All Hail Kale!
How this superfood got such a great reputation, and how you can try at home
Kale is having a moment. Though it’s been all the rage in the last few years, nutritionists have long been touting the health benefits of kale, and it’s easy to see why. This hearty, leafy green vegetable packs a punch with vitamins A, K, B6, C, calcium, and potassium. With only 33 calories and 7 carbs per cup, this cruciferous vegetable is great for those who want to cut calories while feeling full.
There are several varieties of this leafy green: curly kale is the most common, featuring green or reddish-purple frilly leaves and a slightly peppery taste. Dinosaur kale (also known as lacinato or Tuscan kale) is flatter with skinnier leaves and is slightly more tender. With both varieties, you’ll want to remove the tough stems in the middle and cut or tear the leaves into ribbons or bite-sized pieces to make it easier to eat. Here’s a look at some kale recipes that are so simple they’re almost foolproof:
The Heartiest Salad
A good kale salad is magical. It’s light and fresh while being hearty and healthy. But a bad kale salad is sad: it can be tough to the taste and rough on your digestion. The secret is all in the preparation. Since kale is such a hearty green, it needs something to help break it down and tenderize the leaves. There are a few different methods that help:
- Massage it. (No, seriously. I’m not kidding!) Just like tough spots in our muscles relax with a little massage therapy, so does a tough leaf of kale. Don’t believe me? Try it out. After rinsing the leaves to make sure any dirt or sediment is removed, rub it between your fingers like you’re trying to open a plastic produce bag. The kale will magically change colors before your eyes, the green brightening as the leaves soften. You can also do this with a bit of olive oil for a bit of flavor and to accelerate the tenderizing process.
- Use an acidic dressing. Acid helps to gently break down the leaves as they marinate in the dressing. Lemon juice and vinegar are two popular components of acidic dressings. They can be bright, fresh, and very simple, as in this example that uses a lemon-garlic dressing. Let it sit for several hours for the best results.
- Try a creamy dressing. Similar to the action of the acidic dressing, a creamy dressing can soften the leaves of the kale if left to marinate for a few hours. Don’t be afraid to use more dressing here than on a normal green salad: the hearty leaves won’t be overwhelmed. You can use a dairy-based dressing with cream or cheese, but a plant-based favorite is tahini dressing made from this popular sesame seed butter.
Now that you’ve prepared your leaves for the perfect kale salad, you can dream up your favorite toppings. Maybe you make a Greek-inspired salad with olives and feta, maybe a Mexican-inspired salad with black beans and salsa. A classic Caesar or Cobb salads are great options too. Superfoods like cranberries, quinoa, or nuts also pair well with this hearty bowl of greens. The sky’s the limit!
Saute And Steam
Another common way to prepare kale is on the stovetop. Sauteing and steaming are two easy methods to wilt the leaves just enough to make them easier to chew and digest.
To saute the greens, chop or tear them into bite-size pieces and heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large pan. You can add garlic, ginger, or red pepper flakes to the oil for some added flavor. Add the kale by the handful until your pan is full– it will cook down substantially, so prepare more than you think will fit in the pan and add it gradually. Remove from heat after the kale becomes tender, about five minutes.
Steaming uses a similar method, but instead of oil at the bottom of the pan, there’s water. Wash the kale and leave it damp, then add a few tablespoons of water to the bottom of a large pan. Add handfuls of the greens until they cook down, and keep an eye on the water: you always want to see a tiny bit bubbling at the bottom, otherwise, you’ll burn your pan. Once the kale is tender and the excess water has evaporated, you can season it to your liking.
After the kale is cooked, feel free to add salt, pepper, lemon juice, or any other dressing you’d like. This is also a great way to prepare kale for a grain bowl (also sometimes called a buddha bowl) so all the ingredients are cooked and warm.
