This is the season to add some festive green to the holiday table with bright, tasty kale. Try making chips or pesto, or simply sautee, steam, or fry it.

Kale: a Vegetable to Ward off Winter Blues

According to Johann Fleck, kale, although some people grow it in the summer, is not kale unless it's harvested after the first winter frost. The frost enhances kale's natural sweetness, that is it does if the kale is still in the ground when the frost comes, but not if it's been picked.

Fleck's description also implies that kale is essentially the national vegetable of Germany. Believed to have been cultivated originally in the Mediterranean, kale is likewise popular in East Africa and Scandinavia. It is also a favorite green in the Southern United States.

Nutrients and Benefits

Rich in vitamins K, A, and C, as well as in omega 3 fatty acids, plus the mineral manganese, kale is also rich in fiber. It's the fiber that lowers cholesterol, especially when cooked. Kale's fiber actually binds with the bile acids in the intestine, preventing them from becoming emulsified with fat and facilitating their excretion. This is good for the gut. However, the fiber is better cooked apparently, with some sources saying that the kale should be steamed for best results,since steaming helps the fibers to bind with the bile. Others simply saying cooked.

Like most green leafy vegetables, spinach excepted, kale has calcium, but alas, it also has oxalates, an issue for people susceptible to kidney stones. So eat kale in moderation. Kathleen Zelman of the Web MD recommends that people, especially those with kidney stone susceptibility, not eat it with cheese or dairy. However there are some plusses to eating kale for some persons with kidney disease at least: it has less potassium apparently than spinach, and some sources recommend it for cleansing the kidneys.

Like other leafy greens, kale is a source of iron, and along with other cruciferous vegetables, kale has cancer-fighting properties. Its top anti-oxidants include quercetin and kaempferol which, especially in concert, may fight cancer. Purple varieties of kale also have anthocyanins, although most of these may not make it into the bloodstream, but may be excreted from the gut. Kale has anti-inflammatory properties as well. However, because of its high vitamin K content (more than the daily requirement) Zelman warns against over-consumption of kale by persons taking anti-coagulants. She says persons taking the latter should consult their doctor about adding kale to their diets.

The vitamin A in kale may be particularly important in fighting lung cancer according to several sources, with vitamin A playing a major role in lung health. According to Nutrition and You, some of kale's chemicals may also be important in preventing prostrate and colon cancer.

Ways to Cook

Kale may be baked, sauteed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. It can also be steamed but some water-soluble vitamins will be lost this way. It is delicious is soup. Southern recipes cook kale in just a bit of water, adding salt pork or other fat, sugar, and vinegar. Because of pesticides, kale should always be washed well before preparing it as food.

Pesto

One of my favorite kale dishes is a pesto made with raw or blanched (barely steamed, just till bright green, then immersed in ice water) kale, garlic, and walnuts. The walnuts can be toasted. Everything is processed together. This pesto is generally less expensive than more traditional pesto made with basil, garlic, and pine nuts, unless you grow your own basil and pine nuts. I sometimes wrap the finished kale pesto in parchment and place it in a pan and bake it for about seven minutes, with a bit of extra oil (this is really good if toasted over a fire). You can use a lot or a little parmesan cheese (or even none at all, which is what Zelman recommends, because of kale's oxalates). You can also reduce the salt. A health food store here sales such pesto, made without any salt, and it's delicious.

Chips

Roasted kale chips are among the more popular kale dishes today. The secret to making chips from kale is spinning the kale dry after washing it, and then blotting up any remaining moisture with paper towels. It's recommended that you add salt at the end, after the kale is baked, so that the salt does not attract moisure before the leaves toast.

To bake kale without burning it, try lining the baking pan with parchment. To make sure the kale chips get crispy, use just a layer of kale (no more than one or two leaves thick at any point). You can buy the kale already cut into bite-sized pieces, but, you may actually find the kale easier to work with if you buy the leaves whole, wash and dry them, and only then tear it into bite-sized pieces.

There are several good recipes for roasting using coconut or olive oil. Another quite inexpensive and tasty option is to use grapeseed oil. Roast the kale until the leaves are bright green and crispy. An easy recipe by Vicki Chavis uses olive oil, pumpkin seeds, and a bit of salt, but again don't add the salt till the end. Optionally, try adding a bit of dry thyme to the kale before you bake it. Another option is to replace the pumpkin seeds in Vicki Chavis's recipe with sesame seeds (both seeds are delicious with thyme).

I have had good luck roasting my kale mixed with a smattering of torn mustard greens. These give the kale a bit of the flavor of mustard. The mustard greens keep longer after picking, while kale must be cooked right away.

Sauteed

Sauteed kale requires only olive or grapeseed oil and lemon juice. Either sauteed, baked, or as a pesto, bright green kale will complement the red of cranberry relish, making your holiday table quite festive.

Freezing?

Although kale does not keep long in the fridgerator, it can be frozen for later use. Online information on freezing kale recommends blanching it first then plunging it in ice water.

Planting

Kale is a bargain at this time of year at as low as a dollar (U.S.) per bunch, but if you want kale out of the garden, kale is relatively disease resistant say most sources, so it's relatively easy to grow. It just needs lots of sunshine. Though many describe it as a "year-round" vegetable, others say plant kale so it is ready for harvest right after the first frost (late summer or early September farther North, but in the South this means early October). In spite of kale's love for the cold, its seeds should be sowed when the outside temperatures are still well above freezing, or else should be kept in a pot where it's warm, or they won't germinate. Expect seedlings in about a week; harvest in less than three months.

Sources