Is kale the new bacon?
Well, no, you might say, not as tasty, not as divinely salty nor as seductively dangerous, nutritionally speaking.
Still, kale is everywhere, and not just as a long-cooked side like collards or other tough, strong-tasting greens. We are eating kale baked as a crunchy snack — kale chips — and raw in salads. We see it on menus everywhere, grilled and topping shrimp and grits in New Orleans, mixed with cheddar cheese, apples, corn bread croutons, "moonshine" raisins and cider vinegar at Yardbird in Miami Beach, and in a salad dressed with mango masala vinaigrette at Edison: Food + Drink Lab in Tampa. Edison chef-owner Jeannie Pierola says the ubiquity has something to do with wide availability, but it must be more than that.
It's cool to eat kale.
Just last month, an article in the New York Times — not the food section but the Style section — declared kale salad the "fashionable plat du jour" at the season's big social events.
"Kale creates a younger, hipper feel as opposed to something like classic haricots verts tied up," Liz Swig said in the New York Times. Swig was chairwoman of a recent arts fundraiser gala in New York. On the menu? Kale tossed with pecorino and lemon.
It may be hip, but kale is also strong, as in flavor. It's often described at bitter, which is why it's traditionally cooked to mellow and sweeten it, or reserved for rabid juicers who swear by its power. U.S. nutrition guidelines recommend about 2 cups of dark green, leafy vegetables a week. Among all the choices, kale packs the most nutritional punch with high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, plus manganese and antioxidants. Eating it raw preserves all its natural attributes.
But eating raw kale isn't for everyone. The leaves can be fibrous, and gnawing them in public might be considered tres gauche. Ellen Kanner, who writes the Edgy Veggie column for the Miami Herald, suggests showing the leaves a little tenderness by way of a gentle massage with olive oil. Seriously.
"Drizzle a little oil into your hands and gently rub it into the leaves. The warmth and pressure of your hands work their magic, and after a minute or two, the kale will turn bright and pliable," she writes.
There are several varieties of kale, but the three most popular are curly, sometimes called frilled or even ruffled; the long, slender lacinato kale, also labeled Tuscan or dinosaur because of its bumpy leaves; and Russian kale, which is red. They have the same nutritional makeup and slightly different flavors. For all of them, the ribs can be most bitter, so it's best to remove those.
When shopping for kale, know that the smaller leaves are more tender and mild tasting. Wash the kale just before using or the moisture will heighten deterioration. To get the most nutritional bang, prepare kale soon after buying.
Often in Florida, we see kale in prewashed, prechopped bags. This is good for soups or to add to stir-fries or smoothies. And it's also fit for making pesto for pasta or to spread on a sandwich. But, if you want to make kale salad, look for fresh bunches at the store or farmer's markets.
In her new book, Kale (Sterling, 2013), author Stephanie Pedersen of New York calls the leafy green a "superfood," a label we've heard before for blueberries, salmon, soy, walnuts and oats, among other foods. She claims it's an aid in weight loss because the fiber makes you feel full. Good for diabetics because it is slow to turn to sugar. Beneficial for arthritis sufferers because its omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants act as anti-inflammatory agents. The list goes on.
Plus, now, it's cool to eat kale. Well, until the next big thing comes along. Shall we make a prediction for lima beans?
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.
Asian Kale Salad With Oranges
and Red Pepper Flakes
This refreshing, do-ahead salad has bright flavor and very little oil — just what you rub into the kale leaves. It's sturdy and pretty enough for a party.
1 head kale
2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 handful scallions, thinly sliced
2/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Wash kale and blot dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces, discarding thick stems. This should yield about 8 cups of kale leaves, packed.
Fill a large bowl with the kale. Drizzle one tablespoon of the sesame oil on the kale and the other on your hands. Rub oil into kale leaves, distributing it evenly. After a few minutes, you'll feel leaves soften.
Grate the zest of 1 orange into the kale and toss to combine.
