Kale is a vegetable that has gained tremendous popularity among health-conscious individuals, particularly in America, thanks to its outstanding nutritional properties. It’s also a very versatile vegetable, which lends itself to different preparations.
Let’s delve into its characteristics and explore ways to prepare it in a delicious manner.
- 1 Kale: a brief description
- 2 Varieties of kale
- 3 Origins and Fascinating Trivia
- 4 Kale’s Nutritional Components
- 5 Health Benefits of Kale
- 6 How to eat kale?
- 7 Recipes with Kale
- 8 More on this topic
Kale: a brief description
The term comes from the Danish term “kal,” a general name for various types of cabbage. It belongs to the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea var. Sabellica).
This leafy green vegetable features thick, curly-edged leaves. These leaves are intensely green, somewhat leathery, and feature a sturdy stem. Its taste is slightly bitter and carries a hint of spiciness, akin to arugula.
Kale thrives in cold climates and is typically harvested in late autumn and winter. Some varieties can grow as tall as 1.8 to 2 meters.
Varieties of kale
Kale comes in various varieties, each with its own unique characteristics, flavor profiles, and uses. Various types of this vegetable exhibit distinct differences in stem and leaf shapes, with colors ranging from light to dark green, purple, brown, and even dark purple.
Some of the most common varieties of kale include:
- Curly Kale (Scots Kale or Winterbor): This is perhaps the most recognizable type of this vegetable, featuring tightly ruffled, curly leaves. It has a slightly peppery and earthy flavor. Curly kale is versatile and can be used in salads, soups, and smoothies.
- Lacinato Kale (Dinosaur Kale or Cavolo Nero): Lacinato kale is known for its long, dark green, and bumpy leaves that resemble the skin of a dinosaur. It has a sweeter and more delicate taste compared to curly kale. It’s often used in Italian dishes like soups, stews, and sautés.
- Red Russian Kale: Red Russian kale has flat, fringed leaves with purple stems and veins. It offers a mild, slightly sweet flavor. This kale variety is great for salads, as it’s not as tough as some other types.
- Siberian Kale: This variety has blue-green leaves with purple stems. It’s known for its tender texture and is milder in flavor compared to curly kale. It’s a good choice for salads and stir-fries.
- Dwarf Blue Curled Kale: As the name suggests, this type of kale is smaller in size and has densely curled blue-green leaves. It has a strong and slightly bitter flavor and is often used in cooking, particularly in traditional dishes.
- Chinese Kale (Chinese Broccoli or Gai Lan): While not a true kale, Chinese kale is related and worth mentioning. It has long, flat, glossy leaves with thick stems. It has a mild, slightly bitter taste and is commonly used in Asian cuisine, stir-fries, and steamed dishes.
- Redbor Kale: Redbor kale is a striking variety with deeply curled, reddish-purple leaves. It has a mild, sweet flavor and is often used for both its ornamental appeal in landscaping and as an edible crop in salads and cooked dishes.
- Premier Kale: Premier kale features broad, flat, and fringed green leaves. It has a rich, robust flavor and is a good choice for cooking, such as in soups, stews, and casseroles.
- White Russian Kale: White Russian kale has blue-green leaves with white stems. It has a mild flavor and is suitable for salads and sandwiches.
- Westlandse Winter Kale: This Dutch variety has curly blue-green leaves and is known for its resistance to cold weather. It’s often used in traditional Dutch dishes.
Origins and Fascinating Trivia
Kale has ancient origins, with historical use dating back to the Greeks who boiled it and consumed it to alleviate hangovers, particularly after festivals dedicated to the god Dionysius. The ancient Romans also included it in their diet, referring to it as “Sabellian cabbage” or “brassica.”
In the Middle Ages, kale made its way to northern Europe, including England, Germany, and Holland, due to its resilience to cold temperatures. During World War II, kale cultivation was encouraged in the UK by the “Dig for Victory” association, as it was an easy-to-grow vegetable rich in essential nutrients, ideal for supplementing diets affected by rationing.
Notably, there’s a distinct cultivar of kale called “Kai-lan” from Brassica oleracea, widely used in Chinese cuisine, which bears some resemblance to cabbage and is occasionally referred to as kale in English.
Kale’s Nutritional Components
Kale is a nutritional powerhouse, boasting a wealth of essential nutrients, including mineral salts, vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin K, carotenoids, quercetin, manganese, copper, fiber, calcium, and potassium.
