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Everyday Food, January/February 2003

This leafy winter green adds flavor to cold-weather meals -- and it's good for you, too.

What Is It?
Kale is a member of the cabbage family, similar to collard greens but with a mildly bitter flavor. It comes in several varieties, including purple and dinosaur (so named for its wrinkly surface).

How to Store
Keep kale in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Though it seems like a sturdy vegetable, kale will quickly wilt and turn sharply bitter. To prevent it from wilting, put the kale in a plastic bag first, and close loosely. If you don't use it within a couple of days, boil it. Then refrigerate it again, and it will be good for up to three days, or freeze it for up to two months. When you're ready to serve the kale, heat it in a little water or oil.

How to Wash
Its curly leaves provide multiple traps for dirt, so kale should be cleaned carefully. Wash kale in a deep bowl of cold water, stirring it a bit to release the grit, then lift it out. Pour out the water, and refill the bowl with fresh water. Repeat until you no longer see any grit in the water.

Special Attribute
Kale seems to intensify the flavor of the other ingredients in a dish. Just a teaspoon of butter added to a pound of kale makes it taste lavishly buttered. Kale has that affect on salt, garlic, and other seasonings, so you only need to add a pinch.

Nutritional Bonus
Like other dark-green leafy vegetables, kale is packed with beta-carotene and other antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. It is also an excellent source of calcium.

To remove the stem and center vein, pull them off with your hands, or cut them with a knife. The center vein isn't as tough as the stem; if the vein is too chewy, get rid of it. Fold the leaf in half, and pull it away from the vein. Don't worry if you tear up the leaf. Another way to remove both the stem and vein is to fold each leaf, put it on a cutting board, and slice away the center vein and attached stem.

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