My BFF Kale
Wild brassicas! My BFF, kale, goes back a long way and has been intimately connected with many vegetables over the years. There’s photos online, and I even hear there’s video of her mixing it up with some Irish potatoes. Not to mention the hot water she was in over in East Africa. She’s not all bad though. I promise.
Kale is one leaf on the cabbage (brassica) family tree, and she’s been used in traditional dishes as far back as the middle ages. Name any part of the world, and chances are there’s some local stew or soup or drink that requires kale. She’s often referred to as farmer’s cabbage, but that doesn’t mean she’s a common trollop.
In fact, kale is rich in anti-oxidants and a list of vitamins and minerals. As long as you don’t boil kale, you’re good to go. Cook her almost any way you want to, but boiling her reduces her nutritional content exponentially. If you’re feel like a challenge, you can even try her raw. I wouldn’t recommend that. She’s a tough broad sometimes, so you have to warm her up a bit to get her in the mood.
Oh la la… Well the truth is, I was never a big fan of kale. It’s very similar to collar greens, and being a transplant to the South, I was over-exposed to collards, and quickly decided they were not for me. They were tough, soggy, bland, and leaked all over everything else on the plate.The few times I’d been faced with kale, it was just as exciting. Blegh!
But just like I’ve renewed my friendship with brussels sprouts, I have reconciled with kale. Sprouts are less versatile than kale though, so I prefer the curly, leafy lady when I’m looking for a good dose of vegetable nutrition in meals. I just wash them, cut out the main spine of the leaves, slice them up into thin ribbons, and toss them into whatever I’m cooking for dinner–soups, fry-ups, pastas, stir-fries, and steamed veggies. I have a friend who freezes kale and crumbles it into her smoothies. Which is not so far-fetched since kale gets a bit sweeter after being frozen. Try it to see if you like it better that way.
The best thing to remember is to cook it only until it’s soft and turns bright green. It has a strong flavor and needs to be mixed with other strong flavors. I especially love it in a garlicky Italian soup, or a stir-fry with lots of ginger or peanuts. If you look around the world at traditional kale dishes, you can see most people agree with these rambunctious flavor combinations.
Across Europe it’s popular to combine kale, potatoes, and spicy sausage in dozens of different ways. In Japan they juice it. In eastern Africa they cook it down with coconut milk and peanuts. It’s a key ingredient in Brazil’s national dish. And don’t get me started on those wacky Germans. Thanks to the interwebs, I now know all about a region in Germany where they celebrate kale with an ominously named Grünkohlfahrt—kale tour. Please note that Grünkohlfahrt does end in fahrt, and it WILL make you do just that. Remember that kale is in the brassica (cabbage) family after all.