The mighty green warrior with Herculean healing powers has shoved leafy cousins to the produce sidelines. Kale rocks and has been popping up in everything from chilled soups and salads to crispy chips and pizza toppings. Here’s why. . .
The Tale of Kale
A member of the Brassica family, with collard greens, broccoli and Brussels sprout siblings, kale is the offspring of wild cabbage ancestors with origins in Asia Minor. Celtic nomads imported the Curly Kale plant to Europe where it became a huge hit among the ancient Romans and a staple vegetable for peasants of the Middle Ages.
From there, English settlers transported the crop to the United States in the 17th century. Creative horticulturalists discovered different varieties, including Dinosaur Kale in Italy two centuries later, and Ornamental Kale, a decorative garden plant that was cultivated in California just three decades ago.
Kudos to Kale
Kale is practically good for everything except shining your shoes. For starters, it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-aging and anti-oxidant with 45 assorted flavonoids to put the skids on harmful free radicals.
Detoxifying, cholesterol-busting (especially when cooked), and packed with phytonutrients, including Vitamin K for building bones and warding off osteoporosis, immune-boosting Vitamin C, a trio of stress calming Bs, Vitamin A for skin and eye health, calcium, fiber and heart-happy omega-3s all packed in a low cal bundle.
Studies have also shown that kale loaded with the pigment lutein can dramatically reduce the risk of certain skin cancers by as much as 50 percent. Luteins create an internal sun shield that not only lessens burning, but protects optic nerves from sun damage, also preventing macular degeneration down the road.
So pack a picnic lunch for the beach with leafy green kale slaws and salads, chilled kale gazpacho, flat bread topped with pesto kale or goat cheese and shredded braised kale strips, and whole-grain sandwiches and burgers dressed with raw leaves.
Add a side of crunchy Cajun kale chips with a thermos of frothy kale, almond milk and banana smoothies for a hefty, healthy dose of green screens.
One word of kale caution: The potent vegetable has been found to lower thyroid levels. So if your levels are already low, standing advice — moderation and check with your physician. Also, cook the kale to reduce its thyroid-lowering properties.
There are several varieties of kale that come in designer shades of green, red, purple, bluish green and white. The popular Curly Kale has wide, dark green leaves with ruffled ridges and chewy stalks. Curly has a pungent bitter kick to it with peppery nuances, and is best braised or steamed with a drizzle of olive oil and Meyer lemon juice.
Dinosaur Kale, aka Lacinato or Tuscan Kale has more tapered, delicate leaves, tinged bluish green with an embossed pattern. Dino leaves are sweeter and more mild tasting than their curly cousin, making them equally palatable raw in salads or sautéed with a warm balsamic dressing, a sprinkling of dried cranberries and candied pecans.
Frilly Red Kale with sweet purply oak-shaped leaves is just as tender raw as steamed or braised. While Ornamental Kale more commonly called salad savoy, has a loosely packed head of tender leaves, either white, green or purple, with a delicate flavor ideal for adding color and crunch to chopped salads, or burgers and sandwiches.
Raw, raw, raw
When picking a bunch of fresh kale look for moist, sturdy stems and stiff leaves that stand at attention, richly colored and free of holes, brown or yellow spots. Choose smaller leaves that are more tender and flavorful than larger ones. When storing, wrap leaves in damp paper towels in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to a week, although the leaves become more bitter the longer they stand.
Kale Salad A-Go-Go
For a simple and savory dose of kale, here’s a five-minute salad (no kidding) that can be eaten as a sandwich side, tossed with grilled chicken, wild-caught salmon or shrimp, or served solo.
1 bunch of fresh kale, stems trimmed (your choice, Dino, Red, Curly)
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Juice from one lemon
1 ripe but firm nectarine, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
3 ounces crumbled goat or feta cheese
1/4 teaspoon of brown sugar
Sea salt to taste
Method: Chop kale ¼-inch thick. Place in a large, salad bowl with tomatoes and nectarines. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk oil, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Add to salad and toss. Add cheese and gently toss.