Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatless Monday: Learning to Deal with Kale

Something happened over the weekend:  the Meatless Monday site now lists me as a blogger-on-board, top right if you care to look. In appreciation, I’ve resolved to give my blog a bit of a schedule and to post on Mondays on a food-related topic on a more regular basis. So please bookmark this link (or mine), and check in every Monday for a new recipe or idea. While you’re at Meatless Monday, be sure to look on the site’s home page for the week’s featured recipes and the latest news on food issues, and to check out what some of the other bloggers have on their minds.

Today’s topic? My history with kale.

Kale is one of those good-for-you foods that I wish came with an instruction manual. It is only recently a part of my cooking repertoire, and then only after a lot of trial and error. I grew up in a Sicilian/Yankee household in a suburban Boston town. Kale was not something my dad grew in his garden. Nor was it something anyone I knew ate.

Diet for a Small Planet (20th Anniversary Edition)I have no memory of kale in the supermarket until the last decade or so. And I know (because I checked) that it was nearly absent from my first cookbooks. My 1973 Joy of Cooking (the same edition that describes how to cook woodchuck) gave kale a brief mention in a one-paragraph entry “About Greens,” which included a generic recipe that involved simmering a 2 lb. side of meat for 2 hours and then adding 2 lbs. of any of the aforementioned greens and simmering for 40 minutes more. Kale is not even listed in the index to the first Recipes for a Small Planet.

It was in the ’90s (I recall) that kale became a ubiquitous garnish on the restaurant plate where the lettuce used to be—for its beauty and durability I imagine. Not one to waste food, I usually ate mine, but unlike my experience with golden beets, I did not find myself craving more.

Sometime in the last 5 years, suddenly (or so it seemed to me), everyone from Dr. Oz to my friend Maggie, physical therapist to the aging, began extolling the benefits of eating kale. Kale has joined the short list of Super Foods! Among its many super traits is its high content of readily-absorbed calcium. I’m one to try any means possible to ward off osteoporosis, so my interest was piqued. And then I discovered that, unlike some other super foods, kale is kind to the pocketbook. A hardy crop, it is available everywhere from farmers markets to the supermarket for most of the year. And it won’t break the bank to buy it in the organic variety.

I decided to give it a try.

Experiment 1: I bought a small amount of kale at the supermarket, washed it well, chopped up the leaves, and added it to a salad. Too tough. Too much chewing. The kale got stuck in my teeth.

Experiment 2: I bought a larger bunch of supermarket kale. I washed it well and steamed it whole like swiss chard. No one told me the stems would stay that tough. I needed a knife to eat this dish.

Experiment 3: I bought some kale at the farmers market from a young woman who suggested I chop it up and sauté it in olive oil with some onion. This was better, but the stem was still too tough.

Experiment 4: I bought some kale at the farmers market. I washed it well. I removed all the tough stems. I chopped it and sautéed it with onion in some good olive oil. I added some fresh tomatoes (roughly chopped). This was pretty darn good served with some artisan bread.

This dish tastes even better than it appears.
Experiment 5:—Success, finally! Kale Stew with Tomatoes and Aromatic SpicesI bought a large bunch of organic kale—a dark, curly variety—at Whole Foods. I washed it well. I coarsely chopped a large yellow onion and minced two cloves of garlic, which I then sautéed in a large stainless steel skillet until they became soft.  I removed the stems from the kale, chopped the leaves, and added the kale to the pan, stirring until all the leaves were coated with the oil. I turned the heat down, covered the pan, and cooked gently until the kale was tender. I then added a 28 oz. of crushed tomatoes (I like Whole Foods Organic 365), and 2 teaspoons of Penzey’s Chili 9000 powder, which contains a long list of spices including ancho chili pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. (A good curry powder would probably serve as a fine substitute, but I am really fond of the way the 9000 tasted.) I then simmered the mixture, partially covered, for 1/2 hour of so until it became thick like a stew. I checked it for taste and added just a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. I served it over my favorite organic Texmati rice with a good dollop of Greek yogurt on top for a perfectly balanced meal. This is a delicious and hearty dish that an omnivore, or even a carnivore, will love.  

For more kale recipes, check out this site. Have no fear of failure. I’ve told you the most important hint. The kale stems belong in the compost pile, not on your plate!

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”


  1. Elaine - congrats on the "blogger on board" status! two of our favorite kale recipes - in the Moosewood Restaurant cooks at Home -a field peas, kale and sweet potato; and in Extending the Table - a potato and kale recipe. The kale in our garden also changes its taste during the season and at times can have an almost bitter, mustardy flavor. I think after the first frost kale flavor supposedly improves...

  2. Congrats on your expanding circle of readers! We like the Squash and White Bean
    Soup which includes kale in the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.

  3. Good to see you in "Bloggers on Board," Elaine! My blog just got on there several weeks ago!

    I'm always on the lookout for new veg recipes, so I'll try to revisit you on Mondays to catch your current posting cycle.

    Your Experiment #5 looks good!