Kale: The Unwieldy Superfood (July 20, 2013)

For my July 20 article about the best ways to prepare kale, Kale: The Unwieldy Superfood, either click here or keep reading!

 

The food world is just like any other — it is full of trends. Some stay, some go and some are undeniably bigger and farther-reaching than the rest. At the moment, Kale is bell bottoms and platform pumps and oversized sunglasses, all rolled into one.

In other words, it is enormously popular right now.

A member of the cabbage family, the leafy green is without a doubt exceptionally good for you. Kale sits atop the vegetable hierarchy — each leaf boasts an amount of nutrients that put plain old lettuce to shame. Cultivated for over 2,000 years, kale has 45 different flavonoids, is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and reduces the risk for five different types of cancer. It also detoxifies, lowers cholesterol and aids in bile excretion, and while one cup of kale has 1,328% of your daily vitamin K needs, it only takes up 2% of your daily recommended caloric intake.

It is also incredibly tough. It’s chewy, and can taste a bit like you’ve put a paper towel in your mouth. And despite its popularity and nutrient-rich fame, many people are at a loss for exactly how to eat it.

Last week, when in the checkout line at the grocery store, an older woman asked me, “Do you have a magic trick for preparing that vegetable?” She pointed to my kale bunches. “It is so good for you, but I just have no idea what to do with it.”

By the time I was halfway through my answer, she had summoned both her friend and her husband to listen to my advice. They seemed not only appreciative, but genuinely surprised by my answers.

This impromptu cooking lesson in aisle 5 prompted me share my tricks for getting kale into my diet. Try one (or all!) of these, and before you know it, you’ll be buying kale by the pound. And don’t forget, this superfood grows extremely well in this part of the world! Harvested in the fall (around the same time as squash and cabbage), it’s easy to grow and produces a large yield … try throwing some of it in your garden before it’s too late!

In a salad: Unless you’re a black belt in kale consumption, I’d not recommend using a fully grown kale leaf as a salad green. The chewiness of an ‘adult’ kale leaf does not lend itself well to traditional salads — trust me, I’ve tried with very unhappy results.

Don’t count it out for your salad needs just yet, though! I suggest two possible solutions. First off, you could try baby kale in your salad. Fully grown spinach and baby spinach is a fair comparison in this case; the baby leaves are more tender, less tough and somewhat sweeter in taste. The same goes for kale. The young, wee leaves pack the same nutrient-dense punch as the more common large leaves, but are tender enough for a mixed salad. Alternatively, try a chopped kale salad. Remove the spine from the centre of the leaf, and finely dice the kale. I recommend pairing it with a chopped herb, such as cilantro or basil, before throwing it in your tossed salad. You won’t believe what a difference pre-chopping the greens make in the texture, taste and ‘eatability’ of your salad.

In a smoothie: I know, I know. ‘Green’ smoothies are off-putting to a lot of people. I do believe the word ‘yuck’ came out of my mother’s mouth when she first saw me take a wheatgrass shot, and very few people love the idea of drinking celery and spinach juice. But including greens, especially kale, in your smoothies doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. I suggest making a more traditional smoothie, including ingredients like frozen fruit, almond milk, vanilla and protein powder, and adding about a cup of chopped kale. Don’t forget to remove the spine! Blend thoroughly; perhaps a bit longer than you would a normal smoothie, to insure that you fully incorporate the kale. You honestly won’t even know the kale is there; this is a fantastic way to sneak greens into your diet. I gave my very skeptical sister-in-law this tip, and she wrote to tell me that she ‘couldn’t believe’ the results —you can’t taste the ‘green’ even if you’re trying to. The only word of warning? Your smoothie likely won’t be the loveliest colour.

In a soup: It’s about 42 C with the humidex as I write this, so the last thing I’ll be cooking anytime soon is soup. But summer (sadly) only lasts so long, and when the cooler weather comes, so does our collective cravings for soup.

Kale is a fantastic addition to many classic soups. Removing the spine, dicing it and adding it to a traditional minestrone or Italian wedding soup is another great way to ‘sneak’ greens into your diet. I’m a big proponent of this method, as it is far easier and more sustainable than eating cup after cup of raw greens. Just be careful not to inadvertently turn the kale to mush; if the soup is going to be on the stove all day, only add the kale an hour or two before dinnertime.

Steamed: Steaming your kale is sort of the path of least resistance. On a weekday night, when I’m jammed for time and want a quick fix for my greens, I’ll mix together some kale, Swiss chard and spinach, and steam them in a big pot. It’s an easy, quick, no-muss, no-fuss way to tenderize your greens. While it isn’t the most adventurous or exciting method, it does the trick and can make a lovely bed of greens for grilled fish or chicken. Plus, you can easily add salt and a splash of lemon juice to liven the greens up for your taste buds.

Sauteed: Another good weeknight vegetable trick, sauteeing kale with a dash of olive oil, salt and a minced clove of garlic makes for a tasty and nutritious side dish. Try adding other vegetables like red peppers and mushrooms to jazz up your dinner plate!

Blanched: If you prefer your greens on the less-cooked side, blanching your kale might be a good solution. Simply boil a pot of water and add your kale for no more than 30 seconds. Voila, kale without the toughness!

Grilled: Though this might seem unexpected, grilling kale is my favourite method of preparation — especially this time of year! Simply cut the spine out of your kale leaves, throw them in a bow and lightly coat with olive oil and sea salt. Throw ’em on the grill for three to five minutes; remember to occasionally flip, lest you end up with burnt kale.

Or you could try … Molly’s Rockin’ Kale Chips.

A fun and nutritious answer to potato chips, kale chips will make even children kale enthusiasts. Easy to make and versatile, the only downside to kale chips is that they don’t store well. That doesn’t seem to be a problem, though, as they usually disappear in a flash! This recipe is for salt and vinegar (as that is my potato chip flavour of choice), but feel free to experiment with whatever flavours suit you. I’ve tried paprika, plain salt … even maple! The kale chip world is your oyster.

You’ll need:

One bunch of kale leaves, washed and dried, spine removed

Olive oil (about 1/8 cup)

White vinegar (about 1/8 cup)

Coarse sea salt (to taste)

One ziplock bag

Preheat your oven to 320 F. Grab your ziplock bag and throw in your kale, oil and vinegar. Seal the bag and shake it up! Try to massage each leaf to insure it’s been coated. Spread each leaf out on a cookie sheet and add your salt. Remember, the leaves shrink when baked, so you’ll likely need less salt than you anticipate. Bake them for about 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through. Let them cool, and enjoy what may be the world’s most guilt-free snack!

 

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