Leafy green kale a versatile ingredient

Posted March 06, 2012, at 3:43 p.m.

For your money and your health, kale can’t be beat. Not only is it inexpensive — $3 will get you an enormous bag or bunch of the leafy green, enough for several meals — it’s also packed with all kinds of healthful vitamins and minerals. Kale is high in beta carotene, vitamins C and K, lutein and calcium, as well as chemical compounds that fight cancer and promote a strong immune system.

Why do some people shy away from it? Well, it does have that distinctive sulphurous taste that related vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts all possess. Some don’t like that. But for those that don’t mind, or even enjoy that particular flavor, kale can be one of the most versatile vegetables readily available all winter long. It’s actually in season over the winter and is at its best when the weather is colder.

Unlike a leafy green such as spinach or arugula, kale holds up no matter the preparation — stewed or boiled, it stays together. It can bulk up a soup, add green nutrition to potatoes or other starches, and it makes a mean salad, too. You can even bake it to make a snackable treat. Convinced yet? Try any of these recipes I’ve experimented with (and adapted) in the last few months and see why it’s a winner.

Kale Mashed Potatoes With Smoked Gouda

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled

1 large bunch (or one pound) kale, washed

Two cloves garlic, minced

1 cup room temperature milk

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup shredded or finely chopped smoked gouda

Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe is very similar to the traditional Irish dish colcannon, but replaces the cabbage with kale and adds creamy, smoky Gouda to enhance the flavor all around. Boil the peeled potatoes in salted water for 30-45 minutes, or until you can pierce them easily with a fork. While potatoes are boiling, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the kale, cooking for 3-4 minutes before draining the kale and dousing with cold water. Squeeze out the excess water and chop the kale into 1-inch pieces. When potatoes are done, mash with a masher, mixer or mill, slowly adding the milk, butter, garlic and Gouda while the potatoes are still steaming hot. Stir the kale in last and season with salt and pepper.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Stew

Serves 6

1¼ pounds sweet turkey or pork sausage

1 cup chopped sweet onions

Two cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 can cannellini beans

1 can low-sodium diced tomatoes

1½ cups low-sodium chicken stock

½ teaspoon rosemary

½ teaspoon thyme

4 cups chopped kale

Sour cream, for serving

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven, add onions and garlic and sweat until slightly translucent. Add sausages, removed from their casings, and brown until mostly cooked. Add stock, herbs, tomatoes and beans and simmer for 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring every 3-4 minutes; if you’d like more broth for the stew, add small amounts of water until it just covers the ingredients. Turn off burner and add in kale, stirring to combine, so the kale wilts but doesn’t cook completely. Serve immediately with a dollop of sour cream and a side of crusty bread.

Cranberry Kale Salad

Serves 4

5-6 cups of kale, either curly or black variety, chopped

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

½ cup crumbled goat cheese, plus more if you’d like

For dressing

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

⅓ cup olive oil

¼ cup cranberries, dried or fresh

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons water or 2 tablespoons cranberry juice

Salt and pepper to taste

This is loosely based on a dish served at Rock City Cafe in Rockland. To make dressing, combine ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse a few times until combined and cranberries are finely chopped. Using water or cranberry juice depends entirely on how sweet you want your dressing; if you don’t want it sweet, just use water. Combine kale, cranberries, pepitas and goat cheese in a bowl and toss with dressing. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve up to two days later, as kale, unlike lettuce, holds up well after being dressed.

Kale Chips

Serves many

A large bunch of kale

Olive oil

Lemon wedges

Salt and pepper

Garlic or onion powder, or any other savory seasoning you’d like

The BDN’s Sandy Oliver shared her recipe for kale chips in her November 2010 Tastebuds column, and it’s incredibly easy to make — though it’s even better if you add lemon, garlic and onion to the mix. To make, first preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the kale leaves by removing the stems and heavy ribs. Tear into large pieces and put into a large bowl. Dribble only a little olive oil, less than a tablespoon, over the leaves and toss them, then massage the leaves to spread the oil all over them. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder, and just a small amount of the juice from one wedge of lemon, for added zing. Spread the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the oven for 8-10 minutes, taking them out once halfway through and turning them over gently. Remove to a serving bowl and repeat until all the kale has been toasted until crisp. Eat as many as you want.

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