Kale: What’s Old is New Again

Kale, or Brassica oleracea, is closely related to other cabbage family vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard green, cauliflower and kohlrabi to name a few. In a family of super foods, kale stands out not only in nutrient density, but in its productivity in the home garden and versatility in the kitchen. An excellent source of Vitamins A, C and K, kale also provides fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, and an array of trace minerals. It is especially rich in phytonutrients, plant compounds that may help protect cells from damage and may help prevent cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers when consumed as part of a healthy diet.

Though kale is one of our earliest cultivated plants, it has changed little from its wild form. The ancient Greeks valued kale, as did the Romans. Adapted to colder climates with some varieties being completely winter hardy, kale’s bitter edge is tamed by frost. For centuries, it was a stable in European and early American gardens providing valuable nutrition during lean winter months.  Nutrition science has affirmed what our ancestors knew: kale is good for you.

Today, fresh kale can be found at most well-stocked grocers and farmers markets. For those unfamiliar with preparing kale, consider the following when looking for recipes:

Salads: Kale works well alone or as part of a salad mix. Unlike most other greens, kale’s firm texture holds up well to dressing without wilting, allowing for kale salad to be made ahead of time and leftovers saved.

Smoothies: A handful of fresh kale can give a low calorie nutrition boost to your favorite smoothie.

Soups and Sauces: Kale’s mild earthy flavor and firm texture works well in soups, such as Zuppa Toscana or even pasta sauce. Remove the fibrous stem, roll the leaves, slice into thin ribbons and then add to the dish.

Sautéed or braised: A classic preparation of kale is to simply sauté it with garlic or shallots in olive oil. Add tomatoes or other garden-fresh vegetables for a side dish, or add meat or beans to serve with rice as a main dish.

Curries and Stews: Kale’s flavor and texture pairs well with winter squash and yams. Look for hearty dishes featuring these, such as variations of African Groundnut Stew.

Chips: Bake kale brushed with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Experiment with some of your favorite seasoning.

Marsha Krall, RD, LDN

Marsha has been a Memorial Medical Center employee since 1998. She earned her bachelor of science degree from Michigan State University and completed her dietetic internship at the Detroit Department of Public Health. In addition to her background in public health nutrition, her clinical areas of practice have included nephrology, organ transplant and cardiology.

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