I am something of a latecomer when it comes to using this particular vegetable. It wasn’t something that I ever recall being serve at home as a kid, and it is only within the last year or so that it has been appearing in our grocery stores with any frequency. Still, I have been remedying that situation over the last several months and, if you haven’t experienced this tasty green vegetable yet, you may wish to give it a try…
Kale comes in a number of different varieties and the curly leaf variety seen in the first picture is one of the most popular, and the only one I have cooked with thus far. There is also a plain leafed type and an Italian variety which is known, amongst other appellations, by the interesting name, ‘Dinosaur Kale’.
Although the vegetable is most widely associated with Northern Europe, various types are also grown and consumed in North America and Africa. Like other members of the Brassica genus, this green is a very healthy vegetable choice as it is a good source of Vitamins C and K, as well as various antioxidants.
One reality of cooking with kale is that it is quite a fibrous vegetable and can be a little tough and chewy if not suitably prepared. This is particularly true of the stems which require a longer cooking time than the leaves.
One simple expedient is to simply trim the stems away and use the leaves alone. In that event, you can, of course, save the stems for other uses. One could, for example, chop the stalks into sections and briefly sauté them before adding to rice, soups, or stews.
You can also, depending upon the intended use, just ‘shave’ away the thicker portions of the stem. This way, you can preserve the textural contrast but save having to overcook the leaves in order to make the stems tender enough.
One useful technique I came across a while ago is to massage the leaves prior to use. Simply rubbing them vigorously with your fingers and between your palms causes the fibers to break down. The leaves wilt and soften, and, as you can see darken somewhat. The advantage to this softening procedure is that you can shorten necessary cooking times.
Massaging with salt, oil, or a combination of the two is often employed as well. In either case, but especially with the combination technique, the leaves can be used in raw preparations, particularly if they are allowed to macerate for at least 30 minutes prior to uses. If using salt, I find it preferable to use a very coarse type as this helps break down the fibers more easily and the excess is quickly shaken off.
The number of uses for this vegetable is really beyond enumerating, but, suffice it to say, it can basically be used in the same sorts of ways as spinach or any other leafy green. In perusing the net, I have come across quite a number of very interesting and non-standard usages and, as time and availability permits, I will be looking at some of these in future posts…