Friday, March 4, 2011

The Kale Edition

Whole Foods' paper grocery bags tell us to eat more of it. Modern Family just announced it as "the new spinach." It's an anti-inflammatory packed with antioxidants, anti-cancer agents, Vitamins K & C, betacarotene, and even some calcium. Apparently, it is time for more kale in our lives. I've been meaning to do a little experimenting to diversify my arsenal of kale dishes so I'll include it in my lineup more regularly. So this week when my local grocer began carrying kale in clam shells, a combined rainbow of varieties already de-spined and chopped, it felt like a sign. This week was The Week of Kale. After ingesting 8 cups of the dense green leaves in 3 days, I've found some wonderful techniques that may convert even the harshest of this bitter leaf's critics, as well as please its most hardcore fans.

I will start with the recipe that most eases one into the world of kale, and work my way up to the recipe that most embraces its natural flavor and texture. And you don't need a clamshell of prepared kale to make these dishes. To prep a head of kale, remove and discard the toughest stems and ribs and coarsely chop remaining leaves into bite-sized pieces. Rinse with cold water and spin or pat dry. All measurements below are of chopped kale.

Kale & Kashi Pilaf

This side dish combines kale with whole grains in a way that softens it to peak tenderness and masks any bitterness with a balanced combination of sweet and salty from cranberries and soy sauce. Serves 4.

1/2 cup chopped onion (omit if using onion broth)
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups of your favorite broth (I used beef, but chicken, vegetable, or onion would work very well)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 cup Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf (or other rice and whole grain blend)
2 cups kale
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds (really, just so handy to have around)

Spray a pot generously with Pam and heat to medium-high. Sauté onion for a couple minutes, until just softened. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add broth and soy sauce; heat to a boil. Stir in Kashi, kale, and cranberries. Cover pot with tight fitting lid and reduce heat to a high simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes or until grain is tender and broth is almost entirely absorbed*. You may add another 1/4 cup of broth and simmer for another 5 minutes if you'd like the grain a little softer. Remove from heat and stir in almonds. Great served hot immediately or as a cold salad the next day.

*Or cook according to package directions of your chosen grain blend. If it requires longer to cook, add kale and cranberries only for the last 20-25 minutes.

Fast & Easy Kale & White Bean Soup

This soup uses canned beans instead of dried for a nutritious, low calorie starter or entree ready in about half an hour. The grated rind of hard cheese makes this simple soup just slightly thicker and richer, a little trick I learned from a class at the Tante Marie cooking school. Plus, it gave me a chance to use a little snip of the rosemary that grows wild in the area. It took me awhile to find some bushes in our neighborhood, but now I have rosemary for the picking. This soup only improves with a day or two in the fridge. Serves 4-6.

1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed
3 cups broccoli florets
6 cups chicken broth
4 cups kale
1 can white beans, drained
1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 tsp diced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp grated parmesan or Parmesano Reggiano rind
Salt and pepper

In a large soup pot sprayed generously with Pam, sauté onion and broccoli for 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add broth, kale, white beans, diced tomatos (including liquid), rosemary, bay leaf, and grated cheese rind. Bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Quick Sautéed Kale

My favorite of the four, this simple recipe highlights the kale's flavor without masking it. A combination of sautéing and steaming the kale wilts the leaves in about a quarter of the time of sautéing alone. I built my version from this Bobby Flay recipe, with just a couple minor alterations. Serves 2-4.

4 cups kale
2 gloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup broth or water
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (reduce by half if using intense imported balsamic instead of a gentler domestic brand)
Salt and pepper to taste

Spray large skillet generously with Pam and heat to medium-high. Add the garlic and sauté until just fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the broth and kale and toss to combine. Cover with tight fitting lid and cook for 5 minutes. Remove lid and sauté, stirring constantly, until all the liquid has evaporated. Salt generously, pepper to taste, and add vinegar. Toss until combined and serve hot.

Massaged Kale Salad

When I first started researching ideas for my Week of Kale, I stumbled upon a technique of which I'd never heard before and which claimed to make kale tender enough to eat raw in a salad. Massaging kale? Really? It seemed like a joke. So I put the question out to my friends to see if they'd had any luck massaging their kale. Almost immediately I received a shocked response from a friend who seemed baffled that I had NOT had luck massaging MY kale. I still wasn't sure if he was joking or not. But further discussion showed him full of sincerity. So I tried it. And kale salad will now be in my regular rotation without even wearing out my jaw.

The trick is simple. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on the chopped kale and, surprise!, massage it gently with your hands for about 3 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the rest of your salad makings. Add your toppings, toss in the dressing, and that's all it takes. Might I suggest tossing with either glazed pecans and cranberries with a balsamic vinaigrette or garbanzo beans and halved cherry tomatoes with a soy ginger dressing. Apparently you can also just mix the kale with your dressing of choice (preferably an acidic dressing, such as one with a vinegar or citrus base) before massaging, but I preferred to skip the resulting oily hands.


  1. i cooked with kale this week too!! a gnocchi dish, yum! i want to try these now. esp the pilaf...

  2. Dana, I was totally thinking of you while I ate the pilaf!