Summer Veggin’: Kale

website kale

“One’s the size of a grape; the other the size of a lemon. Good news is that none are the size of a grapefruit.”

Last week I had to have a biopsy. One of my children asked me what I was thinking as the doctor talked to me about my “very slight but we still have to check” possibility of cancer.

She laughed when I answered, “Honestly? I was wondering why doctors insist on using food for their size measurements. I love grapes and lemons, and now I’m not going to be able to look at them in the same way again!”

It may just be me, but wouldn’t quarters and golf or tennis balls suffice just as well? And while I’m already digressing:  Should anyone be given the choice of being awake or asleep during a biopsy, choose sleep, unless you are absolutely certain your doctor won’t insist on showing you what she has just removed! Because otherwise you might discover that you really will never eat another grape or lemon again.

Since my food choices are dwindling as the result of my experience, I decided it would be nice to do a post that might expand other people’s food options, and I’m opting to talk today about kale, one of my favorite summery foods.

For folks who might not be familiar with kale, it’s a cruciferous vegetable like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli; and like those three, kale is very, very good for you. It’s has cholesterol lowering benefits, detoxifying properties, about 20 different needed nutrients, including omega 3’s, and is said to help reduce certain cancers.

I’ve found, though, that people don’t often know what to do with kale, so I’m going to share some thoughts with you.

1. Purchasing Kale:  When you buy kale from the store, look for them in fresh bunches in the produce section of the store. It’s cheaper that way! Stay away from bunches where the leaves look like they’re wilting, are beginning to yellow, or have many holes in them. Good kale will be a deep green with sturdy leaves.

2. Keeping Kale:  Do not wash kale until you are ready to use them. If you won’t be using them immediately upon purchase, put the bunch into a baggie which you can seal and put the kale into the fridge. I don’t often keep kale for longer than two to three days myself, but I’m told by others that kale will keep for a good five days or so in the fridge.

3. Freezing Kale: If I won’t be using kale within two days or so, I will freeze it. Best practices say to wash the kale, remove the leaves from the stems, blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, plunge into chilled water to stop the cooking, drain, dry and then put them into a freezer bag to freeze. I confess, I very rarely do that. I wash and dry my kale, chop the leaves off the stem into bite size pieces, stuff as much as I can into my freezer bag, seal it tightly without any air and freeze. I have not found much difference in the kale when I take it out of the freezer and pop it into a soup or casserole. The only thing blanching seems to do is slightly reduce the bitterness of kale, but I like that bitter taste. You can decide for yourself, though, whether I’m also just lazy.

4. Cooking with Kale: Kale is wonderfully versatile. You can use it in soups, casseroles, as chips, as a vegetable side dish, in stir frys, in omelets and anything else you’d normally use spinach for, in smoothies, and even in cakes! It’s moisture content keeps dishes from becoming dry and it’s slightly bitter tastes are a nice contrast to other herbs and seasonings and flavors in a dish.

Some things to keep in mind:

Always cut the kale leaves off the thick, woody stem. Those stems don’t taste very good.

Kale requires a bit of cooking time to soften so plan ahead that you’ll need to saute the kale for a good ten minutes or cook the soup a little bit longer.

Kale cooks down just like spinach so if you need a cup of cooked kale, you’ll need at least twice that amount of raw kale.

Keep kale handy in the freezer so you can simply add it to recipes without having to cook it to soften it first.

For easy chopping, after you’ve removed the leaves from the stem, just stack all the leaves on top of one another and slice.

5. Ideas for using Kale: We have several favorite ways of eating kale, but if you’re looking for a few easy ideas for getting started, here are three my kids really like:

One, is to make kale chips. Simply brush kale with a tiny bit of olive oil, sprinkle with the seasoning you prefer (salt, pepper, herbs, garlic or onion powder, grated parmeson, etc…), chop the leaves off the stems into bite size pieces, and bake in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for anywhere from five to 20 minutes, depending on the sizes and thickness of your pieces until the leaves are dry and crispy.

Another suggestion is to make a bean and kale saute. Saute your chopped kale in a little bit of olive oil with chopped garlic and onions until the leaves have started to wilt, mix in white cannellini beans and cook until both are soft and warmed through. Top with a small sprinkling of chopped turkey bacon or shredded cheese, if desired.

Make a frittata: Brown chopped potatoes in a little bit of olive oil with some salt and pepper. Add chopped kale when the potatoes have crisped to your liking. Once the kale is soft and wilted, beat up some egg whites mixed with a couple of whole eggs and pour the egg mixture carefully over the potatoes and kale. Add herbs of your choice. Cover the pan and slowly cook the frittata over low heat until the eggs have cooked through.