It’s a “headless” cabbage, with long, curly leaves – bright green in color with hints of blue. Kale is also known as Tuscan Cabbage or Black Cabbage, and like all of its cousins, you can find it on market stalls all year round. The cold winter months, however, is when it has the best consistency: vigorous and firm – almost crunchy – with an intense, almost bitter bite to it. And enclosed within these leaves is an abundance of nutrients that have been celebrated since Ancient times, when it was considered a food with “curative properties”.
Containing few calories, kale is rich in vitamins, potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorus and fiber. One of the preeminent “anti-oxidant” foods, kale helps combat free radicals and protects the heart, arteries as well as the immune system. To take full advantage of all these nutrients, it’s best to eat kale raw. After carefully washing and drying, chop the softest part of the leaves (but keep the stems and use them in a soup with vegetables and grains), and use them in all kinds of creative salads.
Try a fresh kale salad with sliced smoked tempeh, green apples and walnuts, dressed simply with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Or let the raw leaves marinate in a bit of olive oil and lemon until they soften; then garnish with spicy chickpeas and thin slices of scallion. If you’d like to cook kale, try a quick steam of no more than 5 minutes. Use the steamed kale atop a pizza with tomato sauce, oregano and black olives.
It’s also great on pasta: sauté the steamed leaves in a bit of oil, garlic and chili pepper, then stir it carefully over cooked pasta. Serve it as a side dish with a sauce made from flax seed oil, brewer’s yeast and a touch of salt. Of course, in Italy, kale is the main ingredient in the famous Tuscan Ribollita soup: a traditional first course made from kale, vegetables, beans and day-old Tuscan bread – then drizzled with Tuscan olive oil and black pepper. This “peasant” recipe was traditionally prepared on Fridays, when the leftover cooked vegetables from the week would get “re-boiled” until they created a hearty, thick soup.
Those who frequent health food stores also know that kale can also be made into a healthy, savory snack. Drizzle the leaves with salt and olive oil then let them bake in the oven for a few minutes until they become crunchy. These “chips” can be made at home, or else store-bought with flavorings like curry, tomato, lemon – and even hazelnut.
Are you a raw food convert? No worries: kale chips can be naturally dried, thereby maintaining all of their nutritive properties. And last but not least - for the hipsters among you who cultivate your own urban gardens: kale is a robust plant that’s very easy and resilient to grow. It thrives in moderate temperatures, but can also survive the cold winter months.