Kale: Show It Some Respect Already

“What is this?” asked the produce market cashier, holding up the bag of dark leafy greens.

“Kale,” I replied, wondering yet again if more than six people in America know what this vegetable is and that you can actually eat it. I’d wager that most Americans know kale only as that frilly, dark green stuff they use to decorate salad bars, or the pretty purple and green frilly ornamental plant that survives in the garden well into winter.

Kale is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables—it don’t get no respect. That’s a shame because not only is kale outrageously nutritious (an outstanding source of vitamins A, C and K, and a good source of iron and calcium, for a mere 15 calories per 1/2 cup cooked), but it’s more mildly flavored than many of its cabbage-family cousins and adapts easily to all sorts of food companions and flavors.

A fall and winter vegetable, kale goes well with hearty partners such as sausage, bacon, beans, sweet potatoes and potatoes, and with strong flavors such as garlic and hot pepper. I like it finely chopped in omelets, chopped into salads, and as a side dish on its own with some olive oil and garlic. Irish colcannon, the famous potato dish, is often made with kale rather than cabbage. Kale is also an excellent addition to soups. Try it in a marvelous minestrone.

To prepare kale, strip the leaves from the stems unless you’re using it in soup (the stems tend to be tough). You can freeze the stems to use in homemade stock, or just put them on the compost heat. Chop or slice the kale leaves. While kale can be used raw, its frilly edges can be a bit on the tough side, and it’s easiest to eat when cooked until wilted.

Here’s my standard recipe for kale as a side dish.

Garlicky Kale

Serves 4

  • 2 bunches kale (about 1 pound total)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered or minced
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth or water
  • Salt (preferably sea salt)
  • Hot pepper flakes (optional)

Strip the leaves from the kale. Discard the stems. Roll up the leaves and thinly slice them crosswise.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the garlic and cook just a few seconds, until fragrant. Add the kale and cook, tossing the kale to coat it with garlic oil, for about a minute, or until the kale begins to wilt. Add the broth or water, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat for another 6 to 8 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Season with salt and hot pepper flakes.

Variation: Cook 2 strips of bacon until crisp. Drain the bacon, reserving the bacon drippings, and crumble. Substitute 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings for 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and proceed with the recipe as directed. Just before serving, top the kale with the crumbled bacon bits.

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