Kale is part of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables that also includes broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Fortunately, kale is not as stinky as most of its family members! (I love you, cabbage, but you stink!)
Having fallen in love with kale almost immediately upon starting a plant-based diet, I sometimes forget that a lot of people have never tried kale and find it intimidating. Kale is a nutritionally dense, delicious, versatile dark leafy green that should be a staple in everyone’s diet. I put this article together to help anyone who is unfamiliar with kale de-mystify this miraculous green. Read on to learn about kale’s amazing nutritional benefits; tips on how to choose, cook and clean kale and three super-easy kale recipes to get you started.
Nutritionally, kale is a powerhouse. One cup of chopped, raw kale has 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of protein and only 33 calories. In those 33 tiny calories, kale manages to provide almost 10% of the daily requirement of calcium and Vitamin B6, 6% iron, 200% Vitamin A, 130% Vitamin C and D, and a crazy, whopping 680% of Vitamin K. Kale is also a good source folate (important for mommies-to-be!), copper and manganese.
Like all cruciferous vegetables, kale has a ton of antioxidants, particularly carotenoids and flavonoids, which lower your risk of cancer. Kale also can reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your blood cholesterol. These benefits are heightened by cooking, which makes kale a great veggie to eat both cooked and raw. Kale has a very high anti-inflammatory effect on the body, due to a great Omega-3 vs Omega-6 fatty acid ratio, which adds to its disease-fighting and prevention power.
Kale has a glycemic index of 3, which makes it a great food if you are trying to lose weight or maintain weight-loss because it will help you feel full and stay full without sending your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride.
One thing to be careful of in any dark leafy green is oxalic acid – a toxic substance which plants produce in order to keep themselves from being eaten into extinction by herbivores. Oxalic acid is present in very small amounts in dark leafy greens, each green has its own particular compound. You can easily avoid becoming sick by rotating your greens (as nature intended!). I eat kale 2-4 times per week and have experienced no problems.
Buying & Preparing Kale
Kale is in season in the winter through early spring, so look for it in the cold months to help you fight your way through flu season!
Choose kale that has vibrant color, firm leaves and moist stems. Avoid bunches with leaves that are yellowed, infested with bugs or filled with holes. Smaller leaves are more tender and less bitter, so look for smaller bunches. Store kale in the coldest part of your fridge in a produce bag (e.g., green bags). Kale is only at its best for 2-3 days in the fridge (can be as many as five with a produce bag), so try to use it close to buying it.
Kale has many varieties, most of which have multiple names for the same type. The most common are types of kale are curly (bright green, curly leaves), lacinato/dinosaur (dark green, flat leaves) and ornamental types, like red (gorgeous red veins, dark green leaves, curly or flat leaves). They all have similar flavor, but different textures. Curly kale is my favorite for making chips while the thinner dinosaur variety is great for massaged kale salads. Experiment and see what you like the best. You will likely see curly and dinosaur in the supermarket, the other varieties are more common at farmers markets or in CSA boxes.
Clean kale leaves in cool water (either running or a bowl of) and carefully wash off all dirt and any sneaky, little bugs (they love hiding in the curly kale leaves, so be vigilant!). I recommend rubbing the leaves to dislodge the grit, as water tends to bead off the kale which makes it difficult to get the leaves clean just by rinsing.
To get you started on the exciting journey into the world of kale, here are three easy-to-follow, delicious recipes:
This recipe is, in my opinion, the most approachable for those who do not like dark leafy greens or veggies in general. Kale chips are crispy, light and salty – a perfect introduction!
Sauteed kale is easy to make and a delicious side dish to almost any meal. Any of you who already enjoy cooked spinach, collards or Swiss chard will love sautéed kale. Make it with coconut oil for an especially decadent treat!
This dish may not be for everyone – if you hate greens, I would recommend avoiding this until you have developed more of a taste for them. However, if you are a veggie lover who just hasn’t tried kale yet, massaged kale salad will be right up your alley. Nutritionally dense, delicious and satisfying!
So, get thee to the store or your local farmers market and get cooking! Do not spend another day without kale in your life!