Juice 1 orange and pour into a small bowl. Add garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar and pepper flakes. Stir until sugar dissolves and dressing thickens slightly. Pour over kale and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least half an hour; longer is fine.
Just before serving, peel and section the remaining 2 oranges, removing seeds. Leave sections whole for an impressive look or chop into bite-sized pieces.
Scatter orange segments, sliced scallions, chopped peanuts and chopped cilantro over kale and serve.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 147 calories, 9g fat, 5g protein, 14g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 451mg sodium.
Source: Ellen Kanner, Miami Herald
Baked Kale Chips
Kale chips should be eaten soon after being made. They will not keep.
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite-sized pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle the kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
Bake until the edges brown but are not burned, 10 to 15 minutes.
Source: Kale by Stephanie Pedersen (Sterling, 2013)
Nutty Kale Slaw
For the dressing:
1 cup roasted, salted almonds, pecans or peanuts, divided
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, optional
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco or other hot sauce, optional
For the salad:
2 large bunches kale, about 2 pounds, deribbed and cut into ribbons
2 orange or red bell peppers, cleaned and cut into very fine strips
1 large carrot, shredded
To make dressing, pulse 1/4 cup of the nuts plus cilantro, coconut oil, cider vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and Tabasco (if using) in a food processor. Pulse until nuts are halfway pureed. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss together kale, bell pepper, carrots and remaining nuts.
Using a spatula to get every last drop, scrape dressing over kale mixture.
Toss with dressing to coat all leaves.
Allow salad to set for 20 minutes before serving to blend flavors.
Source: Kale by Stephanie Pedersen (Sterling, 2013)
Braised Chicken With Kale
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
4 chicken leg quarters, skinned
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (16-ounce) package cut prewashed kale
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added, fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14.5-ounce) can fat-free chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons canola oil. Sprinkle the chicken with black pepper and salt. Place flour in a dish and dredge chicken. Place 2 leg quarters in pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with 2 teaspoons oil and remaining 2 leg quarters. Remove from pan.
Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan. Add garlic; cook for 20 seconds. Add half of kale; cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining half of kale; cook 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and broth; bring to a boil. Return chicken to pan. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove chicken from pan; stir in vinegar. Serve chicken over kale mixture.
Source: Cooking Light
Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart
For the tart shell:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1 pinch salt
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 bunch kale (a large bunch), stemmed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup ricotta (or another soft cheese like feta or goat cheese)
Salt and pepper
To make the pastry shell, cut the butter into small cubes. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until butter is pea-sized. Slowly drizzle water through the top of the food processor while pulsing. You have added enough water when dough sticks together when pressed.
Remove dough from processor and press gently into a disc. Wrap disc in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place disc on a lightly floured board. Roll dough into a circle 12 inches in diameter. Place dough in 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Pierce all over with a fork to allow steam to rise as it bakes and to avoid shrinking. Lay parchment paper or foil over dough and fill with beans or pie weights.
Bake the tart shell (with pie weights) for 20 minutes. Then remove parchment and weights and bake an additional 5 minutes until the crust begins to brown. Remove from oven and set aside on cooling rack.
While shell is baking, make filling.
Heat oil and butter in pan on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until onions are soft and light brown. Season with salt and pepper. Remove onions from pan and set aside.
Increase heat to medium and add sausage to pan. Brown sausage and break into small pieces. Remove sausage from pan and set aside. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of oil from pan.
Add kale to pan. Pour white wine over kale. Scrape any bits from the pan and cover. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, until kale is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. If kale is still very wet, cook uncovered for a minute or two. The overall mixture should be fairly dry. Remove kale to a large bowl.
Toss cooked kale with cooked sausage and onions. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Toss mixture with basil, egg, and ricotta. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon sausage and kale mixture into cooked tart shell. Be sure to evenly cover the bottom of the tart shell. Bake the tart on a baking tray for 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove tart from oven when the filling is set and the tart shell is brown. Cool tart slightly on a wire rack. Slice and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.