I went out for lunch with my folks today, and my dad ordered a raw kale salad with pomegranate seeds, apple and feta. Just a few nights ago, a friend served me kale that she marinated for an hour in lemon juice and olive oil. A couple weeks back, I got to be the guinea pig taste-tester for my neighbor’s homemade dried kale chips. And at my house, I fire up the blender a couple times a week to make green power smoothies that typically include the stuff.
It seems like kale is suddenly everywhere. The question, though, is not why kale is so popular all of a sudden; it’s why it hasn’t been popular all along. Kale is a veritable powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and disease fighting antioxidants, and per calorie, it has more iron than beef and more calcium than milk. It’s also a good source of minerals like potassium, iron, copper, manganese and phosphorous. Here’s what you get from just one cup:
* 36 calories and zero fat
* 15% of your daily requirement of calcium and Vitamin B6
* 40% of magnesium
* 180% of Vitamin A
* 200% of Vitamin C
* 1,020% of Vitamin K
* 5 grams of fiber
Some people automatically turn their noses up at kale because they assume it will taste bitter, but washing, marinating, cooking and using younger leaves can all reduce that tendency. The age of kale makes a big difference to the flavor, too; older, paler and more flaccid leaves will be more bitter and unpleasant than firm, darker ones.
Preparation can make a big difference as well. Removing the stems and spines and using just the leafy parts solves the problem for many people. And marinating chopped kale in a little oil and lemon juice will go a long way toward mellowing its flavor.
There are several different types of kale, each with their own unique personalities – and I know the Golden Gate Organics boxes have recently featured at least two of them (curly and Lacinato pictured above). All are members of the Brassica family, non-heading cabbages whose relatives include wild cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Curly Kale is what most people think of when they think of kale, and that’s probably because it is the most commonly available in supermarkets. Bright green in color, curly kale has tightly ruffled, frilly leaves and fibrous stalks, which soften somewhat when cooked. Some people think curly kale has a peppery or bitter taste, so seek out younger looking leaves if you want more mellow flavor. Curly kale is the best kind to use for making kale chips (see recipe below), and you can also chop it into salads or steam it with a little olive oil and garlic.
Lacinato Kale, also known as Dinosaur kale, has dark blue-green leaves with a wrinkled and firm texture that could almost be described as leathery. Dino kale leaves are long and narrow, and they retain their firm texture even after they have been cooked. Lacinato kale has a somewhat sweeter and more delicate taste than the curly variety, and some people describe it as almost nutty. You can eat the stems as well as the leaves, either raw or cooked. Lacinato kale’s long association with Italian cooking (it’s a staple ingredient of minestrone), has also given it the aliases Tuscan Cabbage, Italian Kale and Black Tuscan Palm.
Red Russian Kale has flat, scalloped leaves that are shaped something like large arugula leaves or the outer leaves of a cabbage. The leaves and stems can have a red or purple tinge, which is a good thing to know because although Red Russian is one of the sweetest kales, it has very woody stems that are hard to eat and can cause an upset stomach. Be sure to remove them before cooking. The leaves are more tender than frilly varieties and are excellent raw in salads as well as cooked.
Redbor Kale is a hybrid kale that has frilly, blue-green leaves with red veins and stems. In the cold weather, the leaves get a dark red or purple tinge that makes Redbor the most attractive of the kale varieties. It is often used as an ornamental plant, but it is great to eat and also looks nice when used as edible plate decoration.
Several other types of kale are primarily used as landscaping ornamentals, but they are actually edible, too, and their mellow flavors, tender textures and wonderful colors are a great addition to coleslaws or salad mixes. Don’t eat ornamental kale, though, unless you grow it yourself and know it to be organic, as young ornamental plants are typically heavily sprayed by commercial nurseries.
One of the most popular ways to eat kale these days is as dried kale chips, and health food and specialty stores are charging an arm and a leg for tiny bags of these addictive but healthy snacks. There is really no good reason for it – aside from consumer exploitation, of course. Fresh kale is inexpensive and it is super easy to make your own kale chips. Here’s a very basic recipe that can be customized to your liking by changing up the spices:
Homemade Kale Chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper
Remove stems and spines and tear kale leaves into bite size pieces
Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner and/or pat dry with a paper towel
Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and/or other seasoning
Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes
You can experiment with various flavorings, such as taco seasoning or other spice blends, brewer’s yeast, chili powder, garlic powder, or whatever you like.