Its health benefits include anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, being rich in fiber and low in calories, kale has earned its status as a superfood, especially cherished by Americans.
Kale is among the most nutrient-dense foods in nature, featuring high concentrations of:
- Vitamins A, K, and C (exceeding recommended daily doses)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamins B1, B2, and B3
Last, it’s low in fat but rich in omega-3, kale is a low-calorie option (approximately 33 calories per 100g, with 6g of carbohydrates, including 2g of fiber, and 3g of protein).
Health Benefits of Kale
Kale’s remarkable nutrient density bestows numerous health benefits. Here are some of its key properties:
- Antioxidant: Kale’s potent antioxidants, including polyphenols like quercetin and kaempferol, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, combat aging by neutralizing free radicals responsible for aging.
- Antitumor: As a member of the Brassicaceae Oleracea family, kale is a natural anti-cancer food.
- Anti-inflammatory: Kale’s active ingredients make it a valuable anti-inflammatory agent.
How to eat kale?
Kale is a great choice for those on a low-calorie diet. It’s not only nutritious but also quite versatile. You can use it to prepare juices and smooothies (see here a kale smoothie recipe, for instance), though be aware that its flavor can be quite strong.
If you find the taste of kale unappealing, you can opt for kale powder as a dietary supplement. Just a spoonful in your food or drinks is sufficient, and there’s no need to cook it.
In the kitchen, only the tender external parts of the kale leaves are used, while the central rib is discarded. Due to its robust flavor, kale is commonly used in soups, fruit juices, and smoothies. You can also enjoy it raw in a salad after marinating the cut leaves in vinaigrette to soften them.
Cooking kale is straightforward; you can pan-fry, steam, bake it… You can also prepare a wonderful alternative to French fries, that is kale chips.
Recipes with Kale
Here are some simple recipes for both raw and cooked kale:
Break the tender leaves and massage them with oil and salt to make them more tender. Kale salad pairs well with fresh and dried fruits like oranges, apples, pineapples, avocados, raisins, dates, cranberries, and carrots. Dress the salad with oil and vinegar about 10 minutes before serving to enhance its digestibility.
Kale Cream Soup
- 1 kale
- 1 red onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of celery
- 2 potatoes
- Stale bread
- Fresh thyme and sage
- Brown the onion and garlic in a pan with a bit of oil.
- Sauté the chopped kale leaves, then add potatoes, carrot, celery, and enough water to cover.
- Let it cook for about 20 minutes, adding salt.
- Blend until smooth, and sauté diced stale bread with sage and thyme until crispy.
- Serve the soup hot with the flavored bread, a drizzle of oil, and pepper.
- 5 kale leaves
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes
- 1 white onion
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup of water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Chop the kale leaves and ribs, dice the tomatoes and onion.
- Heat oil in a pot, fry the onion until tender.
- Add cumin, coriander, and turmeric, then mix in the tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add kale a handful at a time, stirring frequently.
- Season with salt, pepper, and add water.
- Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender.
- Finish with lemon juice and serve with fresh tomatoes.
- 2 shallots
- 200g kale leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- Sauté shallots in olive oil, add sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Cook kale over high heat, adding water as needed.
- Continue cooking for 15-20 minutes until soft and slightly caramelized.
- Add garlic and mustard, cook for another minute, and serve hot.
While kale may not be the most kid-friendly food due to its bitterness, there are recipes like kale pesto that can make it more appealing, even to children. Let’s see how to prepare it.
You can prepare an excellent pesto to season pasta, a dish that is much appreciated by children.
- 8 kale leaves
- 1 handful of mixed dried fruit (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts)
- 20 g of rice milk
- 3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
- Boil the water and cook the cabbage for 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Then blend the boiled leaves together with the other typical pesto ingredients.
- With the cream obtained you can season pasta, vegetables, salad or use it as a sauce for a bruschetta spread on crunchy slices.
Baked kale chips or kale chips
Kale chips, called kale chips by Americans, are a nice aperitif food and resemble French fries. They are crunchy, but with a bitter aftertaste. However, they can be enjoyed as a quick and healthy snack as an alternative to chips.
- extra virgin olive oil
- seasoning of your choice: salt, curry, chilli, paprika, pepper
- Turn the oven on at 180°. Wash the cabbage, dry it and remove the central rib.
- Place the leaves in a bowl and season with the aromas you like and the oil.
- Place on a paper-lined baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes until the leaves become crispy and curl heavily at the edges.
- Serve the chips thus obtained with a sprinkling of salt, both hot and cold.
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