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.

Fish oil gets another nod

A study about a link between violence and a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids adds more evidence that our french fry- and salad dressing-laden diet harms more than our figures. In a way, it “short-circuits” our brains.

This is not a new idea; some researchers have been warning for decades that the dramatic shift in the past century in the types of oil we eat may have dire consequences. In short, we all eat way more omega 6s (found in plant oils such as soy, corn and safflower) and way too little omega 3s (found in fish, flaxseed, walnuts and greens). These essential fatty acids play a prime role in brain development.

While the number of well-designed studies is relatively small and results are mixed, fairly good evidence indicates that supplementation with omega 3s (particularly the type found in fish oils) can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder, and reduce aggression.

The idea that omega 3s can make your kid smarter, stave off cancer or improve your sex life is, at this point, mainly a pleasant fantasy perpetuated by people who sell fish oil supplements. Still, it probably won’t hurt to take fish oil supplements, and it may help.

Fish oil is safe—safer in many cases than fish, which can be contaminated with mercury and PCBs. Fish oil supplements tested by Consumer Lab contained no detectable levels of mercury, PCBs or other contaminants. Taking a lot of fish oil could have side effects, ranging from the minor (fishy belching) to more serious (bleeding too much, if you are on other anticoagulants).

You needn’t spend a fortune on fish oil supplements. Nearly all the fish oil products Consumer Lab tested were pure and contained the amounts of fatty acids advertised. I usually buy fish oil capsules at Costco. I like the enteric-coated ones–less fishy burping.

The Skim Milk Scam

“Things are seldom what they seem
Skim milk masquerades as cream.”

–HMS Pinafore, Gilbert & Sullivan

I loathe skim milk.

There, I’ve confessed the truth, in all its nutritionally incorrect squalor.

They always say that if you eat or drink something long enough, you’ll get used to it. Sure, skim milk doesn’t taste as good as full milk (a.k.a. real milk), but just drink it, they said, and you’ll get your calcium without all that nasty saturated fat.

Let’s toss aside for the moment the argument about whether milk is really essential for strong bones. Let’s talk about flavor. Skim milk has none. It tastes like an amnesiac’s memory of milk.

My grandmother, who came of age in the days when milk was delivered right to your door, with the cream on top and the skim milk on the bottom, used the cream in desserts and her wonderful creamed vegetables, drank the milk, and reserved the skim milk for stuff where its lack of flavor wouldn’t matter: in pancake batter, maybe, or as slop for the pigs.

I tried to be a good girl. Really I did. OK, skim milk was a bit too much, but I drank 1% milk, which is almost as low in fat. I drank it for years, actually. I poured it into my coffee and watched it turn the coffee gray. I used it in pancake batter and in smoothies. I ordered the skim lattes at Starbucks. Once in a while I held my nose and drank it straight.

I never got used to it. Ever. One day I looked at my husband and said, “Screw this. Get me some milk that tastes like milk.”

My conscience pricked me just enough to compromise on 2% milk rather than the full-fat stuff. Reduced-fat milk doesn’t taste quite as good as real milk, but I tell you, next to skim milk, it’s the creme de la creme.