Kale is a non-heading, leafy form of wild cabbage that comes in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors, such as blue-green, yellow-green, white, red, or purple. Different cultivars are classified by differences in their stem length and their leaf structure, as some are flat and others are frilly. The standard Kale we usually find in the grocery store is pale to deep green with large, ruffle-edged leaves and long stems. It is hardy and fibrous when fully mature, and tender enough to be used as a raw salad green when young. The pale green stems are tough and typically removed, while the tightly curled leaves are chewy yet succulent. Depending on the variety, kale can sometimes be spicy, other times a bit sweet, and is usually slightly bitter. In general, kale offers an earthy flavor with a nutty sweetness that is accentuated when cooked.
Kale is rich in antioxidants, and packed with vitamins A, E, K, and B, especially folate. It has a fair amount of protein and iron, and has more vitamin C than other leafy greens. It’s also high in fiber, and has more calcium, gram for gram, than a cup of milk. Researchers have even found that the phytochemicals in Kale may inhibit cancer cell growth. It is important to note that you shouldn’t overdo it with raw Kale because, like other cruciferous vegetables, it contains small amounts of substances that can affect the function of our thyroid gland. These substances become inactive with cooking, so if you have existing thyroid problems, then it’s safest to stick to cooked Kale. Most of us are fine if we stick to modest amounts of raw Kale, such as a handful, even on a daily basis.
Considering its many forms and stages of harvest, Kale is an incredibly versatile green in the kitchen, and can be used raw or cooked. Young Kale leaves add an earthy flavor to raw salad green mixes, and fully mature Kale is one of the few leafy grants that doesn’t shrink much when it’s cooked. It’s great sautéed, roasted, stewed, and even baked into Kale chips. Just be careful not to over-cook it, as it can develop a more bitter taste. Kale is also often added raw to smoothies, juices, and salads. To prep Kale for use, whether raw or cooked, first remove the tough and fibrous stems. A quick and dirty way to do it is to hold the stem in one hand and strip the leaves along the stem away from you. You can also cut the leaves into thin, confetti-like ribbons. A quick massage can help the process of breaking up the cellulose structure of Kale. You can drizzle it with olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, and rub the leaves together in your hands to get a slightly sweeter, silkier Kale. This leafy green pairs well with garlic, onion, sesame, soy sauce, ginger, smoked or roasted meats, potatoes, grains, oregano, thyme, red pepper, cream, Parmesan cheese, and more. To store Kale, wrap the leaves in a loose bundle with a paper towel or a thin cotton kitchen towel; place them in a large, sealable bag, and refrigerate in the crisper drawer for up to a week.
Kale is available year-round with a peak season in winter.