“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
Admittedly, I was one of those stupid bratty children who threw fits every time a green vegetable was on my dinner plate. I was the quintessential picky eater. Green beans? Yeah, forget it… pass the cinnamon applesauce. To this day, I’m pretty sure my mom is still in disbelief that I ended up pursuing culinary arts as a profession. Somewhere along the way though, green vegetables stopped being so horrible (probably around the time my mom stopped buying canned vegetables 🙂 ) and I actually started to like them. Leafy greens, however, were something I hadn’t acquired a taste for until pretty recently. I never really cared for collared greens while living in New Orleans, and would avoid the whole braised greens family whenever they appeared in dishes we made at school. To be quite honest, I didn’t like kale until the day we arrived in São Paulo and had feijoada for lunch. You know what they say, though – bacon makes everything better.
Kale is a form of either green or purple cabbage that is unique because it doesn’t form a head when it grows – it grows in clusters of large leaves, which can be either flat or curly at the edges. The season for kale is between mid-winter and early spring where it can be found in abundance in most produce sections of the local grocery store. However, you can find kale year round. It grows most abundantly in central/northern Europe and North America – it prefers cooler climates, but does grow in more tropical regions as well. Kale can tolerate almost any type of soil as long as it drains well.
Until the end of the Middle Ages, kale was one of the most common green vegetables in all of Europe, and was brought to the USA during the 17th century by English settlers (and to Brazil by Portuguese settlers; it’s called couve here). During World War II, the cultivation of kale in the U.K. was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign. The vegetable was easy to grow and provided important nutrients to supplement those missing from a normal diet because of rationing. It faded from the meal table and recipe books after the war, probably because of its somewhat metallic taste and the fact that it turned into an unappealing green mush when boiled. Thankfully, modern cooking has figured out how to preserve the color and flavor of kale, and the wartime food is slowly making a comeback.
Kale, like all dark, leafy greens, is also really, really good for you. Kale is considered to be a highly nutritious vegetable with powerful antioxidant properties; it’s considered to be anti-inflammatory. Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and reasonably rich in calcium. Kale has seven times the beta-carotene of broccoli and ten times more lutein. Kale is rich in vitamin C, not to mention the much-needed fiber so lacking in the daily diet of processed food eating Americans.
Like broccoli and other dark greens, kale contains sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties. Science has discovered that sulforaphane helps boost the body’s detoxification enzymes, possibly by altering gene expression. This in turn is purported to help clear carcinogenic substances in a timely manner. Sulforaphane is formed when cruciferous vegetables like kale are chopped or chewed. This somehow triggers the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals (which we all are exposed on a daily basis), inhibit chemically-induced breast cancers in animal studies, and cause colon cancer cells to commit suicide. (source) The same website also suggests that smokers can reduce their risk of developing emphysema or lung cancer by increasing their vitamin A consumption – not advocating smoking, of course, just trying to help out those who can’t quit.
How to make kale taste good
At DOM, I’ve been assigned kale fabrication as one of my duties this week. I wanted to include a step-by-step fabrication guide for this blog to encourage everyone to give kale a chance – it’s really not half bad 🙂
Step one: Wash all the leaves VERY well. Kale contains a good amount of sand when raw, so make sure you rinse the whole leaf. Don’t use any leaves that are starting to yellow – kale yellows as it gets older, and the older it gets, the more bitter it becomes. Use fresh, young leaves with as few insect bites as possible.
Lay the leaves on top of each other – work with about 5-8 at a time, depending on their size. Line up the stems evenly.
Step two: With a sharp knife, cut the leaves directly parallel on one side of the stem, separating the stem from all the leaves.
Step three: Repeat step two on the other side of the stem – remove the stem completely and separate the two halves.
Step four: lay both sides of the leaves on top of each other. Put the largest leaf on the bottom, and make the bottom leaf about 2″ longer on top than the rest of the pile.
Step 5: Tightly roll the pile into a cylinder.
Step 6: Tie a rubber band around the bundle of kale. Trim the bottom so it’s even. Slice the bundle in very thin strips (julienne is ideal). Slicing the kale on a deli slicer makes it super easy – if you don’t have a slicer, a mandolin would work too. If you don’t have a mandolin, a knife will do just fine. 🙂
Next, blanch the shredded kale in boiling, salted water for 3-5 minutes. Don’t overcook it! Remove and immediately shock it by submerging in ice water. This preserves the bright green color of the kale, as well as the snappy texture.
While the kale is cooling down, dice up a few strips of bacon – one per portion should be enough. In a saute pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until it renders its fat and gets crispy. Add some minced garlic and cook just until you can smell it.
Drain the kale and add it to the saute pan with the bacon (and its fat). On medium-high heat, sauté everything together just until the kale gets hot. Season with salt and pepper, and serve as a delicious, nutritious side dish.
If you have a favorite way to eat kale, please share in our comments!