There’s a lot of baggage associated with kale. We’re told it’s healthy and we’re told we should love it. Kale is trendy. Where I live, in southern California, yoga mat toting twenty-somethings extol the virtues of kale over nonfat soy chai lattes or kale laced smoothies so often it’s become a cliche or a SNL skit. The local evening news includes kale in their healthy eating segments at least once a month. So it’s normal to want to push back and ask for a triple shot caramel Frappuccino instead, because kale is so last year, right?
Not really. Kale is still right now, and last year, and even last century. There are Tuscan recipes going back to the 1700’s which use kale. Kale is here to stay and you may just find it’s something you’ll crave whether or not you are trying to eat healthy. Being good for you is just a bonus; kale is a versatile vegetable which tastes good.
I’ve always associated kale with “cabbage” and therefore thought I didn’t like it. I’ve never understood the allure of traditional cole slaw, Brussels sprouts (regardless of how much bacon you add) and I don’t particularly care for kimchi. But I’ve always liked my sautéed greens; any kind of spinach, Swiss chard, or beet greens and I’m a happy girl. Put Napa or savoy cabbage in my stir fried noodles and I’ll slurp it up. This dish of sautéed kale with yogurt was the revelation which changed my outlook on kale forever. It proved to me that kale, which yes, is a member of the cabbage family, doesn’t have to be bland, bitter or boring. You can even incorporate it into your breakfast, served under poached eggs with bacon.
Why are the advocates of healthy eating always pushing kale as the miracle food? Because it’s pretty darn close to perfect as far as any food can be. Kale is one of those “superfoods” which means it’s a dark leafed cruciferous plant loaded with antioxidants, vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium and iron. Feeling tired? Don’t eat your spinach like Popeye, eat your kale!
Kale comes in many different varieties. Most common is the curly leafed kind. While this is often seen as a plate garnish in restaurant, it’s perfectly decent for cooking as well. There are purple and green varieties and one called Cavolo Nero kale (but also known as dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, and lacinato kale) with extra-large dark green leaves. This more mild and tender kale is often used in Italian cooking and braises well in soups and stews.
When buying kale, look for dark, almost glossy leaves on the Tuscan kale, and fresh, crisp leaves on the curly kale. Don’t buy anything with wilted or yellowing leaves. It should keep for 5-7 days in the refrigerator.
Massaging the kale: If you find that kale is too tough or too bitter for your taste, you can always give it a good massage. Really. Remove the fibrous stems and then start squeezing and rubbing the leaves together, almost as if you were kneading bread. Do this for about 5 minutes and what happens is that the cellulose fiber in the leaves starts to break down. The leaves become darker and almost shiny, but the true change is in the taste and texture; they become softer and sweeter.