Another popular way to enjoy kale turns this super healthy food into an imitation of a super unhealthy food. Baked kale chips are simpler to make than you can imagine. Just coat them lightly in oil and spices, bake them slowly at a low temperature (225 degrees, for example) for about 30 minutes. (If you have an air fryer, you can cut that time down to 10 minutes!) The trick is to spread out the leaves so they’re not touching each other or overlapping– this allows for maximum crispness. And just like with the salad, you can season these chips any way you’d like. Popular flavors include nutritional yeast (think of it like a very healthy Doritos substitute), curry powder (for an exotic snack), or just plain olive oil and salt for a classic snack.
Having healthy snacks like kale chips around is a great way to cut down on sugars and fats found in most pre-packaged snack foods. Instead of reaching for fried chips or a sugary snack bar, keeping these kale chips on hand can satisfy the craving for a savory, crunchy snack on the go.
Have Your Kale And Drink It, Too!
Smoothies are cost-effective, quick, and easy ways to boost your intake of both fruits and veggies. Keeping some frozen fruit on hand and a good quality blender at the ready means you can whip up a healthy breakfast, snack, or dessert anytime. Frozen fruit is often packaged at peak freshness, so you’ll get the full benefit of seasonal taste and nutrition all year round. In most cases, frozen fruit also has less added sugar or syrups than canned fruit. Over-ripe bananas sitting on your counter that would otherwise go to waste can be stored in the freezer for use in smoothies or muffins, the ripeness naturally increasing the level of sweetness.
For a tropical-inspired smoothie, combine kale with frozen pineapple, banana, and a liquid of your choice (like water, coconut water, or your favorite non-dairy milk). You can even jazz it up with a squeeze of lime juice for brightness and chia seeds for thickness. Other great additions include nut butters or more of your favorite fruits.
If you have a juicer at home, hopefully, you’ve already discovered how nutrient-rich a kale juice can be. A good juicer is an investment of time and money: it’s not cheap, and it requires meticulous washing to keep clean and functional. But if you do invest, you’ll be rewarded by this fountain of health. Green juices, ginger shots, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and more will have you glowing with pride (and good health) in no time.
There’s always the option of picking up a pre-bottled juice, too. Available at most large grocery or health food stores, a green juice with kale will often feature the same fruits you would put into a smoothie. Juicing provides the most concentrated version of the nutrients and vitamins found in the ingredients, and juice can be easier to digest than a smoothie because it lacks the fibrous parts of the fruits and vegetables. Whether you opt for a filling kale smoothie or a nutrient-concentrated kale juice, you’ll be doing your body a favor by finding one more way to include this great green in your diet!
It can be hard to get enough fresh, leafy greens in the winter. Our bodies want to hunker down with a warm bowl of comfort food, usually something carb and fat heavy, instead of eating a chilled salad of light greens. Eating seasonally and listening to our bodies is important, so how do we get more greens into our cold-weather diets?
One great answer is in a hearty soup. Kale, like other dark leafy greens, cooks down well and loves to be simmered, sauteed, and submerged. You can keep your soup as simple as wilting it in chicken stock, adding a can of cannellini beans, and sauteeing some garlic and onion to make kale and white bean soup. If you’re vegetarian, substitute vegetable broth or miso for the chicken stock. Add a can of tomatoes if you’d like. If you want to double down on the meat, add chicken sausage, chorizo, meatballs, or whatever your heart desires. You can even top each bowl with parmesan cheese for a little extra flavor.
As with all canned and processed foods, check the label to make sure it’s not loaded with sodium, often used as a preservative. Opt for “no salt added” versions that allow you to season as desired.
Keep Calm And Kale On
No matter which type of kale you choose to experiment with or how you choose to prepare it, eating this dark leafy green is a healthy choice that will provide you with a blast of vitamins and fiber. We love using ingredients that are as healthy for you as kale at Sensible Meals, where you can have ready-made meals delivered to your door that satisfy a variety of dietary needs. Take small steps to a healthier you, one dish at a time.