Monday, June 3, 2013

Kale 101, by Melinda

Kale is both delicious and nutritious, and it has a myriad of uses!  But if you haven't worked with it before, you might be wondering how to prepare it.  The three most common kinds of kale are Red Russian kale (with pink leaf veins), "dinosaur" (aka Lacinato) kale, with nubbly leaves, like a dinosaur's skin, and curly kale, whose leaves are--obviously--heavily curled.  See below.
L. to R., Lacinato, curly kale, & Red Russian (source)
Unless you have baby kale (2-3" tall & tender), kale is best cooked or otherwise processed. The whole leaf is  edible, including the stem if chopped, but some people find the stem too tough--it's your preference.
  • To prepare kale if you don't want the stems, either pull the leaves away from the stems with your hands on both sides of the stems, or just cut the stems out of the middle of each leaf.
  • If you're using the stems, just hold a bunch of kale leaves in your hand, lay them on a cutting board, and slice them crosswise in about 1/2-in. to 1-in. slices, including the stems. Or if you want shorter pieces, cut the bunch in half vertically before you cut it horizontally. Chop any extra stem at the bottom of the leaf into about 1/4-in. chunks.
  • Here's a video that shows you how to do all that (she's using curly kale, but the principle is the same for all kales):

Three Basic Cooking Techniques
Once you've cut your kale, you can either steam or boil it in a little water, saute it in oil with spices and/or herbs, or "massage" it with oil to tenderized the greens enough to make a kale salad.

Steaming or Boiling--With the water treatment, steaming is probably healthier, as it retains more vitamins--if you have a steamer pot with a perforated insert that you can drop in and lift out, it's easy; but you can also get inexpensive steamer devices you drop into pots of varying sizes (see above), as it opens out like a flower opening its petals (these can be bought at most markets or online).

Fill your steaming pot with about a half inch of water:  you want it to be below the bottom of the steamer device. Bring water to a boil, drop in your chopped kale (and stems if using) and cover. Let steam about a minute, then lift lid and stir the kale around so it all gets evenly steamed. You should steam it till it's softened and diminished in bulk but still bright green. At that point lift the steamer device out of the pot. let it drain, and the kale is ready to serve hot with seasonings of your choice--salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, chopped herbs, garlic etc.  If you want to refrigerate or freeze the kale for later, remove the steamer device from the pot and dip into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Let it drain, then pack into containers.

Boiling: If you don't want to be bothered with steaming, you can accomplish much the same thing by boiling some lightly salted water (not a huge amount) in a large pot, stirring in your chopped kale, and boiling for a couple minutes. Then drain through a colander or sieve and serve (save the cooking water as a flavorful veggie stock). Or, drain and run under cold water to stop cooking; drain again, then put in containers in the fridge (it'll keep a couple days) or the freezer.

Sauteed Kale
Clean and cut your kale as above, with or without stems.  Pour some olive oil into (or melt some butter in) a skillet, throw in a bunch of crushed garlic to taste (well, you don't have to use the garlic if you don't like it--try adding herbs instead), toss the kale in the skillet, and let it cook down, stirring a bit to get it coated with all that goodness (I'm making myself hungry). It should be soft and diminished in bulk but still bright green. That's a basic technique that works with almost any cooked green, and you can play many variations on it. Serve hot or freeze in containers.

The Zen of Massaging Kale
This is borrowed directly from a fabulous post on "Dash and Bella," one of the blogs in our blog list at left (see here).
Preparing to massage kale

Instructions for massaging kale:  After washing and chopping the kale, put the greens in a large bowl, pour on several tablespoons of olive oil, then gradually massage the leaves with the oil mix until they get limp but are still bright green. They should lose about 2/3rds of their volume and still be bright green. As the D&B blogger poetically instructs, "Squeeze and twist the leaves until they wilt down and explode in all their green glory.  Know that you could do this all day long and be quite content" (click here for the rest of her post). Actually the massaging only takes about five minutes. At that point you can refrigerate the massaged kale for several days, but don't dress it till you're ready to eat it. Here's one recipe; there are other dressing suggestions in D&B's blog post.

Massaged Kale with Anchovy Vinaigrette (This can be halved or otherwise altered to your taste--e.g., if you don't eat anchovies, add some kalamata olives at the end--they're in the same "taste family" as anchovies, but w/o the fishiness. In fact, you can dress this salad with anything, even a simple vinaigrette, a store-bought dressing, or whatever.)

  • 6 anchovy fillets, packed in oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp sherry wine vinegar (or any vinegar you like)
  • ~1 tbsp chopped shallot (or substitute mild onion)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 4-8 tbsp olive oil (for the dressing)
  • 2 big bunches kale, any kind
  • 3-5 tbsp olive oil (for massaging the kale)
  • crunchy salt
Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add anchovies. Use a spoon to press on them, breaking them up so they gradually "melt" into a paste. Once they're a paste, turn heat to low and add the garlic. Cook for 30 secs until the garlic is fragrant. Whisk in vinegar. Add shallots (or onion) & cook for ~30 seconds. Take off the heat. Whisk in mustard. Slowly whisk in half the olive oil. Taste, and if it's too tangy, add more oil.
Massaged kale (source)

Add a pinch of crunchy salt to the massaged kale. Drizzle with a few tbsp. of anchovy vinaigrette, toss, and taste. Let sit at room temp. for 20 minutes, then taste again & add more vinaigrette if desired. Either serve plain or add thin slices of parmesan or pecorino cheese, or any cheese, nuts, fruit, meat, or poultry. The salad's quite versatile.

One Final Kale Technique--Baked Kale Chips

This is about as easy as it gets. You should be able to buy the necessary "cooking parchment" paper at any decent supermarket or online. Wash one bunch of kale leaves and strip from the stems. Dry the leaves, either with an absorbent dishtowel or in a salad spinner, and tear them into bite-size pieces.  Preheat oven to 350. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle one tbsp. of olive oil over the kale and toss to make sure the leaves are pretty well coated. Salt to taste & toss again. Bake till crispy & edges of the leaves are browned but not burnt, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before eating!  (Click here for a different recipe that doesn't require the use of parchment paper.)
Torn kale ready to bake (source)

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