Kale is Enjoying Greater Popularity

With the current interest in healthy eating, kale is enjoying increased popularity. It originated in the eastern Mediterranean but is consumed in many countries. It is low in calories and virtually fat free, a good source of calcium and an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Also present in smaller amounts are vitamin E and the minerals iron, zinc, magnesium and folate as well as important dietary fibre. Kale is also rich in phytochemicals that are thought to have disease-fighting properties.

Kale is a non-heading form of the cabbage family, easily identified by its frilly leaves, arranged in a loose bouquet formation. The plant comes in many varieties and colors. The most common variety is deep green in color, but others are yellow-green, red or purple. . The colored varieties or “flowering” kale – sometimes called salad savoy – are most often grown for ornamental purposes. They are edible but have a stronger flavor than regular kale.

Keep kale chilled. If left in a warm environment it will wilt and become bitter. Look for a fresh green color – leaves should not be yellowed, browned or wilted. Choose smaller bunches as they will be tenderer and have a milder flavor than bunches with larger, coarser leaves.

The longer you store kale, the stronger its flavor becomes, with its mild, cabbage like flavour becoming more piquant and bitter. Use within a day or two of purchase, or picking, to ensure peak freshness. Wrap unwashed kale in damp paper towels, put in a plastic bag and store in the vegetable crisper.

To prepare kale, start by thoroughly washing in ample amounts of cool water. Remove any grit and sand clinging to leaves and stems. Trim off any roots and then separate the leaves. Swish them around in a sink or basin full of cool water. Do not soak. Remove leaves, making sure that the sand and grit is left behind. Repeat process if necessary.

Very coarse stems should be removed and discarded. Thin and tender stems can be cooked with the leaves. Thicker stems can be chopped up and cooked for a few minutes before the leaves are added.

The key to good kale is cooking it as quickly as possible. In soups and other brothy dishes however, it may need a little longer to allow the flavor to mellow. It may also be necessary to blanch or pre-cook the kale to soften it.

Cooking Kale

Blanching
Drop prepared kale into a large pot of boiling water. Cook just until wilted, for 5-15 minutes, depending on how tender or coarse the kale is. Drain thoroughly and cool before squeezing out any excess moisture. The cooling process can be hastened by running cold water over the blanched kale.

Braising 
Braising is a great way to give kale a richer flavour.

  • Remove tough stems. In large saucepan, bring about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) of water to boil; add 1 bunch of kale. Return to boil; simmer, covered for 3 to 4 minutes or until limp.
  • Drain well and chop coarsely.
  • In same saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cooking oil over medium heat. Add 1 crushed clove of garlic and cook about 1 minute or until softened.
  • Add kale. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute until heated through. (Chicken or vegetable broth can be added to the pan. Cook until the broth evaporates.)
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Sautéing 
Kale can be saut̩ed after blanching or without blanching. If it is blanched first, all it takes is a little oil, 2-3 tablespoons (30 Р45 mL) for a large bunch and quick heating in a large saucepan. For smaller amounts, cut back on the oil accordingly. Experiment to find out what works best in your kitchen.

If you’d rather sauté without added fat, broth substitutes nicely. In a non-stick saucepan, put enough chicken or vegetable stock to generously cover the bottom. For extra seasoning, add finely chopped garlic, onions, leeks or shallots. Bring to a boil and toss in prepared kale. Lower temperature to medium-high and simmer until kale is limp and wilted but not mushy, for 3 to 15 minutes. You may need to add more stock to the pan as it evaporates.

Steaming 
Tender young kale can be steamed using only the water left on the leaves after washing. Toss into a non-stick saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat until wilted. More mature kale can be steamed whole or coarsely chopped. Cover and cook until wilted in a non-stick saucepan with 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) of water in the bottom. Shake the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking. Time required will vary from 2 to 15 minutes. Kale can also be steamed using a vegetable steamer over boiling water.

Microwaving
With results similar to blanching, microwaving kale is quick and easy. Place washed and prepared kale in a microwaveable dish, cover loosely and cook on high until wilted. Do not dry the kale before placing in the microwave. The water left on the leaves will help them cook.

Easy Ways to Use Kale

Breakfast:

  • Put chopped kale into your morning frittata or omelette.
  • Add to quiches.

Lunch:

  • Add kale to hearty soups
  • Toss tender young leaves into a salad of mixed greens.
  • Use cooked kale as an ingredient in pasta salads.
  • Substitute tender young leaves for lettuce in wraps and sandwiches.

Dinner:

  • Liven up pasta dishes with braised kale.
  • Use in soups, stews and casseroles for added color and nutrients.
  • Seasoned braised kale is a great accompaniment to roast pork.
  • Toss it into stir-fries.

Substitute kale for spinach in any of your favorite recipes but remember it will have to be cooked a little longer to obtain the same soft texture.

Sausage with Kale and Potatoes

A single pot is all you’ll need to cook up this sturdy, down-to-earth stew.

2 cups sliced or coarsely chopped kale 500 mL
3/4 lb kielbasa or other smoked sausage 340 g
1 large onion, chopped 1
1 clove garlic, minced 1
2 large baking pototoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch (6 mm) slices 2
2 cups homemade or canned chicken broth 500 mL
1 tbsp balsamic or white vinegar 15 mL
1 tsp salt (optional) 5 mL
1/2 tsp pepper 2 mL
1 – 14 1/2 oz can whole tomatoes with liquid 1 – 398 mL

Rinse kale in several changes of water; remove and discard stems. Slice or coarsely chop leaves. Place sausage in unheated Dutch oven. Over low heat, cook until meat begins to render fat, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium; cook until meat is lightly browned around edges. Remove sausage from pot. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon (15 mL) drippings.

Add onion, garlic and potatoes to pot. Cook and stir gently until onion is transparent. Stir in kale; cover and cook about 2 minutes. Return sausage to pot. Stir in broth, vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer gently 1 hour, stirring in tomatoes during last 30 minutes.

By Alma Copeland, Home Economist

Source : Low-Fat Soul by Jonell Nash, Ballantine Books, 1996.