Kale: The new spinach?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

By Emily Wilder
For The Salisbury Post
Kale, a leafy green vegetable, seems to be popping up all over the food world. In fact, ABC’s “Modern Family” gave it a shout-out as “the new spinach” earlier this month.
It’s no secret that the cabbage relative is packed full of healthy vitamins and minerals. One cooked cup of the superfood contains 5 grams of fiber essential to a healthy diet and only 36 calories. Each cup also boasts well over the recommended daily allowance of antioxidant-rich vitamins A, C, and K. Kale’s taste can be nutty, earthy, peppery, or bitter, and it does require a lot of chewing! When I was a child, my parents convinced me to enjoy kale by calling it green chewing gum.
Kale grows best in cooler weather, making it one of the first fresh green items to appear at the spring Farmers Market.
There are several different varieties of kale, each with its own flavor and texture. The darker and larger leaves have a bold taste and chewy texture, while smaller, lighter-colored leaves will be milder.
David Correll, of Correll Farms, grows at least four varieties at his farm in Cleveland. He has basic curly types such as Winterbor and Blue Ridge (one of my favorites), but also grows Toscano, which has a longer extra-dark green leaf. Toscano is known as dinosaur kale, perhaps because of its blistered or savoyed leaf. This year, Correll planted a new variety called Beira, or Portuguese kale, which is similar to bok choy. (Be sure to check my Green Kitchen blog for a Traditional Portuguese Kale Soup recipe after I get my hands on that!)
Kale takes about 12 weeks to reach maturity, so Correll Farms started seeds in a greenhouse at the end of January, and moved them outdoors around March 15. Five to six weeks later, just in time for the first Salisbury market on April 16, their kale leaves should be ready for harvest.
If you are buying kale in the grocery store, choose leaves that are crisp and firm to get the freshest taste. Store kale, unwashed, in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Salisbury grocery stores occasionally have locally grown, conventional kale.
One thing to note however, kale is widely recognized as a member of the “dirty dozen” list of fruits and vegetables. When possible, it is best to purchase these as organic because the leaves are often sprayed directly with pesticides that cannot be removed simply by washing. If you buy organic from the grocery store, your kale will most likely come from a cooler weather climate, such as Pennsylvania or California in the fall and summer, and Florida in the winter.
Aside from its overachieving list of health benefits, kale is a versatile food that can be the featured ingredient of a recipe or incorporated as a flavor and nutrition supplement.
The basic preparation for any type of kale leaves is to wash it and tear the leafy part from the stem. Then, tear into small pieces and steam for five to seven minutes, just until tender — if the leaves look slimy, it’s overcooked. I like to add a dash of rice vinegar or garlic powder for serving. Here are a few simple recipes to introduce you to my favorite leafy green vegetable.
Tamari and Sesame Kale
Prepare leaves the same as for basic cooking. In a large sauté pan or wok, heat 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil and add 2-3 cloves of crushed fresh garlic. Heat on medium-high for about one minute, but don’t let the garlic brown. Add the kale leaves and saute 1-2 minutes. Add 2-3 tablespoons of tamari (or low-sodium soy sauce) to taste, and saute 1-2 more minutes. Add in a handful of sesame seeds and saute 1 more minute or until desired tenderness.
Kale Chips
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Tear the leafy part in to pieces, making sure to leave some water on the leaves. Place the leaves in a bag and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (about 2 teaspoons) and coarse salt. Shake the bag to coat all leaves well. Arrange the leaves in a single layer on cookie sheet.
At this point, you can season as you like with other flavors — try garlic powder, red pepper flakes or fresh ground pepper, parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of soy sauce, nutritional yeast or cumin.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, shuffling once, until the leaves are dried and crispy. You will need to watch this carefully as it varies depending on the particular kale leaves and oven, and you do not want them to get dark brown. When the leaves have a paper-like crispy texture, remove and serve immediately. If the slightly bitter taste isn’t for you, crumble the dried leaves on top of popcorn or a baked potato for the nutritional benefit without the distinct taste.
Chicken Sausage Sauté
Prepare the leaves the same as for basic cooking. In a large sauté pan, begin cooking sliced chicken sausage (such as Applegate Farms Apple & Chicken). When the sides are browned and almost done cooking, add the kale leaves and sauté 5 more minutes until tender.
Green Grilled Cheese
Tear a few medium leaves, wash and dry them. Select your cheese and bread of choice for a regular grilled cheese sandwich. I highly recommend thinking extreme here: try whole wheat and muenster or rye and swiss. Butter one side of each slice of bread, place one in a heated pan, add cheese and kale (and tomato if you want), a few more pieces of cheese and top with the other piece of bread. Cook until cheese is melted and bread is browned. Serve with a side of kale chips and tomato soup.
Other ideas for using kale
One of my favorite recipes is potato-kale enchiladas. Instead of a greasy, cheese filled enchilada, I prepare them stuffed with steamed kale and mashed Yukon potatoes mixed with lime juice (this recipe is featured on my Green Kitchen blog). Kale is excellent added to quiche with fillings such as shiitake mushrooms and Swiss cheese. And, of course there is always the green smoothie. Kale can be added to a blended drink for a burst of raw flavor and healthy vitamins. A tip for enjoying your first green smoothie: freeze the leaves first and then add to berry, citrus, or banana based mixes. You will need a high-quality blender to puree the tougher leaves. Be creative! Kale can also be substituted for any recipe calling for greens (spinach, chard, mustard). Happy chewing!

If you’re a food lover and a Salisbury Post blog follower, you’re surely familiar with Emily’s Green Kitchen, a community blog written by Emily Wilder. 
After a few years of maintaining a personal blog, Emily — who lives in Salisbury and works at Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winson-Salem — jumped at the chance to reach a wider audience through the Post. 
Emily does, in fact, have a green kitchen — the color of jalapeno jelly, actually. But the “green” goes beyond that. 
Emily tries to choose local foods when possible and leans toward healthy, often vegetarian dishes.
If she does eat meat, she chooses humanely raised and organic.  Her focus is on unprocessed, real, whole foods. 
Emily grew up in Boone to parents who have been vegetarian for more than 30 years, and she was raised, she says, with a home-cooked vegetarian dinner almost every night until college. 
In 2008, after watching two documentary films — “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.” — she began to make food choices based on what she had learned. 

Visit her blog at www.salisburypost. com/blogs/greenkitchen/