Outrageously rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium, kale packs the greatest nutritional punch out of almost all leafy greens.
Unlike more delicate greens, kale peaks during the cold weather months. Buy from a local farmer, if possible, after the first frost of the season. The chill of a frost or two actually sweetens and tenderizes the hardy leaves. Some types of kale are wonderful in salads, others are perfect for braising or steaming. The most common types are curly, Russian red and lacinato (also known as black, Tuscan and dinosaur) kale. The curly and Russian red, which has a lovely purplish hue, are a little tougher and are fantastic when braised or used in stews. Lacinato kale has a more delicate texture and is wonderful either cooked or served raw in salads.
Look for kale with firm, deeply colored leaves that are free from any wilting or brownish discoloration. Choose kale with leaves that are on the smaller side since they tend to be more tender than larger leaves.
Store kale in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not wash your kale prior to storage, as the moisture will encourage spoilage. Stored properly, kale should last up to five days, but keep in mind that it becomes more bitter the longer it is stored, so use it quickly!
Raw: The more tender types of kale, like lacinato, are wonderful served raw in salads. If you are nervous about making an entire salad of raw kale, try incorporating a few chopped leaves in with the rest of your salad greens. Or, dive right in and try this lacinato (or Tuscan) kale and shaved cheese salad.
Pesto: When basil is out of season, try replacing it with kale in your favorite pesto recipe. It makes for a hardy and nutritious substitute. My favorite way to make kale pesto is by pulsing together kale, walnuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice together in a food processor and then streaming in olive oil until it reaches the perfect pesto consistency.
Kale chips: Toss de-ribbed kale leaves in olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes in a 275 degree F oven for a tasty and nutritious snack.
Sautéed: Sautéing is a quick and easy way to enjoy leafy greens. Remove the center rib, chop kale into 1/2-inch thick strips and sauté in olive oil with chopped garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavors and serve as a veggie accompaniment to your next meal.
Braised: Braising is perfect for those really hardy and tough kale leaves. Cooking for a longer period of time in a little liquid tenderizes the leaves and removes any bitterness. Try braising kale in soups, stews or pastas, like in this recipe for spaghetti with braised kale and walnuts:
Any type of kale is wonderful braised, so if you are not able to find lacinato at your local market, feel free to substitute with any other type. Just keep in mind that the tougher the kale, the longer it will need to braise, so you may need to up the braising time slightly.
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