutritious? You can find packages of these savory, healthy chips in health food stores for exorbitant prices. Why not just make your own?)
1 bunch kale, washed, de-stemmed, and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt, or seasoned salt, and/or other seasonings to taste
Dry off the kale pieces with a salad spinner or kitchen towel. Toss with the oil and salt and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 F or 170 C for about 10-15 minutes – until the edges are browned. Enjoy!